The competition bye for State of Origin II allowed all 16 teams to get a well-earned rest as they prepare for the run to the 2021 NRL Finals.
The Roosters will have their home game moved to Newcastle so they can escape the COVID restrictions in Sydney, while it remains to be seen if the game at Leichhardt Oval will go ahead on Sunday afternoon.
The highlight of the week is the local derby between the Penrith Panthers and Parramatta Eels, which gives us another look at a potential challenger to the top two. The Eels have been terrific against almost every opposition they’ve faced in 2021, but there is alarming evidence going back a few years suggesting they don’t have what it takes against the teams above them in big games.
Whatever the result, the rest of Round 16 promises to be fascinating viewing.
Roosters vs Storm
The Melbourne Storm are currently $1.31 favourites for the match but could shorten further depending on what they do with their Origin stars. The missing troops for the Sydney Roosters are starting to catch up with them in the NRL betting markets, as they come into this game as a $3.50 outsider for the second consecutive match. The Roosters almost have to have Angus Crichton and James Tedesco back up for the Thursday night clash, which will be played at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle due to COVID-19 restrictions in Sydney. With Melbourne such short favourites and a gap between themselves and the chasing pack beneath them, there could be a chance the Roosters decide to rest both Crichton and Tedesco and play the long game. Melbourne winning at the 13 plus margin seems to be the early thought for this game.
Warriors vs Dragons
The New Zealand Warriors won the corresponding contest in Sydney earlier in the year, but in the last month their season has slipped away from them. They have five wins and 10 losses but are somehow the $1.65 favourites. Teen sensation Reece Walsh was ruled out of State of Origin and will almost certainly be missing for this all-important game. Without Chanel Harris-Tevita against Newcastle, the Warriors attack was anaemic against Newcastle and they will once again struggle to score points. Chad Townsend is a chance to play after securing a release from Cronulla, but even then their attack won’t change overnight. The Dragons got a good come-from-behind win over the Raiders in their last start, and should be encouraged by the performance of Ben Hunt. They are terrific value at the $2.25 price and the punters should get on them before the market swings the other way.
Panthers vs Eels
A genuine top four battle in the west of Sydney is how Friday Night Footy should be. Penrith come in as the $1.31 favourites and should have their cluster of Origin stars on deck. At full strength since the start of 2020, the Panthers have won 28 consecutive regular season games and should get the job done once again unless some of their stars pick up some injuries. Parramatta will also be fully loaded and will be hungry to prove themselves as a genuine contender. Against three clubs in the bottom eight, they’ve racked up scores of greater than 36 in each contest, but in Round 12 they were comfortably dealt with by South Sydney. The bookies are giving Parramatta a +10.5 point head start but it may not be enough against a rampant Penrith.
Bulldogs vs Sea Eagles
Canterbury have shown signs of improvement in recent weeks but it still isn’t enough for the online bookmakers to give them any love. They are the $6.50 outsider for the home game at Bankwest Stadium against the Manly Sea Eagles, and on paper it looks like it will be a tough afternoon. Manly lost their first four games of the year but have since won eight of 10 to rescue their season. Their last two performances have seen them crack the 50 points barrier, which included a 52-0 second half against the Gold Coast Titans. On the back of that bonanza of points, they are the $1.12 favourites and more important than that, Tom Trbojevic should be available to play unless there is an injury issue to come out of Origin II.
Raiders vs Titans
Punters should wait until half time to see who is losing before placing a bet on this game. Both teams coughed up leads in Round 15, but it was the Titans who leaked 52 points in the second half who took the cake. Canberra have surrendered seven double-digit leads in 2021 and they will look at their season as a case of ‘what might have been’, while the Titans are the NRL’s rollercoaster, capable of scoring 24 straight points but then leaking even more. In saying all of that, the $3 for the Titans looks to be a nice throw at the stumps for a game which is harder to pick than a Melbourne Cup winner. Canberra’s only wins since Round Five have been against Brisbane and Canterbury, so their form is dreadful.
Knights vs Cowboys
If Kalyn Ponga can finally overcome a groin issue, the $1.60 for Newcastle is where the majority of punters will place their money. Newcastle secured a vital two points last start with a patient performance from Mitchell Pearce and Jake Clifford, but to get the win over the Cowboys they are going to need the attacking flair of Ponga to create more chances for their outside men. North Queensland have run into a rough patch of form, producing a sloppy effort against Cronulla and being flogged by Manly away from home. They are a $2.35 outsider for this game, but they did get the win over the Knights back in Round 11, so it won’t be smooth sailing for the Knights.
Broncos vs Sharks
Cronulla have moved into the top eight on the back of four straight wins and face a favourable run of games heading into the NRL Finals. As a $1.39 favourite, they are expected to handle Brisbane on a Sunday afternoon at Suncorp Stadium, but do Brisbane begin to aim up with new head of football Ben Ikin on board? They’re $3 to get a win over the Sharks, but aside from that, they’re a big chance to finish with a second consecutive wooden spoon and it could mean dramatic change to an underperforming roster. While Cronulla will win, expect Brisbane to make a big go of it and are good value at the +7.5 line.
Tigers vs Rabbitohs
Wests Tigers fans will be hoping their team spent the break learning how to defend after embarrassing themselves in a 66-16 loss against the Melbourne Storm. They are a long shot at $7, but in their corresponding game against South Sydney earlier this year saw them produce one of the best performances of the year despite a loss in golden point. The Rabbitohs form against everyone below them on the ladder is exceptional. They consistently rack up big scores against bad teams, and as a $1.10 favourite, they should run up the score on a team who couldn’t defend a ham sandwich at this point. Damien Cook, Latrell Mitchell, Cameron Murray and Dane Gagai should all be named to play barring any injuries to come out of State of Origin II.
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