7 games this round to have a punt on, highlighted by the Bulldogs versus Brisbane.
PENRITH V SOUTH SYDNEY Friday night, Pepper Stadium
They have struggled for consistency since the start of the season and haven’t managed to win more than two in a row, however, face a Souths outfit that is absolutely struggling and are there to be taken. Rabbitohs fans have seen their side lose nine of 12 matches since winning the opening two games of the season.
Souths have lost three-in-a-row going into this but the last two of those have been extremely disappointing. Losses to the Eels and Tigers by an average of 17 points suggest that all is not well with Michael Maguire’s men. Defence has been the key to their woes as they have leaked nearly 28.5 points per game in their last four outings.
IT’S NEVER EASY
Penrith have made close games somewhat of an art form in 2016 with all but two of their matches being decided by single figures. Their four games at Pepper Stadium this year have seen the average winning margin at just three points but it must be noted they have lost three of those with their only win being against the Broncos back in Round 3.
While both teams will have Origin players backing up, all things being equal we cannot go past the Panthers to win this. Interest will sit in whether Matt Moylan and Josh Mansour line up for the Mountain Men while Souths will have Greg Inglis and Adam Reynolds backing up.
Outside of the Head-to-Head ($1.38 William Hill) market go for the Panthers 1-12 ($3.10 LuxBet) in Margin betting.
NEWCASTLE V STGEORGE ILLAWARRA Saturday afternoon, Hunter Stadium
That is one of the best, if not the best, record any team has when traveling on the road against an opponent.
Newcastle has lost their last eight games heading into this one. Nathan Brown’s men have won just once this season and sit on three competition points (with one Draw). They have the worst attack (11.5ppg) and defence (35ppg) and it’s really difficult to make any case for them here.
The Dragons are the second worst attackers in the competition with 12.7ppg, however, their defence is generally quite good against teams outside the top eight.
They go into this one off the back of a 20-10 win over the Storm last week, however, they were aided by the fact Melbourne didn’t have their Origin stars. Regardless of that they showed they can grind out wins – something the Knights are nowhere near capable of doing.
ANOTHER TWO POINTS
If the Dragons have any hopes of playing finals footy then they need to win this one with authority. We think they’ll get the two points but we aren’t declaring them ‘good things’ by any stretch of the imagination. Take them 1-12 ($3.10 William Hill).
Looking for value? Go with Euan Aitken ($11 Bet365) in 1st Tryscorer markets.
CRONULLA V NZ WARRIORS Saturday afternoon, Shark Park
Cronulla head into this, off the back of a 10-match winning streak which is one shy of the club record. While they go into this one as favourites we believe they could be given a run for their money by the Warriors who are themselves on a three-match winning run. The Kiwis have won 20 of 27 games during the Origin period over the last six seasons, which is the best of any team at the moment. The last thing the Sharkies Origin players will want to see is the huge visiting pack running at them all night!
The Sharks have beaten premiership heavyweights Brisbane and North Queensland at home in recent times to maintain a perfect record at Shark Park in 2016. All but one of their wins have been by single figures and by an average of just 4.6 points.
TURNING THE CORNER?
Are the Warriors ready to make a run at the finals? They’ve won three in a row and are shooting for four straight wins for the first time in three years. Their record at Shark Park isn’t great but they did win there last season.
It is hard to back against the Sharks especially in the form they are in. They’ve gone into this round two points clear of the rest of the field off the back of the third best attack (25.6ppg) and second best defence (15.23ppg) in the NRL.
The key is whether James Maloney, Andrew Fifita and Jack Bird all back up from Origin unscathed. It must be remembered that they were very sluggish in their match after Origin I against the Bulldogs, beginning very slowly before scoring right on the bell to win.
The Sharks are short in Head-to-Head betting but consider 1-12 ($3.15 William Hill) in Margin markets. The Warriors aren’t hopeless either so consider them at the +9.5 Line ($1.91 Sportsbet) too.
CANTERBURY BANKSTOWN V BRISBANE Saturday night, ANZ Stadium
Their recent efforts suggest that the Dogs are on an upward trend but its also coincided with the fact Will Hopoate has been back in the starting line-up. Canterbury had the Sharks beaten several times a few weeks back before conceding a try right on fulltime to lose but they made up for it with a 34-16 win over the Dragons last start. The Broncos go into this off the back of beating Canberra two weeks ago before enjoying the bye.
