The 2021 NRL schedule has created an unusual set of circumstances for Round 15.
The Cowboys and Sharks will be in direct competition for a place in the top eight on Friday evening, and the Roosters will move on with life after Boyd Cordner when they take on the Penrith Panthers.
What the State of Origin period has created, almost by accident, is a genuine race for the minor premiership after one bookmaker had paid out on the Panthers to run away with it.
They are back in second on points differential with Melbourne moving back to the top for the time being, so that race between the competition’s two best teams will provide plenty of entertainment.
Let’s take a look at all eight games on the fixture this week, as well as the match odds on offer at Sportsbet.com.au.
Broncos vs Rabbitohs
The Brisbane Broncos will return to Suncorp Stadium to kick off Round 15, and they will come into the contest as the $5.50 outsider. Two bad away losses to the Raiders and Dragons have undone the good work of their upset win over the Roosters, but they should be buoyed by a return to the Sunshine State.
South Sydney are at the $1.15 price, and you’d be a brave man to suggest they won’t get their 11th win of the season. This will be the last time Brisbane have to play against Adam Reynolds, who will head to the Queensland capital in 2022. The Bunnies will also get Damien Cook, Dane Gagai and Jai Arrow back into their side, as they were given a rest against Newcastle after Origin I.
The line is currently 16.5, and most punters will either take Souths at that figure or back them at the 13+ margin, depending on which market gives the better value. At the moment, the -16.5 line looks the play seeing as online bookies are paying around $1.60 for the Rabbitohs at the big margin.
Cowboys vs Sharks
North Queensland took themselves out of premiership contention by conceding 50 points against the Sea Eagles in Round 14, but their fans will be keen to see them bounce back when they take on Cronulla at Queensland Country Bank Stadium on Friday evening. They are the $1.71 favourite to get the win, and Tom Deardon will be better for the run in his second game for the Cowboys, but you’d have to expect coach Todd Payten will look to tinker with his team after conceding such a big score.
A Cronulla win would see them move into the top eight at the expense of the Cowboys. The Sharks have managed to win three in a row, with two of those wins coming against top-eight sides, so there is some value in them at the $2.15 price.
The line is just 2.5, so either way, expect this game to go down to the wire. Also look for Valentine Holmes to play a pivotal role in the outcome as he faces his old side.
Panthers vs Roosters
The shock retirement of club captain Boyd Cordner due to concussion concerns will have the Sydney Roosters firmly in the spotlight when they head to BlueBet Stadium on Friday evening to try and dish out a third-straight loss to Penrith.
Now that they will regain their representative stars, the Panthers have rocketed into $1.31 favouritism. The absence of Brian To’o, Jarome Luai, Nathan Cleary and Kurt Capewell showed that Penrith are indeed mortal, but with those big inclusions, expect to see them back to the same side who won 27 consecutive regular-season games before those big names were rested for State of Origin duties.
The Roosters aren’t often at $3.50 in the NRL betting markets, but this could well be a tough night for them. The Panthers should take care of the -10.5 line, with the Roosters defence lacking consistency due to a stunning run of retirements and injuries in 2021.
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Knights vs Warriors
This game is an absolute must-win for both teams. Importantly for Newcastle, they will get David Klemmer, Mitchell Pearce, Hymel Hunt and possibly Kalyn Ponga back into their side as they try to rescue a season which has been ruined by a shocking injury toll.
The Knights have been $5 outsiders in their last two games, but with the news of those inclusions and the Warriors losing four of their last five, they are surprisingly the $1.71 favourites this weekend. Jake Clifford in his two games so far has shown he will be a terrific asset for them going forward in the halves.
Meanwhile, the Warriors have recently moved on some experienced players in the back line and look to be running out of steam. They are the outsiders at $2.15, but perhaps Nathan Brown can get his current side up to play against his former club.
Dragons vs Raiders
The Dragons have traditionally struggled against the Raiders since the year 2000, and their horrible Queen’s Birthday performance against the Bulldogs did nothing to suggest they will beat Canberra. The club’s leaked criticism of Matt Dufty has had an adverse effect, and it is hard to see that situation getting better the longer the season goes.
Surprisingly, St George Illawarra come into the game at WIN Stadium as the $1.65 favourites, so the Raiders as the $2.25 outsiders look like great value. Canberra’s win last week came against a bad Brisbane side, but they’ll look at this game as a chance to get some momentum going. Jake Averillo ran rings around the Dragons’ defence, so Jack Wighton and Bailey Simonsson should be feeling as though they can do the same.
Storm vs Tigers
Melbourne have never lost an NRL game at Sunshine Coast Stadium, so it is no surprise to see them pegged as $1.08 favourites. Penrith have received all the plaudits of being one of the best teams we have seen in the NRL era, but this Storm side should be getting more attention.
Melbourne have scored 40 points in eight of their 14 games, and the record for an entire season is nine. It feels like a fait accompli that they’ll smash that record. They have also won 11 games in a row, with 10 of them being by more than 13 points.
The Wests Tigers are priced at $8, but they might as well be $800. Michael Maguire’s men were attempting to get their fourth win in five games when they faced the Eels last week, but his team conceded 40 points and reminded everyone of why they continue to remain on the mediocrity treadmill.
Eels vs Bulldogs
Canterbury-Bankstown produced their best performance in several years to beat the Dragons 28-6 on Queen’s Birthday Monday, but it will be a huge step up in class when they face the Parramatta Eels on Sunday afternoon at Bankwest Stadium.
Parramatta have produced two excellent performances in their last two starts, but the $1.08 favouritism feels extremely short for a rivalry game – even if the Bulldogs have just two wins this season.
The Eels still have some issues with their outside men in defence, and while the Bulldogs might not be the team to exploit them, it will be one area to watch in the coming weeks as the stakes get higher with each game.
Titans vs Sea Eagles
The Titans almost pulled off a 26-point comeback against the Roosters, and while that was an incredible revival, questions have to be asked about why they were forced to come from 30-4 down at home. The Gold Coast have probably been the most frustrating team to follow in 2021, so their $3.10 price should make the online bookies a little nervous.
Tom Trbojevic will return for the Sea Eagles after being rested due to State of Origin duties, and adding him to a team who scored 50 points in his absence should make Titans fans nervous. Manly are the $1.37 favourite, but the -7.5 line for the Sea Eagles is going to be really hard to ignore for this contest.
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