A long weekend of footy in round four of the 2021 NRL season is just about the best way to kick off the first weekend in April, but the clubs are already feeling the pinch. Doctors and physios across the league will be working overtime to ensure they field a team after a brutal round three, but it makes the prospect of eight Easter games no less exciting.
The Bulldogs will need a Christ-like resurrection to cause any problems for the Rabbitohs after failing to score in back-to-back games, while the Titans will get a great chance to solidify their spot among the competition’s best teams when they take on Canberra on the Gold Coast.
The Dragons lost their halfback and skipper Ben Hunt but will head to Newcastle feeling confident after two great wins. On the other side of the coin, the Knights will be seething with their performance in Mitchell Pearce’s 300th game, so there are sure to be fireworks when those two get it on.
The Warriors once again will give punters great value as the underdogs when they take on a depleted Roosters, and the traditional Tigers vs Eels game on Easter Monday now looks like a sensational way to cap off the holiday weekend.
Let’s take a look at all eight clashes in detail.
Manly Sea Eagles vs Penrith Panthers
If you’ve got a house you can afford to lose, put in on the Penrith Panthers. They’re $1.10 at Sportsbet.com.au to get the win, which is as close to a guarantee in a two-horse race as you will ever see. Nathan Cleary will return for the Panthers, whose attack will have more flow and just mount far too much pressure on a brittle defensive line. Get on the backrowers and centres for the Panthers to score tries in this game, as Manly’s edges have been given a beatdown in three straight weeks. We could look until June to find a reason to back Manly and we still wouldn’t find one.
Canterbury Bulldogs vs South Sydney Rabbitohs
Fans and experts across the NRL have completely underestimated how bad the Bulldogs are. Brisbane have conceded an average of 29.4 points since the start of the 2020 season, yet they managed to keep Canterbury scoreless. If it is to get worse for the Dogs than that, it could be the longest season in their proud 86-year history. The South Sydney Rabbitohs in round three absolutely blew the Roosters off the park and made it the most lopsided 1-12 margin you’re likely to ever see, so it will get ugly if they show up in the same mood this weekend.
Melbourne Storm vs Brisbane Broncos
The head-to-head numbers in this matchup are staggering. The Melbourne Storm have won 18 of the last 20 fixtures between these teams, which is not what Broncos fans want to read after they just ended their 13-game losing streak. Melbourne having a losing record at any point is almost impossible to fathom, but their start to the season while still missing key personnel has been as tough as it gets. Unfortunately for Broncos fans, the Storm will win in a procession at the $1.07 price.
Cronulla Sharks vs North Queensland Cowboys
The Cronulla Sharks last week produced one of the best 20-point losses you’ll see given injuries forced them to play the entire second half without a substitution. For long periods they played fantastic goal-line defence, which hasn’t been the mantra of the ‘John Morris Sharks’, but it could prove an important night in their development. The North Queensland Cowboys are in the same boat as the Bulldogs, and how they are only $2.60 following their 44-8 home loss against the Gold Coast is quite stunning. Even though there is still some mystery surrounding just how many troops Cronulla will be missing, the Sharks are in the unusual position where being a $1.50 favourite is good value.
Gold Coast Titans vs Canberra Raiders
The Canberra Raiders could be missing some key players due to HIA protocol and other injuries. The $2.45 for the Titans in the early NRL betting markets should be eaten up, or at worst the +4.5 line at $1.90, considering they haven’t been hit with the injury curse as hard as other clubs. Canberra do have a great record on the Gold Coast, having won their last four on the Glitter Strip. The depth of the Raiders will mean they’ll put a great side on the paddock regardless of what happens during the week, but more often than not a team who have to go deep into their squad do it a little tough, so the Titans have a golden chance.
Newcastle Knights vs St George Illawarra Dragons
The Newcastle Knights had their first taste of expectation for 2021, and they fell back into the old traps that plagued them in 2020. Coming up against clubs they are expected to beat proved problematic for them, and their 18-error performance against the Tigers showed they still have a lot of work to do. Even though the Dragons will be without Ben Hunt, the +9.5 handicap might be worth a bit. They’ve shown they can score points and the Zac Lomax/Matt Dufty combination can cause headaches. A fortnight ago this looked an easy game to pick, but seven days can change everything in the NRL.
Sydney Roosters vs New Zealand Warriors
The NZ Warriors last round were our pick to get the upset, and they can easily move to a 3-1 record and provide some great value for the punters at $2.75 with online bookmakers. The Roosters still have plenty of strike across the park, but without Luke Keary they are going to have some headaches in the halves. It means Sam Walker will more than likely make his debut, but Drew Hutchinson and Lachlam Lam are all of a sudden burdened with a lot more expectation. The Warriors showed last start they can pile on the points quickly, so there will be significant pressure on the Roosters to not wilt when things don’t quite go their way. It makes for a fascinating Sunday night game.
Wests Tigers vs Parramatta Eels
The traditional Easter Monday clash has a bit more juice in it now after the Tigers showed much more of what many expected from them in their win over Newcastle. While not blowing them off the park, they got back to the basics and looked in complete control for most of the game. They’ll be afforded no such luxury against the Parramatta Eels, who have an imposing record at Bankwest Stadium and are one of only two teams who remain undefeated in 2021. It’s a big step up in class for the Tigers, and the -10 handicap for the Eels is a good way to go if you like the Blue and Gold.
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