Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (14th) v Sydney Roosters (6th)
The Bulldogs grabbed a much-needed win last week against the Cowboys, prevailing 27-10 in a match that says a lot about the ability of this group to turn around a performance amid high pressure. They built an early lead inside the first 20 minutes of the match and from that point onwards, never looked back. It was one of their best efforts, controlling the ball well with an 87% completion rate, only 7 errors and 26 missed tackles. It was an opposite effort from the Roosters, upset by their rivals, the Rabbitohs, 26-14. Just as many were believing that the Premiership favourites had turned a corner, they were abruptly returned to reality. The Rabbitohs had a clear plan to take the match to their opponents in the middle of the field and it worked, carrying the ball for 208m more over 80 minutes. It left many wondering whether or not the Roosters forwards were again up to the challenge of leading their team to victory with so many questions still lingering about their effectiveness in this area. It appears that the momentum that they were attempting to generate was halted at crucial stages, flowing onto to affect the play of the halves. Anyone that knows this game will say that it doesn’t matter how good your backline is, it means little if your forwards are continually being dominated and they cannot get quality possession out to the edges. The Roosters certainly have the talent to fix it, with this team finding themselves in a similar position to earlier in the season when they need to again prove what they are capable of.
This game is set up for the Roosters to bounce back following a poor effort last week. The visitors head into the match as favourites to do so and will need to start strong to offset the chance of the Bulldogs. They will need to be wary of their opponents following their efforts last week. However, the performance of the Bulldogs against the Cowboys perhaps says more about the poor form of their opponents rather than suggesting that the Bulldogs have rediscovered their attacking form. The Roosters need to turn around several areas, most notably their average of 12.8 errors per game, compared with the Bulldogs 8.3 error per game. This tells one story, but in reality, the Roosters still average 3.5 tries per game compared with the Bulldogs 2.7 tries. This points towards a close game that has the Roosters winning by less than 2 converted tries.
New Zealand Warriors (3rd) v St George-Illawarra Dragons (1st)
The chance that this game would be a battle between the two remaining undefeated teams was taken away last week, with the Warriors suffering an upset loss to the Broncos at home 27-18. It wasn’t their day in the end, fighting their way back into the game twice for their defence to let them down in the second half. The Broncos went on an attacking raid that was too much for their opponents to handle; 38 tackles is the statistic that hurts them the most, with an 85% completion rate and 6 errors not being rewarded on the scoreboard. The Dragons are the only remaining team without a loss so far this season, hammering the Sharks 40-20 in their most recent performance. It was yet another dazzling display from a team that continues to prove people wrong, controlling the first half pressure from the Sharks to pull away from them in the second half. With 58% possession and an 80% completion rate, they were always going to be in a strong position. This effort was well supported on the other side of the ball, missing just 21 total tackles for the match. The signs for the Dragons at this early stage of the season are very positive, with many believing that it is a different team playing with a far more positive mindset that sets them aside from previous years when they have fallen away quickly after a strong start to the season. In this match, the Dragons are poised to continue their run, although, it will be a difficult task of winning away from home. That being said, the head-to-head success is heavily weighted towards the Dragons as they have won 21 of the 27 matches played; they also have a 60% winning record at this ground. This Warriors team is also appearing to be different, being rewarded for finding a balance between flair and patience in attack that is translating into points. They will need to continue their strong defensive structure, especially considering the Dragons average 5 tries per game compared with the Warriors 3.8 tries. Aside from this area, just about every other statistic for these teams in 2018 is even and this sets up for a close encounter for these two sides. With that in mind, the favoured option appears to be the final margin being less than a converted try to either side. For the safe of making a call, the Dragons strong record here means they will have no fear of what lies ahead and should just scrape home.
Either Team Under 6.5 points @ $2.70
South Sydney Rabbitohs (7th) v Canberra Raiders (11th)
The Rabbitohs surprised the Roosters last week in style, hammering their opponent’s weakness in the middle of the field to score a comprehensive 26-14 win. It was impressive to see them bounce back with such an effort, especially after a 4-point loss to the Dragons that didn’t provide much of a guide moving forward. It was a measured performance where it matters; they completed at 83% with 52% possession, committed 8 errors and missed 29 tackles. More importantly, they were able to come back from a deficit either side of HT to establish a strong win. The Raiders had no such issues in their win over the Eels, keeping their opponents try-less for the contest to win 18-2. In winning their second game of the season, the Raiders moved away from the bottom of the ladder and are gaining more confidence in their play. They dominated possession (56%) and completed at 80% to complement their strong defence. With only 9 errors and 24 missed tackles, it was a sign that perhaps the Raiders have turned a corner moving forward. Following two strong efforts at home, they now have a challenge against a team that is playing with the same level of confidence. The Rabbitohs were tipped to need more time ahead of their previous match with players either missing or fresh from an injury lay-off. That win will only serve to improve their chances of winning this game. The area of concern for the visitors is how well they carry the ball over the match; their season average is 1379m per game compared with the Rabbitohs 1664m in a game. The focus of powerful forward play with quick play out of the ruck was essential last week and will again be difficult to stop. Nevertheless, the Raider are in with a chance of winning this game, suggesting that the margin of victory may be far closer than most are expecting.
