South Sydney Rabbitohs (6th) v Brisbane Broncos (10th)
The Rabbitohs built on a strong performance against the Roosters in Round 6 to deliver an impressive attacking display against the Raiders, winning the match 42-22. It was a game whereby their attack showed what they are capable of, continually pressuring the edges and giving little away to their opponents in defence. While there are questions around the strength of their opponents, the Rabbitohs controlled the game impressively; they had an 85% completion rate, made only 8 errors and missed 29 tackles. If this trend continues, the Rabbitohs can definitely consider themselves a chance at featuring in the Top 8 towards the business end of the season. The Broncos head into this game outside of the Top 8, unable to back up a victory against the Warriors to be defeated by the Storm at home 34-20. Things were looking up for the Broncos early; they opened the scoring to the match and that is where their joy stopped until the end. They were simply outclassed by their stronger, more physical, opponents. Even with 52% possession, they were unable to provide the finishing touches that were needed in positive attacking position. This again raises the question of just how capable they are with the current halves pairing. A 74% completion rate combined with 11 errors and 32 missed tackles was never going to help their cause. All of a sudden, teams are not fearing the Broncos as they once were and they are acutely aware of how to beat them. The standing of the Rabbitohs on the ladder can be attributed to the performances of their opponents on the day that they have faced them. Alternatively, the Rabbitohs have made their opponents play a particular way and have been impressive along the way. The attacking display they provided against the Raiders last week is a promising sign and if the Broncos are not careful, they will be caught out by their opponents. The loss of Andrew McCullough only compounds the issues of the visitors further, hence why they are heading into this game as outsiders. Expect the Rabbitohs to cover the line and then some, with a sign towards their stars regaining the confidence that worked so well for them in the past.
Rabbitohs -6.5 @ $1.90
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (13th) v Newcastle Knights (8th)
A week of off-field issues only became a nightmare for the Sea Eagles following a 44-10 hammering by the winless Eels at home. If alarm bells were not already ringing, this was certainly a performance that should make all involved with the club very worried about what lies ahead. Not only did the Sea Eagles suffer an embarrassing loss, their attitude matched their lack of execution along the way; they completed at just 59% with only 44% possession, they made 11 errors and missed 35 tackles. Such a lack of respect for the ball forced them to make 100 more tackles than their opponents, something that will only increase the fatigue levels of this team both in that match and ahead of this one. The Sea Eagles could take plenty away from the efforts and attitude of the Knights, with their opponents upsetting the Tigers last week on the road. Yet again, their “never say die” attitude got them the result they deserved, twice overcoming a deficit to score the match-winning try in the 78th minute of play. You only have to look as far as their effort in key areas as to why they performed so well in this match and kept themselves within striking distance of the Tigers; they completed at 84% possession, made just 9 errors and missed only 15 tackles. Just like many other occasions this season, the Knights need to maintain consistency after a draining, yet rewarding, performance. They are more than capable of winning this game on the road, yet find themselves as outsiders ahead of this game. This is largely due to the loss of Mitchell Pearce and the uncertainty around the introduction of Jack Cogger to the halves. The experience which Pearce bought to this team was second to none and they Knights will have a difficult time replacing him. Nevertheless, the Knights are a club that has transformed their attitude, application and effort in such circumstances and they will not want to make any excuses for a poor performance. Along with the troubles currently plaguing the Sea Eagles, the Knights are over the odds in all markets. Take them with the start to pressure the more “experienced” Sea Eagles team and even be in with a chance of winning the match in the closing stages.
Knights +4.5 @ $1.90
Penrith Panthers (4th) v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (14th)
The Panthers suffered an upset loss to the Sharks las week, breaking a 3-game losing streak that had many believing that they are the real deal. As they attempt to cover the loss of Cleary, many would argue that the structure and direction of the Panthers has been at its peak in recent weeks. The performance against the Sharks isn’t as pleasing as the score suggests, while they were finishing strongly, the damage was already done by a team that was also aiming to cover the loss of key personnel. The fact that they still completed at 84% with 53% possession and 8 errors, highlights their inability to turn positive field position into points when it mattered. The fact that they allowed the Sharks to jump to a strong lead, while also allowing 34 missed tackles, suggests that this team still has plenty of improvement left in them. The Bulldogs will fancy themselves a chance of causing an upset, despite carrying losing form into this game and languishing at the bottom end of the ladder. Their 6-nil loss to the Roosters at home was pleasing enough, yet, they still need plenty of improvement in attack if they are to compete on a regular basis with the leading teams in the competition. A 77% completion rate, while better than the Roosters, did little to improve their chances of winning the match. Rather, it was a lack of execution that again let them down. 11 errors and 26 missed tackles didn’t aid their cause; they are playing too inconsistently at this stage of the season to worry other sides and it will take a drastic change of performance overhaul their results. This game is a matter of whether or not the Panthers can bounce back from last week, address their issues and deliver a performance they are worthy of. All things being equal, the home side should be too strong for the Bulldogs, although it will be far closer than most think. The only area where the Panthers have an edge in statistics is in tries scored (3.4 v 2.3 per match); this suggests that the hosts will need to limit the points scored in attack by the Bulldogs, regardless of the attacking position, while capitalising when their opponents are vulnerable.
