Our NRL expert leaves nothing to chance with his in-depth form analysis of the rd 24 fixtures.
BRISBANE V CANTERBURY Thursday night, Suncorp Stadium
Brisbane seem to be working their way back to somewhere like their best form with back-to-back wins, which has started to right the ship after losing seven of nine.
As for Canterbury if coach Des Hasler intended on having them fly under the radar then they are doing exactly that, quietly going about their business while sitting in fourth on the ladder.
Canterbury have just 21 wins against Brisbane from 49 clashes which is easily their worst against any opponent. That said the boys from Belmore have won their last two against the Queenslanders with the most recent of those a 40-14 thumping back in Round 16.
ON THE WAY BACK?
Brisbane may have won consecutive games against the Dragons and Eels, however, they are teams outside the Top 8. The last time they beat a team in finals contention was back in Round 14 (v Canberra) and since then they have lost to Melbourne, Penrith and Canterbury.
HOW IT WILL PAN OUT
The last time these teams met the Broncos weren’t exactly at full strength but that will certainly be the case this time. Anthony Milford showed glimpses of his brilliance last week against the Eels to suggest he is getting back to the sort of form that had him as Dally M Medal favourite earlier in the year. Meanwhile, everyone has been waiting for Canterbury to bust out of their funk and show some attacking flair……we still wait though!
We aren’t convinced that Brisbane is back to their best. They barely beat the Dragons while they struggled for the first part of the game before overcoming the Eels. The Bulldogs ($2.50 UNIBET) are our tip going off their league-leading away form (eight wins from 11 starts) which ties them with the Storm in that category.
PENRITH V WESTS TIGERS Friday night, Pepper Stadium
The first for them is that they have notched back-to-back wins several times this year, however, are yet to register a hat-trick. On top of that they will face rivals Wests Tigers who have handled them in recent years, winning just two of 10 against them since 2010.
The Panthers won't get a better chance to register another win over their rivals from the west than on Friday night. The Tigers, who themselves are locked in an epic struggle for a Top 8 spot along with Penrith, will be missing livewire fullback James Tedesco who is out with a broken jaw.
Jordan Rankin replaces him at fullback while Josh Addo-Carr will come in on the wing.
The Mountain Men are finding form at the right time of the season. Winners of four of their last five outings, they have averaged over 33 points in those triumphs while conceding 13.5ppg.
HOW IT PANS OUT
This will be an epic battle because both teams are fighting for a spot in the finals. Wests Tigers fans will be ruing the loss against the Titans last week which came at a cost of losing Tedesco, however, they get back Luke Brooks for this one. Penrith are in their hottest run of form for the season which has seen them get to 26 competition points, which is good enough for seventh on the ladder.
We have to go with the Panthers ($1.36 Bet365) here. With the Tigers missing a vital piece of their attacking arsenal (Tedesco) combined with Penrith's hot form of late, Anthony Griffin's men look too good even though they are short. We expect the Tigers to hang tough, their recent form is very strong and despite Tedesco being out, we expect them to give the Panthers a game, so take Penrith 1-12 ($3.35 Ladbrokes) as a solid value option.
NEWCASTLE V GOLD COAST Saturday afternoon, Hunter Stadium
With three wins and a draw from their last five starts, the Gold Coast are on the verge of an unlikely finals appearance which didn't look a possibility at the start of the season.
Coach Neil Henry has done a fantastic job to get the best out of his players and with the addition of Jarryd Hayne it has certainly given them an 'X-factor'.
NO END IN SIGHT
Newcastle are now on a 15-game losing run and there really isn't any light at the end of the tunnel.
It appears as though the Knights are capable of matching teams for 40 minutes, however, fall apart in the other 40 which is where the majority of their points are being leaked.
HOW IT PANS OUT
While the Knights have won two of the last three between the sides, the Titans took out the latest of these back in the opening round of the season. Winning by 18 it was their biggest win over Newcastle but that may be tested here.
You can't go past the Titans who appear to be one of the best bets of the weekend. They have everything to play for and while the Knights were brave for the first half against Penrith last week, they really need to put in 80 minutes otherwise it will get ugly. Take the Gold Coast 13+ ($1.83 Bet365) against the hapless Knights.
It is worth investing in Anthony Don to Score A Try ($1.67 Sportsbet) as he has scored at least one four-pointer in his last five games which is a career best for the Titans flyer.
MANLY V MELBOURNE Brookvale Oval, Saturday afternoon
The Storm had their six-game winning streak snapped by Canberra on Monday night and the five-day turnaround definitely won't do them any favours here.
The majority of Manly's season has been defined by peaks and troughs. After losing seven straight, they then strung together four in a row but have now lost consecutive games which has bungled them out of finals contention.
UP AND DOWN
Melbourne have been on a peculiar streak in the last six years when they've played at the Northern Beaches venue. In five previous games there they have traded wins and losses. If that pattern were to continue on Saturday then the Storm are due a 'Win' this time.
Although Manly has had a season to forget they have shown huge signs of improvement over the last six weeks. The highlight of that was a four-match winning streak and although they've lost their last two, both were by narrow margins. A one-point loss against the Eels was followed by a Golden Point loss to premiership contenders Canterbury last week.
HOW IT PANS OUT
Manly's defence has been really good over the last two months or so, conceding just 13 points per game between rounds 17-23. That said they are going up against the best defence in the competition who have only given up an average of just 12 ppg for the entire season!
Melbourne lead the competition for a reason and have lost just four times this year. They are yet to drop back-to-back games in 2016 and we don't think they will start now. Back the Storm ($1.37 UNIBET) to return to the winners circle.
Points could be hard to come by so taking the Unders in the Total Match Points could be the way to go as both teams are defending brilliantly at present.