Either Team Under 6.5 Points @ $2.75
Wests Tigers (4th) v Newcastle Knights (10th)
If people haven’t already taken notice of the Tigers, they will now following their 38-12 dismantling of the Sea Eagles at home. In a season where they were struggling to score points and relying on defence to win them matches, their attack caught fire and was impressive from the 5th minute onwards. It went to show how they are working to balance this out over matches and is a great sign for this side moving forward. They jumped to a 32-nil lead after 46 minutes and didn’t allow the Sea Eagles to register anything on the scoreboard until the 53rd minute. It was made much easier by the 61% share of possession and complimented an 82% completion rate, with just 7 errors and 32 missed tackles. The Knights will have to be on guard for this match, as they aim to bounce back from a 40-14 loss to the Storm. In a contest that was always going to be difficult, the Knights started slowly and relied on two late tries in the first half to trail 18-8 at HT. That is where their joy stopped, as the Storm 4 second half tries to close out the match. It wasn’t an overly poor effort from the Knights, they were outclassed by a better team over 80 minutes. With just 42% possession, they completed at 78%, with 10 errors and 34 missed tackles pointing towards a reshuffle in their defensive structure. They cannot afford to change this area of their play, especially considering the new-found confidence in the Tigers attack. The Knights are a proud team this year and will not want their opponents to get an early lead on them. That being said, they will need to produce something special in order to change the course of this match. It is unclear whether or not they will win comfortably and with that in mind, take them to cover the line more than anything else.
Tigers -8.5 @ $1.90
North Queensland Cowboys (15th) v Gold Coast Titans (9th)
It is panic stations at the Cowboys as they are now on a 5-game losing streak that is threatening to completely disrupt their 2018 season. Their most recent loss was against the Bulldogs at home, outplayed 27-10 by a far better team. The result was decided before the break, with the Bulldogs leading 19-nil at this stage. The Cowboys didn’t do themselves any favours either, they completed at only 67%, committed 14 total errors and missed 39 tackles. This is the greatest challenge that this group of players has faced and despite a host of quality players in their team, for one reason or another, they are simply not doing the little things in matches to grab a victory. The Titans are also out to bounce back from a dominating loss, as they travelled down to Penrith and left with their tails between their legs, following a 35-12 loss. It was strong signs early for the Titans, scoring in the 7th minute and keeping the Panthers scoreless until the 26th minute. A late try gave the Panthers a 2-point lead and that is where the hopes of the visitors faded. Their opponents came out as a different side in the second half and the Titans were unable to limit their points. With 32 missed tackles registered for the match, there is no doubt that the Titans were simply outplayed when it mattered most. They also had 11 errors and 81% completion rate, this is a team that knows how to win matches, it is just a matter of putting it all together in a match. The major concern for them ahead of this match is that they average 28.5 points per game in defence and teams know that it is only a matter of time before the Titans crumble in this area. The Cowboys have hardly displayed any promise of late, yet, a strong record at home and the pride that lies within this team suggests that they are deserving favourites for this game. If they get the balance right and rediscover their form that made them so dynamic in previous years.
Cowboys -6.5 points @ $1.80
Parramatta Eels (16th) v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (12th)
The Eels find themselves still winless and it is getting close to having their season in ruins. Their most recent effort was an 18-2 loss to the Raiders on the road. The hope that they were going to be able to break their losing streak were quickly dashed inside the first half as the Raiders jumped to a 10-2 lead. It was always going to be difficult with just 44%; the Eels did their best to maximise their opportunities with 80% and just 7 errors, but they were ineffective when it mattered most. Defence is also an issue for this team moving forward, missing 42 tackles in that match and conceding an average of 25.3 points each week. The Sea Eagles also have their issues ahead of this match, aiming to put a horror week of off-field issues behind them, as well as breaking their losing form. Their most recent performance was one they would rather forget, hammered 38-12 by the high-flying Tigers at home. It was always going to be difficult with 39% possession and it was made worse by their disgraceful 60% completion rate and 13 errors. Their lack of care in defence showed, with the Tigers continually cracking the Sea Eagles both in the middle and on the edges. In the end. They missed 40 total tackles and the late try as the match was drawing to a close only served as a consolation. With both teams desperate to turn around their form, this game becomes an intriguing contest. The Sea Eagles have hardly set the world alight with their play but when they have found their rhythm in attack, they have looked great. They are the only team outside the Top 8 with a positive points difference and they need to work hard on making efforts like last week, irregular. They have the edge heading into this game and it is important that they use the Eels weaknesses against them. The home team is getting closer to a victory, however, all does not appear well in this camp currently and they are going to have to produce something special if they are to win. With the Eels averaging just 1.5 tries per game, 1.8 linebreaks and only 1269m in matches, it is only a matter of the Sea Eagles living up to their tag as favourites and rediscovering their attacking flair.
Sea Eagles 1-12 @ $2.85
Cronulla Sharks (13th) v Penrith Panthers (2nd)
Like many other teams in the competition, the Sharks are desperate to find another win and climb up the competition ladder. They were disappointing on a number of levels in their 40-20 loss to the Dragons at home, failing to ever worry their opponents in the second half. The fact that they allowed so many point in defence is a cause for concern, while their attack is certainly missing the stability that Maloney offered; ironically enough, they will have the opportunity to view it first hand in this match. This was highlighted in their attack with just a 70% completion rate with only 42% share of possession. A massive 16 errors and 40 missed tackles also points to a lack of maturity within this team. The Panthers will pose as a strong opponent, sitting towards the top of the competition ladder following another impressive display to start the season. After conceding an early try, the Panthers found their momentum midway through the first half and played with plenty of confidence. There is still improvement left in this side with a 77% completion rate, 10 errors and 31 missed tackles leaving many wondering just how good this team could be. They are in the best position to combat the strengths of the Sharks, especially considering that the home team will again be missing a few key players. This will pose as a massive problem in the middle of the field and unless others step up to the challenge, they will find themselves outclassed by a bigger, more powerful pack of forwards. Unfortunately for the Sharks, a team that is averaging just 2 tries per game, 11.8 errors and only 2.2 line breaks, it is going to be an uphill battle from the opening moments. They may not let their opponents get too far ahead on the scoreboard, but the Panthers should win this game by more than a converted try and cover the line.
Panthers -8.5 @ $1.90