Panthers 1-12 @ $2.70
Gold Coast Titans (11th) v Cronulla Sharks (9th)
Both teams find themselves outside the Top 8 in interesting circumstances ahead of this match, desperately seeking the opportunity to move up the ladder with a victory. The Titans had an opportunity last week against the Cowboys, but failed to score points in the first half to allow the Cowboys to establish a match-winning lead in the first half. Two late tries in the final 10 minutes closed the margin, but it wasn’t enough as the damage was already done. It is no surprise, especially given they completed at just 71% with 52% possession, made a massive 14 errors and missed 24 tackles. The task ahead is made far more difficult by the fact that they have to play a team in the Sharks, who are coming off a spirited win against the Panthers at home. The 26-22 victory was far more impressive than the score suggest, with 2 late tries in the final 4 minutes bringing the Panthers within striking distance. It was all too much though, with the Sharks playing well above what was expected with key players missing. It was also a pleasing effort compared to recent weeks, in that the Sharks completed at 78% with only 47% possession and missed 29 tackles. The major area of concern, which has plagued them all season, was the 13 errors that they managed to commit. If this issue is not immediately addressed, the Sharks will fail to improve on this effort. They appear to have the measure of their opponents and this is supported by their standing as favourites ahead of this match. The Titans are missing a key part to their success so far this season and while they have no problems scoring points, they cannot limit it when it matters. This points towards a close victory to the Sharks, a team that will still need a few weeks before normality is resumed in their playing ranks. As for a margin, the Sharks still need time to gel as a team and this points towards this match being decided by less than 2 converted tries.
Sharks 1-12 @ $2.90
North Queensland Cowboys (15th) v Canberra Raiders (12th)
The Cowboys captured a much-needed win last week, just their second for the season and their first since the opening round of the competition. It was beginning to become a major concern for them and a threat to disrupt the chances of featuring in the Finals. The 26-14 win wasn’t as convincing as it needed to be though, with just a 73% completion rate combined with 12 errors halting their momentum at crucial stages. They were far better on in defence, missing just 20 total tackles and reminding fans just how important this area is to their success. Surprisingly, the Raiders sit above them on the competition ladder with a superior points difference lifting them above their opponents with the same number of wins. They fell back to reality last week with a 42-22 loss to the Rabbitohs at home. Hopes were high that the Raiders could continue their winning ways, however that quickly diminished inside the first half with the Rabbitohs jumping to an 18-nil lead. In the end, they were never going to compete with their opponents, especially considering they only completed at 69% (with just 47% possession), committing 13 total errors and missing a massive 42 tackles. This is the sign of how poor the Raiders can be in matches; dramatic improvement is needed if they are to turn around their performance ahead of this match. The task isn’t made any easier by the trip north to Townsville. They have won just 5 matches in 17 attempts (29% success rate) and this is why the home team head into this game as favourites. It is hard to go past them in this match; while the Raiders have their issues to fix, so too do the Cowboys. Their win last week will undoubtedly restore confidence to their playing ranks and they should be able to handle what their opponents throw their way.
Cowboys -7.5 @ $1.90
Parramatta Eels (16th) v Wests Tigers (5th)
The Eels captured their first win of the season last week with a spirited 44-10 win over the struggling Sea Eagles. As poor as their opponents were, a lot of credit has to go to the way the home team executed in that match. A wave of scoring inside the first half established victory for them, heading into HT leading 20-nil. Better yet, they made the Sea Eagles wait until the 57th minute before getting their first points of the match. It was also their best performance of the year in terms of statistics; they completed at 92% with 56% possession, made just 4 errors and missed only 16 tackles. This is a positive sign moving forward and if this trend continues, they will find themselves quickly moving up the ladder. The Tigers were not as lucky in their match, suffering their second loss of the season with a 22-20 defeat by the Knights in Tamworth. They were foiled by a 78th minute try on the right edge which took away from what was a pleasing performance in other areas. It was a high-quality contest from two teams that were not expected to achieve much this year, demonstrating that attitude and effort counts for plenty in the NRL. Over 80 minutes, the Tigers completed at 92% and made just 3 errors. They were let down in defence, continually scrambling to cover the 52 missed tackles that allowed the Knights to gather attacking momentum at different stages. Here, the Tigers will be out to bounce back and return to winning form. The odds suggest that this is a likely outcome, although you can never underestimate the effect that winning form has on a team. The Eels will know that what they created last week needs to be replicated and can take solace in the fact that the Tigers defeated the Sea Eagles by a lesser margin only a few weeks earlier. That being said, the value on offer for the Tigers is there to be taken and there is nothing to suggest that the bubble of this team at this stage of the season.
Tigers 1-12 @ $3.10