NRL Round 25: Sunday Match Previews & Betting Tips
Sunday footy kicks off with one we’ve been waiting for – it’s win or go home with the Tigers & Sharks squaring off in a blockbuster at Leichhardt and it wraps up with Penrith & Newcastle aiming to finish on a high as the regular season comes to an end.
Wests Tigers v Cronulla Sharks – Leichhardt Oval – 2pm
The Tigers are roaring and from all but being written off to reach the finals, suddenly Wests have control over breaking NRL’s longest finals drought. Their 42-14 belting of St George-Illawarra capped off a great weekend of results to leave them with a “win and you’re in” scenario for the finals.
The Tigers have looked revitalised in recent weeks in the absence of retiring favourite son Robbie Farah, with Benji Marshall and Luke Brooks taking playmaking charge and the ad-hoc dummy-half service of Ryan Matterson and Josh Reynolds being enough to get by without a specialist hooker available.
Paul Momirovski is finding his footing at NRL level and scored his first career hat-trick, the Tigers showing a ruthless side to their attack which hasn’t always been on display in recent years. Marshall’s form has been remarkable, the veteran being the glue holding together his side even through dark times recently when a string of losses looked to have ended their season.
It’s a fascinating situation the Tigers now find themselves in – a showdown with the team whose top-eight spot the Tigers want to take in Cronulla, all in front of a capacity Leichhardt Oval on a Sunday arvo. The memories of a similar situation in 2016 where the Tigers had the chance to win at Leichhardt to make the finals – only to implode 52-10 to Canberra – are still raw for Tigers punters, but in Premiership-winning coach Michael Maguire they’ll have the confidence to handle a sudden-death showdown.
Billed as “the game of our lives,” Cronulla’s emotional home farewell to their only Premiership-winning skipper Paul Gallen turned into a nightmare, going down 15-14 in golden point to Canberra. There’s no shame in losing to a Premiership contender but this was a missed opportunity for the Sharks, who instead of all-but guaranteeing a top-eight finish now have to respond to their heartache in an elimination showdown with the Tigers – the winner plays finals, the loser is done.
The Sharks are in this predicament primarily through an Achilles Heel cursing them in 2019 – horrible goalkicking. Once again the Sharks scored more tries than their opponents only to find themselves leaving empty-handed, and there are undeniable mental demons Shire way over their inability to rely on a goalkicker under pressure.
Kyle Flanagan was the culprit this time with 0/3, somewhat cruel considering the youngster otherwise filled in for Shaun Johnson with aplomb, being the catalyst behind his side’s 12-0 halftime lead through three unconverted tries. The tide shifted Canberra’s way however and with it inevitably came points, but halfback Chad Townsend twice slotted to field goals to keep Cronulla alive. The emotion in Gallen’s final match on home soil perhaps backfired though, Cronulla unable to maintain their sizzling hot start.
While the Tigers come into this mini-final on the back of a Dragons slaying, Cronulla will back their superior experience in big games to give them an edge. There’s plenty of Premiership-winning and representative experience throughout and any side under Gallen knows what they’re in for away from home. Cronulla’s season has seen them walk a finals tightrope. We’re about to find out whether the Sharkies have the poise to finish their job or instead suffer a crash landing.
• Cronulla has won 5 straight over the Tigers, winning the second half every time.
• Both sides have a 4-2 record since Round 18.
• The Sharks’ goalkicking woes are becoming legendary – they’d be third if goalkicking wasn’t counted on the ladder, instead they’re hanging onto eighth spot.
Best bet: Sharks second half - $1.82* (Unibet)
Value bet: Most converted tries – Tigers - $2.52* (Sportsbet)
Penrith Panthers v Newcastle Knights – Panthers Stadium – 4:05pm
Penrith had the heart but not the class as their 2019 season ended last week via a 22-6 defeat to the Roosters. A promising start in the must-win clash saw Viliame Kikau score the opening try but that was as far as things went for the Panthers’ attack as they failed to trouble the SCG scorers again.
They might have felt aggrieved at being disallowed a potentially levelling try just before halftime through alleged interference by Reagan Campbell-Gillard (Chooks prop Zane Tetevano showing more interest towards the referee to claim obstruction than in stopping the Panthers) but there can’t be complaints about simply not being good enough on the night.
The effort was there – the Roosters being held to their lowest SCG score since ANZAC Day – but near enough, unfortunately, was not good enough with their season on the line. It’s hard to look at the year as anything but a disappointment. Off-field turmoil saw Penrith have a horror season start before a hot streak during rep season catapulted them into finals contention.
A loss to Canberra, however, was the turning point and it’s a meek end to the season with nothing on the line against Newcastle. The form of Kikau upon his return was at least one highlight and in James Maloney’s NRL swansong, the Panthers will look to end things on a relative high to finish the 2019 NRL regular season.
Newcastle hit rock bottom after their disastrous thrashing by Wests essentially finished their season compounded by the shambolic handling of Nathan Brown’s departure. It’s cold comfort after a disappointing year but there was at least a positive response afterwards with a 38-4 belting of the hapless Titans. The news of Roosters assistant coach Adam O’Brien officially signing on to be the Knights’ head coach from 2020 was also well-received in the Hunter.
It wasn’t a flawless effort from Newcastle who conceded the first try and was nowhere near their best early on in bleak conditions, but an attacking flurry late in the first half ended the contest. The Knights ran in three tries inside nine minutes, the unlikely attacking duo of backrower Mitch Barnett and makeshift hooker Connor Watson each scoring a try created by the other, while Hymel Hunt also scored via a smart Mason Lino intercept.
Barnett had one of the best games of his year in creating another try in the second half, and when rookie Bradman Best scored his first NRL try, the dark clouds of an awful August suddenly felt long gone. David Klemmer has arguably been the Knights’ best player and the rep prop had another big day out with 185 run metres to lay the platform for halves Mitchell Pearce and Lino to run wild over a defeated Titans defence.
Without finals to play for, the Knights’ final clash of 2019 could open itself up for free-flowing attack – and with Kalyn Ponga at his best with unstructured footy, it’ll be an entertaining way to finish the regular season on Sunday.
• Penrith boasts a 6-1 recent record over Newcastle, being the first to 20 points in 5 of those wins.
• Newcastle hasn’t won away since round 13 while the Panthers’ last 3 wins have all come at home.
• Brian To’o has 8 tries in his last 10 starts.
Best bet: Race to 20 points – Panthers - $2.08* (Sportsbet)
Value bet: Brian To’o anytime try scorer - $2.30* (BetEasy)