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NRL Round 18 Review: Final eight locked and loaded

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It’s almost difficult to comprehend that there are just two games remaining before the 2020 NRL Finals Series kicks off.

Round 18 saw the Roosters lay the smackdown, the Rabbitohs bumble and stumble, the Raiders run riot, Melbourne be Melbourne and Parramatta be Parramatta.

One punter put $300k on the Chooks at $1.08. Within about 15 minutes, they’d have felt as if they’d robbed $24,000.

Not all of us can have that type of win, so let’s look back and see how the weekend unfolded.

Tigers 2426 Rabbitohs

At 20-0, the South Sydney Rabbitohs looked as if they were about to run up a cricket score on the awful Tigers.

For reasons unknown, they entered the twilight zone moments after they reached 20 points and proceeded to stumble to the finish line, almost pulling defeat from the jaws of victory on several occasions.

The Wests Tigers finished with a wet sail for the second week in a row, but their fans must be bewildered as to why they have to get down by three tries before they switch on.

At the centre of the comeback was Adam Doueihi and Benji Marshall, who gave fans the full Benji show.

One minute it was miraculous cut-out balls for tries in the corner, the next it was hospital passes and grubber kicks on the second tackle with the game on the line.

We thought Souths 13+ was home and hosed, but the less said about how the game finished for those who backed that margin, the better.

Bulldogs 2032 Sea Eagles

This game had far more points than we expected, but it still wasn’t a classic in any sense of the word.

We thought the 1-12 margin on either side was the way to go, but trying to work out which team to pick was going to be painful.

In the end it was the Manly Sea Eagles who finally had a win to break their six-game losing streak, while rookie winger Morgan Harper bagged a double against his old club.

The Canterbury Bulldogs in 2018 told their fans they’d rebuild by putting a big focus on local juniors, but letting Harper move to the Sea Eagles while they bring back a washed-up Tim Lafai and continue to get nothing out of Dallin Watene-Zelezniak is indefensible.

Panthers 202 Eels

The first half of this game was a case of one side clearly being a mile on top but failing to convert any of their chances.

Had the Penrith Panthers turned even just 50% of their genuine tryscoring chances in the first half into points, they might have got close to putting 50 on the Eels.

Many will still question Penrith’s credentials because of their supposed soft schedule, but they continue to defend at an incredibly high level and can score against anyone.

We campaigned for Penrith 1-12, which would have struck if not for a Jarome Luai try in the 79th minute. One of those kinds of days!

But if you went conservatively and took the -7.5 start on Penrith as we recommended, you would have been in cruise control the entire second half.

Where do we start with the Parramatta Eels?

It’s becoming clearer by the week they don’t have what it takes to win the title, and if they don’t fix things quickly, they’ll bow out in straight sets in October.

For Parra to be held try-less in two of their last three games is a damning stat at this time of year.

Dragons 837 Raiders

Here is one we got right.

We said Cody Ramsey would be “half a chance to cross first for the Saints”, and he duly obliged on debut at a handy price of $15.

Better yet, the teenager doubled up on debut and finished with the St George Illawarra Dragons‘ only two tries of the game.

We also loved the Canberra Raiders for a 13+ win, although we will admit to being a bit nervous at half time.

In their last few games against bottom-eight opponents, Canberra have started slow before romping home in second halves against Brisbane, Gold Coast, Canterbury and now St George Illawarra.

The Raiders look locked and loaded for a home final in week one and will be a sure thing to defeat whoever finishes eighth, so put that in your black book.

Titans 186 Broncos

The Gold Coast Titans were expected to defeat the Broncos and did so by keeping them scoreless for the final 72 minutes of the contest.

Keeping Brisbane to six points is no achievement to write home about, but at least the Titans are doing what other regular NRL teams are doing.

They’ve won three in a row against teams they would expect to defeat, and their future under Justin Holbrook is looking brighter by the week.

The Brisbane Broncos are lucky Canterbury are so abysmal and have to play Penrith and Souths in the coming fortnight, meaning the Queenslanders will survive the dreaded wooden spoon.

But make no mistake: non-Brisbane fans will ride them hard about this season until they become a consistent top-eight force again, and it could be some time before that happens.

Roosters 4212 Knights

We’d like to apologise to anyone who took our advice of Newcastle Knights +19.5 being easy money.

The worst part about this one for Knights fans is while they didn’t expect to win with some star players being rested, to get belted when everyone was pumping up the Sydney Roosters’ tyres would have felt like a gut punch.

The Chooks came in as far as $1.08 and attracted some huge bets, and it ended up being justified by another stinker from the Knights.

Storm 3620 Cowboys

While the North Queensland Cowboys scored first, they were never any chance of defeating Melbourne.

In the first set after they scored, Josh McGuire was sent off for 10 minutes for dissent, which would have had coach Josh Hannay stripping paint off the walls.

It’s unacceptable for any player to do that while in possession of the ball, let alone a senior figure in the side.

We liked Melbourne -30.5 better than Cowboys +19.5, so of course the Storm won by 16.

Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow always attracts a lot of attention in the first tryscorer betting, but if you were brave enough to back him against the Melbourne Storm, we hope you enjoy every cent of such a crazy bet.

Sharks 2214 Warriors

What was shaping up as the story of the season came to the cruelest of conclusions at Kogarah on Sunday evening.

The New Zealand Warriors had overcome a 12-point deficit to lead by two, but Toby Rudolph and Ronaldo Mulitalo crossed in the last seven minutes to end the impossible dream.

Proving there are no fairytales in sport, Rudolph reneged on a contract with the Warriors just a few weeks ago.

Not often does a team capture the imagination of the neutral fans, but NZ have done so against all odds this season.

They face Canberra next and have shown more than enough to suggest they can make like difficult for the Raiders.

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