BRISBANE V SYDNEY ROOSTERS Thursday night, Suncorp Stadium

Brisbane get the chance to enter the finals on a high as they seek a fifth straight win when they host the Roosters on Thursday night. After overcoming a midseason slump which saw them lose seven of nine, Wayne Bennett’s side has slowly got better each week over the past month which culminated in a brilliant display against Melbourne last week.

Depending on other results this weekend they could end up in the Top 4 but the more logical situation will be that they finish fifth which at least gives them a home final in Week 1.

Standing in their way this week will be Sydney Roosters who they have lost to in two of their last three appearances including back in Round 21.

FINDING FORM

Brisbane has rediscovered their form at the right time of the season. Their four-match winning streak contains wins over the Eels and Dragons but it’s been their last two wins which have really been impressive.

Handling the Bulldogs a fortnight ago was one thing but then to go to Melbourne and beat the Storm in their own backyard, convincingly, is something else. It was just their second win over Melbourne in 12 outings as they ran out 26-16 winners.

LOOKING GOOD FOR 2017

The Sydney Roosters are probably one club that can look back at this season and think ‘what if?’

After a tumultuous pre-season which saw Mitchell Pearce stood down they then had to cope with several of their best players missing due to injury. In recent weeks they have been near full strength and managed wins against the Broncos, Cowboys and Dragons.

HOW IT PANS OUT

Roosters fans would have been delighted with their team’s first half against the Sharks last week, however, they fell away badly in the second 40 minutes to lose 37-12. Have they run their race? That could spell bad signs for them as the Broncos are finding their feet again especially in defence. Their four-game winning streak has been built off the back of conceding just 12.5ppg.

THE VERDICT

It is hard seeing the Roosters being able to do the double over the Broncos. The team they beat several weeks ago is now gone and in their place is a far more confident Brisbane outfit.

We are predicting the Broncos to win this one but the value will sit with Margin betting. Go for the 13+ ($1.80 Ladbrokes) option as the last two matches between these sides have been decided by 17.5 points.
Broncos 13+ - 1pt @ 1.80

CANTERBURY V SOUTH SYDNEY Friday night, ANZ Stadium

Bulldogs fans must be dreading this particular edition of Friday Night Football.

Coming off back-to-back losses to finals contenders the Cowboys and Broncos, the Blue and Whites desperately need some confidence heading into next week’s finals.

If they were looking for an easy kill then they won’t be finding it here as the bunnies are riding a three-game winning streak which is a season best for them.

RISING TO THE OCCASION

One big concern for the Bulldogs is that their last five defeats have all been at the hands of teams that are going to be competing in the finals. In fact, the last time a team outside the Top 8 beat them was back in Round 9 when Parramatta had their measure. This shows that while they win the games they are expected to win, it also highlights that they don’t have what it takes most of the time to beat some of the better teams in the competition.

FINISHING OFF ON A HIGH

Souths have had their worse season under Michael Maguire but they are doing their best to finish off on a positive note. Victories over the Warriors, Sharks and Knights have seen them play an exciting brand of footy that has yielded an average of 29 points per game.

HOW IT PANS OUT

Canterbury Bankstown still have a chance of securing a Top 4 position and if they are to do that they need to win here. Their attack has been off for most of the season but can they rediscover it here against a team they have beaten the last two times they have met?

THE VERDICT

If the Bulldogs can’t lift for this one then they will be cannon fodder in the finals. They have won their last five at ANZ Stadium and seven of their last eight which is a big help.

We are tipping the Bulldogs to win ($1.70 Palmerbet) a hard fought contest but we believe Souths will give them a run for their money. Therefore take the Dogs 1-12 ($3.10 Ladbrokes0
Bulldogs - 1pt @ 1.70
Bulldogs 1-12 - 1pt @ 3.10

STGEORGE ILLAWARRA V NEWCASTLE Saturday afternoon, Jubilee Oval

Dragons fans will get to farewell club captain Ben Creagh in style at their spiritual home this Saturday afternoon.

Creagh hasn’t played since Round 3 due to injury and although named in the squad won’t take the field before his retirement. The Red V won’t get a better chance to end their season in style as they face the Knights who are riding a 17-game losing streak. They are just the fourth team in history to register such a losing run.

