The State of Origin silly season has well and truly kicked in, and it could see some unexpected turns as NRL team lists become a day-to-day proposition.
Manly and North Queensland face some huge decisions in the build-up to their game, while Penrith also have to think about the long-term health of their squad as they navigate an Origin period like they’ve never experienced.
A week off is going to leave the Sydney Roosters feeling refreshed after a brutal opening to their 2021 NRL campaign, while a freezing, wet night awaits the Brisbane Broncos in Canberra.
Let’s take a look at what is ahead for us in Round 14 of the NRL Premiership.
Sea Eagles vs Cowboys
Key players on both sides of this contest are going to be last-minute decisions on whether they back up and play just 48 hours after Origin I. Tom Trbojevic headlines the list of players who face this predicament, and from the outside looking in, it feels crazy that Manly would risk playing him in this situation.
The Sea Eagles may be the $1.32 favourites, but if Tommy Turbo is missing at Lottoland on Friday night, the $3.40 on offer for the North Queensland Cowboys is going to be hard to ignore. Unfortunately, punters can only be sure one hour before kickoff, and when the decision is made, it will drastically change the betting market.
Getting on the Cowboys early feels like the best play, or at worst, take them at the +9.5 line. North Queensland usually struggle when they travel to Sydney, but they have won their past three games at Lottoland, so there is more than the Trbojevic factor at stake. Valentine Holmes is likely to be given a rest as well, so do they unleash Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow at fullback?
Sharks vs Panthers
Penrith were decimated in Round 13 against the Wests Tigers. With seven players in action on Wednesday evening, do the Panthers go into the game with the thought to rest their entire Origin contingent? They are the $1.31 favourite with online bookies, but there is certainly cause to think about getting on the Sharks early in the week.
Will Ivan Cleary make the call that some or all of those players will back up? If he doesn’t, leave enough cash to hedge your bet before kickoff. Cronulla do sit in 13th position on the ladder, but they have enough in their arsenal to cause the boilover if Penrith try and play the long game.
Shaun Johnson is officially on the hunt for a new club, and a top-shelf performance against the best team in the competition is a great way to put his talents in the shop window. Expect a big game from the Kiwi legend at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium and the very real prospect that a team as low as Cronulla could hand out a second loss for Penrith.
Titans vs Roosters
The young legs of Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and David Fifita coupled with the extra day of rest should mean they both take their place in the Titans line-up to face the Sydney Roosters. Gold Coast will return to CBUS Super Stadium as the $3.75 roughie on Saturday afternoon, and an inconsistent season can all of a sudden turn around quickly if they are able to get back into the winners’ circle against a prestigious club like the Roosters.
The bye would have done the Roosters all sorts of favours for their players carrying bumps and bruises, but no bye for the Titans could mean they play this game without AJ Brimson as he gets managed through the Origin series. The Roosters will head to Queensland as the $1.28 favourite and are going to be seriously hard to stop, but the Titans showed as a huge outsider against the Storm they’re capable of pushing the big guns.
Rabbitohs vs Knights
If the recent form of the Knights is anything to go by, this game could be an absolute flogging. Newcastle’s right edge has given up a double to Maika Sivo and a hat-trick to Murray Taulagi in recent weeks, and their performance against the Eels was nothing short of horrible. At $5 they are the longest price of any team this week, but there is a chance they will get Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga to return to their side, which would surely bring their price down.
South Sydney are an extremely short $1.18 and will make light work of a side they’ve had enormous success over since 2012. They have won 10 of the last 12 clashes between the two clubs, and it’s been lopsided on the score line in almost all of those games. The Bunnies scored at least 30 points in seven of those wins, with four of those scores going to 46 and higher.
Souths were belted by both Melbourne and Penrith earlier this season, but they’ve barely been challenged against any other side. The 13+ margin for the Bunnies feels like an absolute lock.
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Raiders vs Broncos
Just when more controversy wasn’t needed down in Canberra, centre Curtis Scott has allegedly been involved in a physical altercation which will leave their squad facing even more pressure. The Raiders lost seven of their last eight games before the bye, but they are somehow just $1.37 to defeat the Brisbane Broncos at GIO Stadium. That price is an indictment on everything the Broncos stand for, but conceding 52 in their last outing is certainly going to contribute to them being $3.10 to get the upset win.
What the Raiders do to fix their issues in their spine is a mystery, with George Williams released and Caleb Aekins not up to first-grade standard. Brisbane will get Payne Haas and Xavier Coates back into their line-up, but will it be enough for a young team to get an upset win at a frigid GIO Stadium?
Warriors vs Storm
It’s quite rare in a season that two different clubs will have winning streaks that climb into the double digits, but the Melbourne Storm’s victory over the Titans in Round 13 was their 10th in succession. In a staggering record, the first nine wins came at the 13+ margin, which has never been done in NRL history. The Storm will travel down to Central Coast Stadium as the $1.18 favourites, and even if they decide to rest all of their Origin stars, they’ve already proven they can beat a team in the bottom half of the ladder with some horses on the sidelines.
The Warriors might get the Knights, Sharks and Dragons in the weeks following this game, but the fact they got this game on a Sunday is a small stroke of misfortune. Two extra days’ rest for the Storm’s Origin contingent means they’ll be too much to handle for the plucky Kiwis, who are rank outsiders at the $5 price.
Eels vs Tigers
Parramatta’s last month has had some big wins and then some big losses against quality opponents. Their 40-4 win in Round 13 over Newcastle confirmed what we all knew about the Eels over the last couple of seasons: against sides outside the top four they can run up the score and look like world beaters, but when push comes to shove, they don’t have what it takes to be a genuine contender.
The Eels are the $1.28 favourite at Bankwest Stadium in Sunday’s centrepiece game, but the Wests Tigers have won three of their last four games. If the Tigers can get a win at the $3.75 price, perhaps they join the race for the top eight.
Bulldogs vs Dragons
Footy on a public holiday Monday normally sounds like a great start to a working week, but the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs are going to make it a hard one to watch. Still sitting on just one win for the year, the Dogs are $4.50 to get a win over the St George Illawarra Dragons.
The Saints had a huge bounce-back performance against the Broncos to win 52-24, but it’s easy to forget they trailed that game 18-12 only 10 minutes out from half-time. They did show a ruthless streak to make a bad team pay for simple mistakes, even if the Dragons themselves are missing plenty of big names.
A Dragons win feels like a fait accompli, and it should settle a few of the nerves that were beginning to grow before the clash with Brisbane.
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