The COVID-19 situation in Sydney has meant 11 NRL teams from New South Wales and the Canberra Raiders will pack up and set up camp in Queensland for the foreseeable future to keep the competition live, with the Australia Rugby League Commission making the decision on Sunday evening.
Just how all the teams react to being in a camp environment 24/7 will be interesting to see and will ultimately have a big bearing on who will sneak into the top eight.
With the competition being as lopsided as it has been, the one positive that has come from some mediocre results is that 14 teams can still realistically play finals football.
The Tigers have been awful for the most part in 2021, but they sit just four points outside the top eight. If they can get their act together, they can still make a run at September.
Just what happens to the Dragons following their COVID breach remains a mystery. Will they even be able to field a team against the Sea Eagles this weekend?
The Knights all of a sudden will travel from Newcastle to Queensland to Melbourne in the space of a few days to throw just a bit more chaos into their season, while the Raiders will look for a second win in a row to move back to within striking distance of the top eight.
The peloton of mediocrity means high-stakes games every week. Let’s take a look at the rest of Round 18.
Titans vs Eels
Gold Coast were impressive in their 44-6 win before the bye, but to beat Parramatta they’ll need everyone available and may miss out on the likes of Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, David Fifita and Moeaki Fotuaika. With the game just 48 hours after Origin III, asking all three to back up is unlikely and even if they do, it’s a big ask to get their best performance. They are currently at the $2.40 price as a home underdog, but once the dust settles on Origin III and the focus returns to the competition, expect that price to drift even further. Parramatta as the $1.57 favourite will shorten, but they should have Mitchell Moses available to play but may decide to rest prop Junior Paulo. Parramatta won’t have had long to settle in before they take the field on the Gold Coast, so perhaps they start the game slow.
Sea Eagles vs Dragons
The COVID breach and the sacking of Paul Vaughan has meant a suspension of the betting market for this game, and there are real doubts about it even going ahead. Watch this space.
Raiders vs Sharks
Cronulla start out as the $1.57 favourites with online bookies and have a good record in Canberra over recent years, but did the Raiders turn their season around in Round 17? The Raiders simplified their game and got back to some basics, so it will be interesting to see how they rebound as a $2.40 underdog. Jack Wighton will certainly play if he is not injured in State of Origin, but the forward depth at Canberra might mean Josh Papalii gets rested, so don’t bank of the big man backing up. One thing the Raiders do have in Queensland is a healthy following, a tribute to the impact Mal Meninga had on the club, so they should have a good representation of fans for their games. Cronulla were on the field against the Warriors when the decision was made and Shaun Johnson’s reaction post-game when he found out the plans of moving the competition told fans just how hard it is going to be for some players.
Cowboys vs Roosters
North Queensland have proven same-day travel has been a nightmare for them to handle, so now with the change to the competition structure, they are one of the beneficiaries. They are still a $2.90 outsider on the back of their horror run of form since the bye, but you’d have to think in coming weeks they will spoil a few team’s tips as they can settle in and not have to travel interstate. The Roosters come into the game as the $1.40 favourite and were given a bit of a scare against the Bulldogs, who got down and dirty with them in the rain at Bankwest Stadium. A dry track up in North Queensland will be a much more favourable surface for the Roosters to play their expansive style and they should win.
Storm vs Knights
The Storm have been hard enough to beat in 2021, but the Newcastle Knights have been handed the raw end of the pineapple through no fault of their own. They will enter Queensland on Wednesday before travelling to Melbourne to take on the Storm Saturday night, so they have no time to get settled anywhere in what is looking like a whirlwind first week away from home. The Knights have shown signs of life in recent weeks, but the Storm have a huge advantage of being able to play home games at AAMI Park for the rest of the season and come in as a $1.14 favourite, while the Knights are an absolute long shot at $5.75.
Warriors vs Panthers
The bottom has fallen out of the Warriors season, having lost seven of their last eight games. Only two of those losses were games they were never in and you can mount an argument they should have won against the Dragons, Knights and Cowboys. The fact they are once again on the move won’t impact their performance, but playing against the Penrith Panthers probably will, who come in as the $1.28 favourite. Penrith will once again be with Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary, but will they rest their healthy Origin stars to keep them fresh for the run to the finals? If the Warriors start to drift north of $4, it might be worth a quick investment if you want to take a chance on Penrith resting their star players.
Broncos vs Tigers
It’s a rare occurrence, but the Broncos are the $1.57 favourite and would have to fancy their chances against the Tigers. Wests look to be a club full of players who look for excuse and being forced to relocate on a moment’s notice could well and truly give their entire squad the soft excuse they can fall back on. They’ve conceded 144 points in their last three games and Brisbane showed that if you allow them the chance to play a game of touch football with them, they have more than enough talent to make you pay the price. One certainty for this game will be for punters to back the ‘overs’ in this game, with the Tigers having conceded 30 points in 10 of their games so far this season.
Rabbitohs vs Bulldogs
The Bulldogs put in a terrific performance against the Roosters, only going down by six points in a courageous effort. Even that display hasn’t changed the bookmaker’s minds, coming in as a rank outsider at $9.75. The Rabbitohs are at the Black Caviar numbers of $1.05 and have routinely run up big scores against bad teams, and they will have all of their State of Origin stars back on deck just to make life harder for Canterbury. This game on the betting market will be all about how many Alex Johnston will score, with the prolific winger bagging 13 in his last five games.
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