The 2020 NRL Grand Final rematch between the Melbourne Storm and Penrith Panthers headlines a round of footy that is effectively moving week for a number of clubs.
As the NRL Premiership heads into the final quarter of the season, the desperation meter is at 100 for the Tigers, Cowboys and Knights, who all face must-win scenarios to remain in contention for a finals berth.
The Raiders’ gritty win in Round 19 has left them outside the top eight only on points differential, so their match on Saturday evening with the Knights is a golden ticket back into the finals places.
The Dragons’ COVID suspensions will continue to shape their season, and an almost certain loss to the Rabbitohs is going to create carnage in the mid-table.
Even Cronulla, winners in six of their last eight games, could fall out of the top eight with a loss to the Sea Eagles.
Round 20 promises plenty of drama, so let’s take a look at how this week’s NRL action is shaping up.
Roosters vs Eels
Parramatta’s perfect record against bottom eight sides ended last week in a thrilling contest with the Canberra Raiders, and their difficult run into the finals kicks off against the Roosters on Thursday night football. They are still $1.55 favourites with Sportsbet for this contest, but the Roosters at the $2.45 price are going to attract significant interest from the punters. No matter who takes the field for the Chooks they just keep finding ways to be competitive and win games, so expect the +4.5 line to get a solid working over as well as that head-to-head price.
Tigers vs Warriors
This game is a straight-up tipster’s nightmare. The Wests Tigers once again had 40 put on them and disappointed when they had a chance to put real pressure on the teams above them, while the Warriors had 60 points put on them to extend their losing run to nine of their last 10. Trying to pick a winner in this one with any certainty is a mug’s game, but the early favouritism does sit with the Tigers at $1.80, while the Warriors are the $2 outsider. With a skinny betting line of just 1.5 points, we can expect a close contest to kick off Friday night football.
Broncos vs Cowboys
Any time these two get together for the XXXX Derby it is full of fireworks, and the first instalment for 2021 was decided by a Valentine Holmes field goal. The line is set appropriately at just 1.5 points again, so we can expect another game between these two to go right down to the wire. The Broncos are the slight favourites at the $1.85 price and weren’t far away from knocking off the Panthers last week, while the Cowboys pushed the Storm harder than any team since Round 3 to go down by eight points. North Queensland come in at the $1.95 price, effectively making this game a coin toss.
Dragons vs Rabbitohs
The St George Illawarra Dragons are starting to show the effects of those COVID suspensions, and this game looks far too imposing for them. They currently sit at $7 with NRL bookmakers, but once team lists are announced and we see who is serving their suspension, we can expect the price to drift even further. The Rabbitohs were in sublime touch against the Warriors, covering the line with plenty of time left in the second half as they racked up 60 points. The line is at -20.5 for Souths as the $1.10 favourite, but that could drift to as far as -24.5 to adjust to the strength of their opposition.
Raiders vs Knights
Three weeks ago, the final six games for the Knights was rated as the second-easiest schedule to finish the season. Since then, the Raiders have won three games in a row to move into the top eight and start the week as the $1.71 favourite, making life so much tougher for the Knights. Media pundits started to use the unwanted ‘soft’ commentary surrounding the Knights’ performance against the Roosters, saying a trademark of their season has been to turn their toes up once the pressure rises. Mitchell Pearce may return from a hamstring niggle and David Klemmer will be a big inclusion for the Knights, but the -2.5 line for the Raiders looks a slam dunk this early in the week.
Storm vs Panthers
This is the game of the season. There is no two ways about it. Fans have sat through many blowout scorelines to get to this 2020 NRL Grand Final rematch, and it promises to be a fantastic contest. The Penrith Panthers might be the long outsider at $3.50, but if Nathan Cleary is named to return on Tuesday that price will come right in, so perhaps taking a gamble on his fitness is where the money can be made. Melbourne are gunning for their 16th consecutive win, and if they can get the two points, it would give them a four-point advantage at the top of the table and effectively end the battle for the Minor Premiership. The Storm’s win over the Cowboys was the only game in their current winning run where they were unable to cover the line, so can they bounce back to cover the -10.5 head start? Expect Cameron Munster to return to the team after being rested against the Cowboys.
Bulldogs vs Titans
The Titans have a fantastic opportunity to move back into the top eight if they can secure a win as the $1.31 favourite over the Bulldogs. They would need Manly and Souths to take care of business for them to move into eighth place, but they have to see this as an absolute gimme. Canterbury were blown away by Cronulla when they had just 12 men on the field, but after half-time they found points quickly to make a game of it. In their last three games they’ve been able to find more ways to score points, and all of those proved to be entertaining affairs, which plays into the Titans’ hands because of their love for a game of touch football. A 2pm kick off means the overs is a must, but the Bulldogs at the $3.50 price look a little outmatched.
Sharks vs Sea Eagles
This game shapes as another high-scoring affair fresh off both teams scoring 40 points in Round 19. Manly were far too strong for the Tigers and looked impressive once they put the foot on the throat after half-time, while the Sharks let their guard down and allowed the Bulldogs to get back into the game. That period is the difference between the two clubs, and we expect it to be the period where Manly assert their dominance. Cronulla are the $4 outsider and historically have a bad record against the Sea Eagles, but they could attract some interest at the +13.5 line if Shaun Johnson is able to return from his hamstring injury. Manly look to be at full strength with no significant injury news coming out of last weekend.
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