UNDERACHIEVING

There is no doubt Stgeorge Illawarra has underachieved this year after qualifying for the finals in 2015. Going into this game with one win in their last eight appearances, a lot of their problems have centred around their poor attack which is the second-worst in the competition. They have been averaging just 13.6 points per game, which in the modern age, simply isn’t good enough to win games.

SEASON TO FORGET

While the Dragons have had a bad year, it could have definitely been worse – just look at Newcastle. They have just one win and one draw for their efforts through 25 rounds. On top of that they boast the worse attack (12.1ppg) and defence (33.5ppg) in the NRL.

HOW IT PANS OUT

Benji Marshall returns to the Dragons in what will be his farewell appearance for the club as well. Stgeorge Illawarra has beaten Newcastle in seven of their last eight appearances. On top of that the Dragons have won five of seven at Kogarah this season which highlights how hard they are to beat at the venue.

THE VERDICT

We can’t go past the Dragons in this one. There is too much for them to play for with Creagh and Marshall farewelling the club. It’s the last game of the season at Kogarah too and considering the Knights haven’t won there in seven years, all signs point to a Dragons win ($1.32 Sportsbet).

While there isn’t a great deal of value in the head-to-Head market, look for 1st Tryscorer, Last Tryscorer and To Score A Try options. Kurt Mann ($1.67 to score a try with Sportsbet) is the logical one for the Dragons as he has 10 tries in 12 games and finished off Monday night’s loss to the Eels with the final two tries of the game.
Dragons - 1pt @ 1.32
Mann Anytime Tryscorer - 1pt @ 1.67
Winterstein - 1pt @ 8.50

MELBOURNE V CRONULLA Saturday night, AAMI Park

What a great battle we have on Super Saturday with the winner of this taking out the Minor Premiership.

The Storm had the prize wrapped up until they got handled by the Broncos last week on their own turf. To make things worse they were actually never in it with Brisbane comfortably leading throughout.

At the same time as Melbourne’s impressive run of form deserted them, Cronulla rediscovered theirs in a 37-12 routing of the in-form Roosters.

What a game we are set to be treated to!

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS

Craig Bellamy’s men have built their formidable record this season off the back of a tremendous home record. Winning eight of nine games prior to last week, they were conceding an average of 12.6ppg at the venue. Their loss to the Broncos was the first time any team had posted more than 20 points on them for the entire season!

UP, UP CRONULLA

The boys from the Shire were back with a bang last week. Going winless in a month after registering a historic 15-game winning streak, Cronulla were simply awesome in the second half against the Roosters after beginning slowly. While they won’t have any fears about playing Melbourne (they beat them earlier in the season), the worrying trend is that they are yet to win at AAMI Park in six attempts.

HOW IT PANS OUT

This will pit the team with the best defence in the competition (Melbourne, 12.8ppg) up against the league’s second-best attacking unit (Cronulla, 24.9ppg).

They say defence usually gets the better of attack and with their ominous record at home, the chips are definitely stacked in favour of the Storm.

THE VERDICT

Are Melbourne really playing as well as they can be? They were mightily lucky against the Rabbitohs recently and were beaten fair and square by the Broncos. That said, it’s hard to see Melbourne ($1.47 Sportsbet) losing back-to-back games at AAMI Park for just the second time in four years.

Cronulla has only beaten Melbourne in two of their last 12 games so that’s enough for us to back the Storm.

If it’s value you want then go for a Melbourne Try as First Scoring Play ($2.35 UNIBET). The Sharkies have been notoriously slow starters in the last two months and have conceded the opening four-pointer in three of their last four games.
Storm - 1pt @ 1.47
Storm Try - First Scoring Play - 1pt @ 2.35

WESTS TIGERS V CANBERRA Sunday afternoon, Leichhardt Oval

Depending on what happens with previous results this game could have far reaching consequences for the Top 8.

Wests Tigers will need to beat Canberra should the Titans lose to the Cowboys, which will then give them the final spot in the finals series.

Canberra, on the other hand, still has plenty to play for should Melbourne beat Cronulla. If that were the case then a Raiders win here would see them finish second at the end of the regular season which means a home final in Week 1.

BACK AT HOME

It will be close to a packed house at Leichhardt for the Tigers and that enough should be an intimidating atmosphere for their opponents. Wests have done extremely well at their spiritual home lately with four wins from their last five. In fact, their only loss was to the league-leading Storm in Golden Point back in Round 7.

