Eight great games to have a punt on this weekend!
STGEORGE ILLAWARRA V BRISBANE Thursday night, WIN Stadium
The Broncos have dropped seven of their past nine matches but have had the wood on the Dragons for the better part of six years. During that time they've won 10 of 11 against their opponents with the last two by big margins.
St George-Illawarra will go into the match without gun forward Tyson Frizell, who was handed a one-week ban from the Match Review Committee for brushing the referee last week.
Brisbane has gone from premiership favourites to struggling to stay in the Top 8 in the space of two months. Their defence has fallen to pieces and has been conceding an average of 17.5 points per game in their past seven losses. To make things worse, their attack isn't firing either as they are notching just 14.5 ppg in that time.
The Dragons, for their part, aren't the model attacking team either as they are second worst for points scored (13.1ppg) in the competition. In fact they've scored just eight points more in 2016 than the lowly Knights!
HOW IT PANS OUT
We simply don't know what's happened to Brisbane since Round 11. Did the loss that week against the Cowboys (in Golden Point) psychologically damage them? After all, it was their second straight loss to their rivals in similar circumstances with the first of those in last year's Grand Final.
Against the Dragons they have the chance to get back to the sort of form that saw them win eight of their first 10 games. Their latest win, three weeks ago, was against the Rabbitohs who are going terribly.
The Dragons put up a much improved showing last week in going down 13-10 to the Bulldogs and had it not been for a Josh Reynolds trip, which cost Joel Thompson a certain four-pointer, the result could have been different. They still have a shot at the finals but four straight losses have them on the brink.
This is a real danger game for the Broncos and while we are reluctant to tip them, the return of Josh Maguire, Matt Gillett and Sam Thaiday should be enough to get them the points here. Take the 1-12 Broncos ($2.90 William Hill).
There is value will be in the Tryscoring stakes with Dragons flyer Kurt Mann ($13 Sportsbet) the pick for 1st Tryscorer in the match and 1st Tryscorer for his team. He has eight tries in eight games including seven in his last five appearances.
PARRAMATTA V MANLY Friday night, Pirtek Stadium
Manly's season was dead and buried a month ago but off the back of four straight wins they are now just one win outside the Top 8 and are playing a confident brand of football.
In contrast, one of the big improvers earlier in the season were Parramatta who were shaping as real premiership contenders before salary cap issues and their star halves (Keiran Foran / Corey Norman) had off-field issues settle their seasons.
After losing seven straight, the Sea Eagles have now won four in a row over the Dragons, Warriors, Rabbitohs and Knights. Coach Trent Barrett would have been disappointed in his side's execution in the final 40 minutes last week against Newcastle, but despite that, they ran out 20-point winners. Their average winning margin over the last month has been 14.75 points.
Parramatta players are entitled to have given up considering what they have been through in 2016, however, they have been nothing short of brave.
Going down by 15 points to the Tigers last week wasn't a true reflection of gap between the sides. The Eels gave them a game and the same could be said for the week prior against the Titans. Three weeks ago they blew a significant lead against the Panthers to go down by four points.
HOW IT PANS OUT
Manly has a sniff of finals footy but they need to keep winning in order for them to play in September. Parramatta will be aided with the return of Beau Scott, Manu Ma'u and Michael Jennings which will ensure they give the home crowd something to cheer about.
Something tells us the Eels will go extremely close in this one but because the Sea Eagles still have finals aspirations, it may be enough for them to get the points. Go for them to make it five straight.
Parramatta at the +6 Line ($2 Bet365) is definitely a bet worth considering as they've had the measure of Manly in their recent encounters, winning four on end.
NEWCASTLE V CANTERBURY BANKSTOWN Saturday afternoon, Hunter Stadium
Poor Knights fans have had to endure 13 straight losses and are now staring down the barrel of a league-record 14 losses in a row looks on the menu here.
The young and inexperienced outfit went down by 20 to the in-form Sea Eagles last Sunday but their effort in the second 40 minutes was credible.
