With the State of Origin series fading in the background, the race for the NRL Finals is heating up and there is going to be carnage on the ride home.
Positions seven to 13 on the ladder are all separated by just four points and there is still time for several other teams to make a run, but it can’t start any later than this weekend.
Canberra Raiders have taken big strides to turn their season around in the last fortnight, but they face a huge test on Thursday Night Football against Parramatta.
Newcastle have the second-easiest run home from this point, but their dreadful performance against the Storm left a lot to be desired and injuries to Mitchell Pearce and Daniel Saifiti could throw a spanner in the works.
Even the Wests Tigers are still in the race to play finals following a good win over Brisbane, but are they up to the task of beating a Manly side who will have the Trbojevic brothers returning?
One thing we got from the opening weekend of ‘NRL Hub’ footy was expansive and high-scoring games due to the warm Queensland conditions.
If ever discipline mattered in rugby league, it is now.
Eels vs Raiders
Parramatta come into the game as a $1.28 favourite with the top betting sites and will welcome back Mitchell Moses and Junior Paulo, who were rested last weekend by coach Brad Arthur. Their first half against Gold Coast was superb before coasting to an 18-point win, and it’s that second half that adds fuel to the ‘they can’t win the premiership’ fire, so how they perform in those situations in the coming weeks will be interesting to watch. Canberra have won two-in-a-row to take their season off life support, but Jack Wighton is going to be under an injury cloud on the short turnaround, having problems with his rib cage in the second half against Cronulla. Both teams have excellent recent records at CBUS Super Stadium, so the $3.75 for the Raiders is a big price but there will be some who take that number on. The +11.5 line will certainly be given plenty of attention.
Roosters vs Knights
The Sydney Roosters are 15th in completion percentage and are bottom four in errors made, but they still find themselves scoring more than 26 points per game in 2021. They are the $1.35 favourite in the head-to-head market to defeat the Newcastle Knights and will technically be the ‘home’ team at Sunshine Coast Stadium, but what to make of their form in recent weeks? If they had a goal kicker against the Cowboys, the win would have been much more comfortable, but heavy losses to Penrith and Melbourne as well as barely eking out wins over the Bulldogs and Titans leave many scratching their heads over their form. The same can be said about Newcastle, who produced a mystifyingly bad effort against the Storm, where they almost sat back and stargazed. The Knights are $3.25 but should shorten if Mitchell Pearce and Daniel Saifiti can both overcome injury concerns. David Klemmer and Kalyn Ponga will both have to pass HIA protocol to take their place in the game.
Cowboys vs Storm
Since the bye, the Cowboys have not won a game and it feels as though they cannot buy any luck. They had moments against the Roosters where they looked as though they would cause the upset, but ultimately they failed badly in the final 10 minutes of that game. The last thing they needed in the midst of a five-game losing streak is to have the Melbourne Storm standing on the other side of halfway. The Cowboys are $9 and will be absolutely friendless in the market for this game and you’ll see punters take on the Storm no matter how big the line is. Melbourne have covered the line in every game of their 14-game winning streak and with -23.5 being the starting point, five out of five punters would be taking the $1.90 on offer. Christian Welch and Josh Addo-Carr will come straight back into the team after they were given a rest by coach Craig Bellamy.
Rabbitohs vs Warriors
Souths were made to work extremely hard for their 32-24 win over the Bulldogs, but all that mattered was getting the two points while Latrell Mitchell was rested to prime himself for a run at premiership glory. The last time they played the Warriors on the Sunshine Coast, Cody Walker scored four tries in what was a classic game in 2019, but the $1.18 price they’re being given suggests it will be anything but that. The Warriors finished the game without a bench against the Panthers and Tohu Harris could be out for the season with an ACL injury, so the $5 price should drift dramatically, especially if Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is unable to overcome a concussion in time for the match. The Warriors have lost eight of their last nine games and should all but be eliminated from Finals contention in this game should it go as scripted.
Sea Eagles vs Tigers
Manly were pushed hard by an under-strength St George-Illawarra side before prevailing 32-18, so they will feel fantastic knowing they get the Trbojevic brothers and Daly Cherry-Evans back into their side. They are a skinny $1.15 in the head-to-head market, but the punters on this game will probably look towards the Sea Eagles at the -16.5 line to boost the value to $1.90. Wests were terrific in the second half against Brisbane and went on to score 42 points, but they are $5.50 to win this one. Their edge defence showed they still had big issues out wide, and it leaves them extremely vulnerable to a Tommy Turbo masterclass. Adam Doueihi back in the halves against Brisbane played perhaps his best game in first grade, but they’ll need to show more in defence if they’re to cause an upset and it’s hard to see that happening.
Panthers vs Broncos
The Penrith Panthers were pushed by a gallant Warriors side and were patchy throughout the entire game, but they are still a hot $1.18 favourite to beat the Brisbane Broncos. Jarome Luai is expected to return in the halves and he will bring a lot of the flair this Penrith side has become known for, so expect the left-edge to return to its dominant best. Brisbane played well for long patches against the Tigers but fell apart badly in the final 20 minutes. They pushed the Panthers right until the death earlier in the season and they’ll need to find that resolve if they are any chance. The $5 head-to-head price is probably the shortest they’ll be all week once team lists come out.
Dragons vs Titans
This is an enormous game for both clubs. A win for the Dragons will keep them in the top eight, but a loss could see them in danger of sliding out. A win for the Titans could see them take one big step towards a Finals berth, but their inconsistency from week-to-week and sometimes in the same game leaves punters with little to no faith. The Titans start as the $1.55 favourite for what will be an ‘away’ game at CBUS Super Stadium for them, but until teams are named and we see what Dragons’ players will serve their COVID suspension, it is hard to see which way the market will go. Another interesting selection will be if Tyrell Sloan keeps his place over Matt Dufty in the starting fullback role.
Bulldogs vs Sharks
Canterbury have shown a lot of improvement in the last two weeks with close losses to the Rabbitohs and the Roosters. If they continue to progress in the same manner, the Sharks as the $1.25 favourite are in huge trouble. The Bulldogs have looked more likely to score when they get chances inside attacking 20 in the last two weeks, and unless the Sharks are willing to pay the price, the $4 for the Bulldogs to win the game is going to get plenty of punters taking a calculated risk. Cronulla did lose to the Bulldogs earlier in the season, so will lightning strike twice?
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