What an action-packed weekend in the National Rugby League!
The referees were front and centre of the controversy yet again, however, that wasn’t the only thing stealing the headlines in Round 20.
Injuries have been the big talking point this round with a number of high-profile players likely to be sidelined for a number of weeks with the top sides in the competition mainly affected.
Melbourne could be without Billy Slater and Cameron Smith for quite a while after their respective injuries against the Raiders while James Maloney broke his hand in the win over Souths. Matt Moylan will be a big loss to Penrith’s finals charge while Sam Burgess’ absence could be the final nail in the coffin for Souths in 2017.
The Stgeorge Illawarra Dragons have found a ready made replacement for Josh Dugan.
With Dugan headed to rivals Cronulla next season, Dufty was given his debut in first grade by Paul Macgregor after Dugan was a late withdrawal for the match against Manly.
It is never easy being rated ‘the next Billy Slater’ but from what we saw on Sunday afternoon, Dufty has the natural ability to become a player exactly like ‘Billy the Kid’. He set up two tries and scored in the dying stages to cap a remarkable debut.
With Euan Aitken seemingly destined for another stint on the sidelines, Dugan could return next week for the Newcastle clash and seemingly move into the centres which would allow Dufty to stay at fullback.
The boys at Bet365 have Stgeorge Illawarra @ $31 to win the premiership while $1.30 is on offer with Sportsbet for them to make Top 8. Paul Macgregor, over to you!
What constitutes a send off?
Sia Soliola collected Billy Slater in the head, albeit accidentally, but the severity of the injury which saw Slater not return to the field surely means that Soliola had to go?
Other than that, several calls throughout that game would have infuriated both coaches with Ricky Stuart teeing off in the press conference afterwards.
The Raiders v Storm game wasn’t the only one flawed in that regard with the Bulldogs v Brisbane clash on Thursday also coming under scrutiny. With the game perfectly balanced heading into the break, the final pass to Jordan Kahu that blew the game open was a mile forward and the touchy was right in line with the play.
Down 16-6 the wind was knocked out of the Bulldogs from that moment onwards.
Which brings us to an honourable mention in this category – CANTERBURY. They saved their worst performance of the year in one of the games that really mattered.
Sitting on 18 premiership points and two wins outside the top eight, Des Hasler’s side started the first 20 minutes positively and led 6-nil against Brisbane but from that moment onwards it never looked likely that the Belmore crew were going to win.
Every game is a final from now on and with six games left it is theoretically possible for CANTERBURY to make the eight, however, they’d need to win all six and they have only been able to string three wins together once this season.
Sportsbet have them @ $34 to get into the finals but we highly doubt it will happen.
The injuries to key players this week has thrown Futures betting into chaos!
Melbourne Storm losing Smith and Slater in the final stages of the regular season isn’t ideal but if they are back prior to the finals then the $2.70 @ Sportsbet looks appealing. Bookies have reacted to the injuries by pushing their price out slightly – going into Round 20 they were generally $2.40 across the board.
Our opinion is that the Storm can’t lift the trophy without Smith and if Slater is missing too then Bellamy’s squad will be severely tested.
Cronulla @ $7.50 (Palmerbet) is another to be wary of as without Maloney they lose arguably their most potent attacking weapon.
The Cowboys are without Johnathan Thurston but are $14 @ Bet365 but seem to be traveling well without him at the minute, registering four straight wins for the first time ever without their champion half.
The way we see it BRISBANE ($7.50 @ Sportsbet) isn’t too bad a shape and of all the teams in the top four they are the ones least concerned with player injuries heading into Round 21.