Canterbury aren't exactly firing on all cylinders going into this but if they are serious about making a tilt at the title then they have to win big here.
LOOKING FOR CONFIDENCE
The Bulldogs had their premiership aspirations dented with a humiliating 36-nil hiding to the Cowboys a fortnight ago. Avenging that defeat with a 13-10 win last week over the struggling Dragons, they got the two points but were far from convincing.
Coach Des Hasler will be looking for his side to break out against the Knights who have just the one win all season and are the worst in the league for points scored (12.6ppg) and conceded (33.8ppg).
HOW IT PANS OUT
We can’t go past the Bulldogs here who look to be the bet of the weekend despite their recent woes.
While the Dogs’ Head-to-Head price is short, look to Newcastle at the +16.5 Line ($1.91 Sportsbet) as the value bet here. Close games have been the norm between these sides of late with an average of just seven points in their last four clashes.
CRONULLA V CANBERRA Saturday twilight, Southern Cross Group Stadium
Cronulla will be stinging on a couple of fronts having seen their 15-match winning streak ended by a Draw on the Gold Coast. Compounding that will be the short five-day turnaround from Monday night footy.
Canberra will fancy themselves in this one as they go into the match with eight wins from their past nine games and have lost just once since Round 11.
UP, UP CRONULLA
Sharkies fans won’t be too concerned that their team couldn’t beat the Titans on Monday night. Gold Coast are one of the form teams of the competition and a few judges could even argue that the visitors were entitled to a penalty try in the second half that could have swung the momentum in their favour.
That aside the Sharks’ incredible run of form has been built off the back of a 10-0 record at home this season. Five of the teams in the Top 8 have all lost at Shark Park this season.
Ricky Stuart has the Raiders firing on all cylinders and their 50-point thrashing of the Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium proves that. During their impressive run of form (eight wins from nine games) they have scored at least 26 points in each of those wins.
HOW IT PANS OUT
The judiciary found Sharks playmaker James Maloney not guilty and as such he will take his place for the home side. Their chances of victory rely heavily upon his shoulders as his kicking game and ball playing ability are a big reason they lead the competition.
Canberra won’t fear heading to Shark Park as they have won there in three of their past four visits and boast the best attack in the competition (26.9ppg).
We are tipping the Sharks ($1.48 Palmerbet), however, without a great deal of confidence. If they are to finally lose a game then maybe this is the one but you can’t deny a good team when you see one. Go Sharks 1-12 in the Winning Margin ($3.10 Bet365) whichever way you decide.
MELBOURNE V SOUTH SYDNEY Saturday night, AAMI Park
Melbourne are flying high and pushing hard in the race to the Minor Premiership, winning 12 of their last 13 games to sit one point behind Cronulla.
The total opposite could be said for the 2014 NRL premiers who are going terribly and riding an eight-game losing streak.
Melbourne has the best defence in the premiership by some way, conceding a paltry 11.4 points per game. That will make life difficult for the bunnies who have struggled to find the line recently and are averaging a little over 13 points per game during their eight-game skid.
BOGEY OF ALL BOGEYS
Souths couldn’t have run into a worse side to try and break their recent run of losses. They have just four wins from 25 games against Melbourne – easily their worst record against any opponent in the league!
The Storm have dominated the Rabbitohs since their inception and we can’t see that changing here. Souths haven’t beaten the Storm in Melbourne in 12 attempts and the worrying trend for them is that the majority of their losses are by 13 points or more.
Back Melbourne to win easily. The value will be in covering the -18.5 line here ($1.91 Sportsbet), which is definitely worth having a crack at.
GOLD COAST V NEW ZEALAND Sunday afternoon, Cbus Super Stadium
The Titans are in good form, winning two straight prior to their 18-all Draw against ladder leaders Cronulla last Monday. Coach Neil Henry is likely to name Hayne in the side but to what extent will he play a part? Only time will tell but we’d expect him to be starting off the bench as an impact player.