NORTH QUEENSLAND V NEW ZEALAND 1300 Smiles Stadium, Saturday night
Heading back to 1300Smiles Stadium for the first time in three weeks should give them a great deal of confidence as they have won nine of their 10 games there in 2016.
They won't have it all their own way as the Warriors, who were starting to look a genuine Top 8 threat, dropped a game they were expected to win at home and now desperately need every win they can get.
Johnathan Thurston and the Cowboys have lost nine games this year, with eight of those being on the road. That has to be of great concern to coach Paul Green as their premiership was built on the ability to win away from Townsville.
WRONG TIME TO LOSE
The Kiwis loss to Souths at Mt Smart last week couldn't have come at worse time. Dropping out of the Top 8 as a result, they now have to go to 1300Smiles where they have only won once in 10 outings!
HOW IT PANS OUT
You never know what you are going to get with the Warriors but they will be desperate because they are now walking a finals tightrope. Will that be enough for them to overcome a Cowboys outfit that has only lost to the Storm at home this year?
While the Cowboys ($1.25 William Hill) haven't been at their best in recent weeks, we are banking on the fact that a return to their home ground will see them rediscover winning form.
North Queensland are averaging a whopping 32.3ppg in Townsville and on that fact alone should be too strong for the visitors, although the Warriors also have points in them, so let’s go with Total Points Overs as well in this game.
CANBERRA V PARRAMATTA Sunday afternoon, GIO Stadium
Winners of seven straight and 10 of their last 11 games, Canberra go into this having beaten the NRL competition leaders (Cronulla, Melbourne) in consecutive weeks - just the second time that's happened in 30 years!
As for Parramatta their season can be compared in some way to that of Raiders player Junior Paulo, who began the season at the Blue and Golds but now finds himself at a premiership contender. Oh what could have been for the Eels!
ANOTHER WIN LOOMING
Ricky Stuart's outfit were highly impressive in putting together one of the performances of the season to knock off Melbourne in Monday Night Football. Becoming the first team to score more than 20 points against them, it was Canberra's goal line defence that was most impressive as they only conceded eight points despite repeated attacks on their goal.
Parramatta has been brave in the face of adversity this season but last week's 22-point loss to the Broncos had worrying signs about it. Against a team full of confidence they will need their defence to be spot on, however, they have lost six of their last eight against the Raiders.
HOW IT PANS OUT
Canberra is flying high and are the best team in the competition at the moment. That makes them extremely dangerous against any team and we feel Parramatta, while gallant for most of the season, just won't have the cattle to repel them.
Canberra are short but should win as Parramatta's record at GIO Stadium is dreadful and reads just one win in 10 and that was a decade ago! It could be a blow out so we will steer clear of margins as there is no great value in the Raiders 13+.
NOTE: Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson will miss this game after being suspended. Looking for value? Consider Joey Leilua ($13 Bet365) or Jordan Rapana ($8 William Hill) in the 1st Tryscorer market.
SYDNEY ROOSTERS V STGEORGE ILLAWARRA Sunday afternoon, Allianz Stadium
Both the Dragons and Roosters caused major upsets in beating premiership hopefuls the Sharks and Cowboys respectively.
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2017
Mitchell Pearce produced one of the games of his life against North Queensland last week, out-pointing Johnathan Thurston to guide the chooks to a 22-10 win at this venue.
A repeat of that performance from him and several other stars that have missed chunks of 2016 (Waerea-Hargreaves, Cordner etc) could signal better things to come for the tricolours next season.
The Dragons found some spark in attack to register a season-high 32 points in knocking off the Sharks at Kogarah last Saturday. For a team that has been averaging a little over 13 points a game throughout the year, that was definitely the type of football the Red V were hoping to see more often than not. That win broke a five-game losing streak.
HOW IT PANS OUT
Look for the Roosters to dominate the smaller Dragons forwards and if they get a roll on they will be hard to stop. Making things harder for St George-Illawarra is the fact Tariq Sims, their two-try hero from last week, will be missing from the forwards due to injury.
This is a really hard one to pick but we feel the Dragons ($2.85 UNIBET) could be up for this one. Mathematically still a chance of making the Top 8, they need to win and that desperation could spurn them to play an exciting brand of footy like they did last week.
Whatever the result though, expect this one to be tight as the average margin between these sides has been just 4.25 points in their last four clashes. Dragons 1-12 ($4.35 William Hill) a good play on the back of that.
SOUTHS V CRONULLA Monday night, ANZ Stadium
Cronulla’s 15-match unbeaten run has been followed by a Draw and then back-to-back losses but they are still second on the ladder and just one point behind Melbourne.
Souths looked like the team that won the comp in 2014 as they racked up 41 points in disposing of the Warriors in Round 23. In the process they snapped their nine-game losing run. The effort definitely wasn’t a fluke as they should have beaten Melbourne the previous week before losing in Golden Point.
ON THE SLIDE?
So often you see teams of any sporting code that have notched significant winning runs then follow it up with a losing sequence. For some reason they forget how to win and that could be the case with Cronulla. Sharkies fans have to be concerned as their team has lost by the 13+ Margin to the Raiders and Dragons in the past fortnight.
HOW IT PANS OUT
Monday Night Football could be cure for Cronulla as they have registered four wins and a draw in their last five MNF encounters. Souths, on the other hand, has won just two of six.
With Michael Ennis and Paul Gallen on the park together for the first time in three weeks, we are giving Cronulla ($1.42 UNIBET) the nod here but definitely aren’t putting the house on it. Expect Souths to really give them a game and make it a hard fought contest. Go the 1-12 Winning Margin ($3.20 Bet365) to boost the value in the game.