Both teams will have players backing up from Origin so barring any mishaps, expect most of them to play in this. This is traditionally the time of the year when Origin weighs heavily on the Queenslanders and this year has been no different, with losses coming in three of their past four games.
THE WAY WE SEE IT
Canterbury has the perfect chance to reverse their fortunes against the Broncos here. They’ve won just 20 of 48 against them which is easily their worst record against any opponent. In their last five encounters, Brisbane has come out on top four times but on four of those the average margin is just 5.25 points.
We are leaning in favour of the Dogs ($1.97 UNIBET) here, especially when you consider Brisbane has dropped five of seven at ANZ Stadium and the fact they didn’t back up well after Origin I. That particular day they were handled by the Warriors.
For Margin bettors go the 1-12 ($3.35 Palmerbet) option either side as it will be a tight encounter.
GOLD COAST V CANBERRA Sunday afternoon, Cbus Super Stadium
Gold Coast have won seven of their previous 10 games at home dating back to last season. Their three losses in 2016 at the venue are to the premiership contenders Melbourne and Brisbane while the Dragons also trumped them in a tight contest.
Their record against the Raiders is quite handy too as they have taken the points on five of the last seven occasions.
Canberra go into this one off the back of a bye. Prior to that they had their three-game winning streak snapped by the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium. Four of their seven away games have resulted in losses (with one Draw) which doesn't spell good signs for Ricky Stuart's men but if they are to be considered finals contenders then they have to start winning away from home.
These teams met back in round 4 where the Titans scored an upset four-point win at GIO Stadium. We can't back either team with confidence but despite a short turnaround the Gold Coast are our selection here. One thing we are predicting is a high scoring game so take the Overs (45.5) in Total Match Points ($1.90 LuxBet) options.
MELBOURNE V WESTS TIGERS Sunday afternoon, AAMI Park
The Storm have only lost three times this season with two of those losses being away from AAMI Park. Their solitary loss at home in 2016 was at the hands of their bogey team, Canterbury Bankstown, back in Round 6. Despite having the measure of most teams in the competition throughout the years, they've had trouble dealing with the Tigers since 2010. During that span they've won five and lost four to the boys from Balmain and Campbelltown.
TIGERS IN FORM
Wests Tigers have found some form in recent weeks and will go into this with a bit of confidence. Winners of three of their past four, they shouldn't hold any fears of playing the Storm as they've troubled them in recent years as we touched on earlier in the preview. The other big plus is that the Storm's heart and soul of Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith will be backing up from Origin. Will Craig Bellamy rest them or play them like he did after Origin I?
TAKE THE SHORTS
We're thinking the Storm will be too strong, however, if Cronk and Smith are rested then we are definitely prepared to take the Tigers but we'll place a caveat on that too - their Origin players, Robbie Farah and Aaron Woods, need to play in order for them to be a chance.
Looking for something outside the Head-to-Head market? Then back Melbourne's Fijian flyer Suliasi Vunivalu in the 1st ($7.50 William Hill) and Last Tryscorer ($7.50 William Hill) markets as he boasts 13 tries in just eight games.
NORTH QUEENSLAND V MANLY 1300Smiles Stadium, Monday night
The Cowboys have alternated wins and losses in their last four games, however, the loss to the Dragons in Round 11 was without several of their Origin stars. On that occasion they tried valiantly but couldn’t break down the stubborn defence of the Red V where they eventually went down 14-10.
This game will be at 1300Smiles Stadium where they have been formidable for the past few seasons, winning 31 of their last 35 encounters. Unbeaten at home in 2016, the Cowboys have blown opposition teams off the park by averaging a whopping 33.8 points per game. If that isn’t enough then their average winning margin of 22.1 ppg will surely sell you on a big win here for the home side.
Manly face a formidable task here having lost six straight games. On top of that their dominance over the Cowboys which stretched to six straight wins between 2011 and 2014 is over as North Queensland has won the last four matches between the sides.
A one-time premiership fancy at the start of the season, the Sea Eagles are now going to struggle to make the top eight.
It’s hard to go past the Cowboys and we think that Johnathan Thurston, at the very least, will back up from Origin duty and lead his team to victory. The value is in Margin betting where we think a Cowboys 13+ ($1.65 UNIBET) win is inevitable.