STICKY RICKY

Coach Ricky Stuart has got the best out of this Raiders outfit this season and they are aiming for 10 straight wins for just the third time in their history. The two previous times they did that (1989-90 1994-95) involved a premiership!

POINTS WILL BE FLYING

Expect the scoreboard attendants to be busy in this one. Canberra are the best attacking team in the NRL and are averaging 28 points per game while the Tigers are conceding 24.25 points per game over the last month. Jason Taylor’s side aren’t half bad with the ball either as they racked up 36 points in beating the Warriors in New Zealand last week.

THE VERDICT

We think the Tigers ($2.40 UNIBET) will give the Raiders a run for their money here so we are predicting an upset. At the very least, take them at the +4 Line ($1.91 Sportsbet) because it is rumoured that Canberra could rest a few players including Aidan Sezer who is carrying a shoulder injury.
Tigers - 1pt @ 2.40
Tigers +4 - 1pt @ 1.91

NEW ZEALAND V PARRAMATTA Sunday afternoon, Mt Smart Stadium

Is there any team more disappointing than the Warriors? After putting themselves in a spot for finals footy they have compounded, losing three straight by an average margin of nearly 20 points.

While they are short here they are definitely no good things, especially against a Parramatta side that has overcome adversity on so many occasions this season.

Last week the Blue and Golds farewelled Pirtek Stadium in style by beating the Dragons 30-18, courtesy of a hat-trick by gun rookie Bevan French.

LIMPING OUT OF THE FINALS RACE

The Warriors were impressive mid-season, winning six of nine games while the three losses all came in Golden Point. Since then they have collapsed and conceded a whopping 37 points per game during their three-game losing streak.

Adding insult to injury is the fact their tryscoring machine Solomone Kata is out injured.

ANYTHING LEFT IN THE TANK?<

It’s been a difficult season for the Eels considering what they have gone through on and off the field. Despite that they have been courageous in many of their outings. They were up for last week’s final home game at Pirtek and would’ve been determined to farewell the stadium in style. Can they get themselves back up one last time in 2016 especially when that involves traveling to the Shaky Isles?

HOW IT PANS OUT<

You would think that points will be flying and that free-flowing football will be the order of the day. There is nothing for either team to play for so surely most structures will go out the window.

THE VERDICT<

New Zealand has let us down on any number of occasions this season so off the back of that we are recommending taking the Eels ($2.75 UNIBET) in the Head-to-Head market and at the +6 Line ($1.91 Sportsbet)
Eels - 1pt @ 2.75
Eels +6 - 1pt @ 1.91

PENRITH V MANLY Sunday night, Pepper Stadium

Penrith will be shooting for a season-high five straight wins when they host Manly in the last game of football before the finals are confirmed.

The Panthers have been one of the surprises of the season but their youth policy is paying dividends in a big way. Players like Nathan Clearly, Bryce Cartwright and Matt Moylan have all been sensational and played key roles in getting them to seventh on the competition table.

In contrast it’s a year of what could have been for Manly who were touted as premiership contenders at the start of the season but face the prospect of finishing in the bottom quarter of the table.

BUILDING MOMENTUM

Penrith’s run to the finals has seen them win six of their last seven games with those victories coming at an average margin of 18.3ppg. Although getting home by a solitary point against the Titans last week, their three previous wins were by 20 points or more.

FALLING AWAY

The Sea Eagles stopped a rot of seven straight losses by notching four straight wins. Remarkably that was enough to put them back into finals calculations, however, that’s all gone off the back of four straight defeats.

Whatever happens on Sunday night this will be the least amount of wins (eight so far) that Manly has notched in 13 years.

HOW IT PANS OUT

Penrith has been formidable at home lately in winning three of their last four. Included in those are thrashings of the Tigers and Roosters by margins of 20 or more.

This young enthusiastic side is predicted to be a powerhouse in the NRL in years to come, however, they have shown us this season that a shot at the title in 2016 isn’t beyond their reach.

THE VERDICT

Manly don’t have anything to play for and their poor record at the venue (three losses in four) makes an already difficult task that much tougher.
We’re tipping Penrith ($1.30 bet 365) to win here but the value will lay elsewhere. Back Josh Mansour in 1st Tryscorer markets ($9 Bet365). He has five tries and eight linebreaks in his last four games against the Sea Eagles.
Panthers - 1pt @ 1.30
Mansour First TS - 1pt @ 9.00