The NRL season has reached the halfway mark as we prepare for the first leg of the 2021 State of Origin series. Just four games will take place this weekend with the Roosters, Sea Eagles, Raiders, Sharks, Warriors, Rabbitohs, Bulldogs and Cowboys all getting a well-earned rest before they tackle the second half of their season.
The 12-0 start to the season from the Panthers is just the third time in 113 years of Australian rugby league that a team has started a campaign so well. Can they cope with the loss of their Origin stars and make it a bakers’ dozen when they take on the Wests Tigers this week?
Penrith being this good hasn’t been a shock to anyone, but despite some heavy scorelines, there has still been plenty of surprises along the way in season 2021.
Remember after four weeks when the Sea Eagles and Cowboys were among the bottom four clubs with differentials both worse than -100? The Tom Trbojevic factor and the terrific coaching of Todd Payten has seen both sides move into the top eight on the NRL ladder.
What about the Dragons’ 4-1 start to the year? They are now 5-7, have a host of injuries and suspensions, and are clinging onto eighth spot purely on differential.
As dire as the Tigers have been some weeks, they are only one win away from being tied for eighth on points. Even the Knights aren’t far away if they’re able to get some players back for the remainder of the season.
Positions 7-13 on the ladder are separated by two wins, so there is hope for those teams yet despite the enormous increase in blowout scorelines in recent weeks.
The four games in Round 13 all have big consequences for the back-end of the season, so let’s take a closer look at those fixtures.
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St George Illawarra Dragons vs Brisbane Broncos
The St George Illawarra Dragons have lost six of their last seven games. Along with having a long list of players suspended or injured, they could be missing Ben Hunt, Corey Norman, or both for this clash. Tariq Sims’ recall to the New South Wales team leaves the Saints skinny on the edges, so they are going to have to empty the benches once again.
The Dragons are the $1.50 favourites to get the win, with the -6.5 head start from the NRL bookmakers, but there might be a case to look towards the Brisbane Broncos for the upset at the $2.60 price. Brisbane will be without Payne Haas, who will be on Origin duty for NSW, as well as Xavier Coates for Queensland, but outside of that they can field a reasonably strong side. The other factor for this game is Brisbane haven’t won at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium in 20 years, so they will need to overcome history to get their fourth win of the season.
Wests Tigers vs Penrith Panthers
The Penrith Panthers could be without Nathan Cleary, Isaah Yeo, Jarome Luai, Liam Martin and Kurt Capewell due to State of Origin selection, while Moses Leota will miss the next two games due to suspension. Despite those key absences, they are still the $1.31 favourite to defeat the Tigers. Matt Burton will move into the halves and will most likely be partnered by former Eel Jaeman Salmon, so there is still a decent-quality pairing who will have to play to a different structure than what Cleary and Luai normally do.
The Wests Tigers have no players missing on Origin duty, and they come into this clash off an uplifting 34-18 win over the Dragons. Normally that would mean the $3.50 on offer is well worth a punt, but Penrith still look to have enough quality to get the win and extend their streak to 13.
Melbourne Storm vs Gold Coast Titans
The best time to get the Melbourne Storm is during the State of Origin series, but the Titans themselves will be without their two best players in David Fifita and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui. Melbourne will be missing Harry Grant, Josh Addo-Carr, Cameron Munster, Christian Welch and Felise Kaufusi due to Origin, and Ryan Papenhuyzen is still questionable as he returns from concussion.
Incredibly, the Storm are the shortest favourite of the round at $1.18, which goes to show the value of Fifita and Fa’asuamaleaui for the Gold Coast Titans, who are at the $5 price for the upset. Melbourne didn’t lose a game in all of 2020 when they relocated to the Sunshine Coast, and another terrible performance away from home for the Titans has certainly strengthened the case to take the Storm.
Newcastle Knights vs Parramatta Eels
Whenever Mitchell Pearce is injured and Kalyn Ponga is on State of Origin duty for Queensland, the Newcastle Knights‘ odds of winning diminish drastically against quality opposition. They did manage an 18-10 win over Manly in Round 12 on the back of strong discipline, but Adam O’Brien’s side will need to find more points if they are to challenge Parramatta. Newcastle will be wearing a replica jersey to honour the 2021 premiership side which defeated the Eels, but they are still a $3.25 home underdog.
The Parramatta Eels will be without Junior Paulo, who earned another call-up for the Blues, but the $1.35 price shouldn’t change too much throughout, with the bulk of their squad intact. The Eels have only won four of the last 15 clashes between the two clubs, but punters shouldn’t let historical factors play too much of a role in where they decide to place their money this week.
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