Speaking of Draws, it was the third week in a row that the Warriors went to Golden Point but this time they were able to get the chocolates over Penrith.
TOP 8 SHOWDOWN
Expect this game to be desperate as both sides need to keep winning to keep hold of their place in the Top 8.
They clashed back in Round 17 with the Warriors getting the money by nine points in a close one at Mt Smart Stadium. The Titans are an improved side since then but they have struggled big time against the Kiwis in recent years, winning just once since 2011.
HOW IT PANS OUT
New Zealand has won five straight at the venue and haven’t lost a game in regulation since Round 11. That points to a positive showing for a side that has proven difficult to get over. The average margin in their last six games is a measly 3.5 points.
Gold Coast will benefit with the introduction of Hayne but his influence could also disrupt the good harmony Henry has been able to generate in the dressing room. This will be the third straight match at home for them.
It will be close but we are tipping an upset and going for the Warriors ($2.55 UNIBET). As unpredictable as they are, they’ve been more consistent of late and they’ve shown a liking for playing on the ‘glitter strip’.
WESTS TIGERS V NORTH QUEENSLAND Sunday afternoon, Leichhardt Oval
Sunday afternoon footy at a suburban ground doesn’t get much better than this, especially when both teams are in contention to play finals.
Wests Tigers have racked up big wins against the Eels and Dragons recently while their two most recent losses, to the Storm and Bulldogs, were at an average of less than 10 points.
North Queensland will go into this off the back of their first loss of the season at home (16-8 v Storm) but they showed plenty of heart and determination without their star playmaker, Johnathan Thurston.
While the champs have generally been impressive in 2016, one glaring stat is definitely cause for concern – three wins from nine on the road.
Admittedly a few of those were during the Origin period where they were missing key players, however, they won their premiership by shaking off the tag of not being able to play in Sydney.
Compounding this stat for the visitors is just one win at Leichhardt since 2000 and five straight losses to boot.
HOW IT PANS OUT
Rumour has it that JT will be back for the Cowboys here but even if he isn’t they are still a great chance. They showed enough against the Storm, arguably the form team of the comp, without him to suggest they are deserved favourites.
The Tigers will be missing their own halfback in Luke Brooks in what is a significant blow to Jason Taylor’s side. It is also doubtful that he will call up Origin hooker Robbie Farah to help fill the void.
This is a danger game for the Cowboys no doubt. If Thurston doesn’t play then we will go for some value and suggest the home ground advantage could get the Tigers ($2.95 Sportsbet) over the line. If he plays then class should prove too much for the improved Tigers.
PENRITH V SYDNEY ROOSTERS Monday night, Pepper Stadium
Penrith are in the race for finals footy while the Roosters are looking forward to 2017, however, their styles of play suggest we are in for a treat!
Penrith missed the opportunity to notch a hat-trick of wins for the first time this season when they lost to the Warriors in Golden Point last week.
The Sydney Roosters enjoyed just their fourth win of the season with a convincing win over the sliding Broncos last Thursday week. You would think they will appreciate the long turnaround between games.
A look back through recent history tells us that no one side has the advantage over the other for too long. In fact, neither team has been able to notch three straights wins or more since for 17 years. Their most recent clash was back in Round 7 when the Panthers won an epic encounter, 20-16. Three of the last four games between the sides have been decided by an average of 8.25 points.
Minor Premiers for the last three years, the Sydney Roosters were behind the eight ball for most of this year with their key players missing large parts of the season for one reason or another. Prior to that win last week they had been riding a six-game losing streak. One of the big reasons for Trent Robinson’s side sliding down the table is their terrible away form which reads one win from nine games.
You can’t go past the home side Penrith ($1.67 Bet365) in this one, however, it isn’t with a great deal of confidence. Games at Pepper Stadium this year have generally done down to the wire, with the average margin being a mere 4.8ppg.
Looking for value? Then go for a Roosters Try as 1st Score Type ($2.50 Bet365). The tricolours have scored the first four-pointer in their last six games.