NRL Round 5: Saturday Match Previews & Betting Tips

The Bunnies look to take out their frustrations on the Warriors while the Knights aim to recover against the plucky Sea Eagles and the Roosters play for their fourth straight win when they meet the Sharks.

James Baxter
 | 
Tue, 9 Apr, 12:00 AM

South Sydney Rabbitohs v New Zealand Warriors – Sunshine Coast Stadium – 3:00pm

Souths fell to their first 2019 loss in golden point against the suddenly feisty Sea Eagles at Lottoland. The 13-12 loss would have disappointed Bunnies coach Wayne Bennett, given Manly lost their star fullback Tom Trbojevic to another hamstring injury while Adam Reynolds’ normally reliable goal-kicking instead became a liability. Souths had enough chances to put the Sea Eagles away with time to spare but their execution was far off their previous 2019 showings.

A look at the game stats compounds what a missed chance this game was for Souths. Manly’s completion rate was an abysmal 59% - that normally means a thorough loss. Souths completed well at 74% but their attack time and time again broke down on Manly’s goal-line. They resorted to barge over attempts from their massive pack but Manly found a way to withstand this too. Souths’ forwards had laid the platform for this territory dominance by running for over 400 metres more than Manly. All this paints a frustrating picture for the Rabbitohs. Their actual performance wasn’t a disaster and ordinarily would have been enough for a win. Melbourne – with whom Souths had shared unbeaten records with prior to the Manly game – also came so close to a shock loss against an unfancied opposition, yet instead are receiving praise for getting a job done while not at their best.

This generation’s NRL margins for error are razor thin – look at Reynolds’ late flat field goal attempt finding its way through defence only to smack an upright and into Manly’s desperately grateful hands. What Bennett will be most wary of is avoiding their winning streak’s momentum being replaced with a losing streak. Souths showed enough in their Manly game that they weren’t miles off in their performance, and another week with the game’s most experienced coach should see the Redfern side ready to roll against the Warriors.

 

The Warriors meanwhile put some demons away in a 26-10 win over winless Gold Coast at home. The performance almost wouldn’t have concerned coach Steve Kearney – the Warriors simply had to win no matter how. Their defence stood up, which was needed given they leaked 80 points the previous two starts. It took Gold Coast an hour to break through but by then the game was already done. One of the more promising Warriors signs was David Fusitu’a finally breaking his tryscoring drought. 2018’s top try scorer struggled for opportunities in previous rounds but against the Titans, he got his mojo back.

Chanel Harris-Tavita debuted at five-eighth and did well, the rookie’s dynamic running game offering a nice balance to the steady hand of halfback Blake Green. The Warriors badly need consistency in their spine and with Issac Luke’s hamstring robbing them of their first-choice hooker, the number six jersey is Harris-Tavita’s now to lose following Adam Keighran’s demotion. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s silky fingerprints were all over the Warriors’ win. The Dally M winner scored a try while also creating another and the former Rooster will be relied upon to break the Souths line apart, particularly through kick returns, which the Warriors impressed in against the Titans.

 

Key stats: The Bunnies have won seven of their last eight against the Warriors – their last six wins all coming by 13+. Alex Johnston has five tries in four games in this stretch, including a hat-trick whilst playing at fullback.

 

Tip: Rabbitohs

Best bet: Rabbitohs 13+ $2.40* (Sportsbet)

Value bet: Alex Johnston anytime try scorer $2.63* (Sportsbet)

Newcastle Knights v Manly Sea Eagles – McDonald Jones Stadium – 5:30pm

In a year with the club’s highest expectations since 2013, Newcastle's opening 2019 month has instead been filled with mostly disappointment. Their 13-12 golden point loss to St. George-Illawarra was their third straight loss and after making his biggest selection call of the year by moving Kalyn Ponga back to fullback, coach Nathan Brown has now moved Connor Watson entirely out of the 17 after initially missing round four due to injury. Watson was the first choice fullback before Ponga’s shift and it seems the ex-Rooster has taken the brunt of Brown’s frustration at a misfiring attack.

Former Warrior Mason Lino will keep his place as halfback Mitchell Pearce’s third halves partner of the campaign and needs to deliver – the Knights can’t afford another loss already. Newcastle wasn’t on song against the Dragons but still had chances to win the game, largely thanks to their best player so far, David Klemmer. The NSW star has topped the Knights’ run metres in every appearance this season and has continued to lead the way despite Newcastle’s worrying losing streak.

The only other positive in the Dragons loss was Ponga did have his own best game of the campaign – not high praise considering by his own admission a quiet season start – and the fullback will continue to improve now he’s back in his most comfortable position. It’s still early days but you sense this is a must-win game for the Novocastrians. For a club with so many mental scars from its recent horror seasons, they can’t afford a losing mentality to override their overall goal of reaching the finals. A fourth straight loss though could mean a very steep hill for the Knights to attempt to climb over.

Manly’s 13-12 golden point win over previously unbeaten Souths wouldn’t have looked out of place in returning coach Des Hasler’s first stint’s Premiership heyday – an impressive statement given Manly are tipped to finish closer to the bottom than the top in 2019. Statistically, there was no way Manly should have won on Saturday – they were dominated in possession, completion, territory, running metres – plus lost fullback Tom Trbojevic midgame to another cruel hamstring injury. But Manly never gave up and rode their luck – Adam Reynolds having a notably poor kicking game costing Souths precious points – to set the scene for clutch halfback Daly Cherry-Evans to nail his fifth career game-winning extra time field goal.

Manly’s effort was simply outstanding. Their defensive line held firm enough to compensate for continued turnovers with Jake Trbojevic and Martin Taupau being brutal in their red zone defence. Manly looked unprepared in round one without “Tommy Turbo” injuring himself in a trial despite the fortnight between matches. However this time around they looked more settled, particularly with Brendan Elliot appearing more confident in organising defence. The Lottoland crowd was rocking and Manly undeniably drew strength from the atmosphere – they won’t be getting that advantage in Newcastle. There is ample room for improvement for the Sea Eagles – completing 59% of sets isn’t exactly optimal – but if they can maintain their gut-busting effort, they’ll continue to surprise more fancied sides.

 

Key stats: In their opening two home games, the Knights opened scoring via a Kalyn Ponga penalty goal. The Knights have also won their last two matches against Manly, the wins coming in margins of 1 point and 6 points.

 

Tip: Knights

Best bet: Knights to score first – $1.72* (BetEasy)

Value bet: Knights 1-12 – $3* (Bet365)

Cronulla Sharks v Sydney Roosters – Shark Park – 7:35pm

After their thrashing of North Queensland, the Sharks were brought back to earth with a thud in their 24-12 loss to Parramatta. The scoreline flattered the Sharkies who were comfortably beaten by the impressive Eels. Cronulla was clearly hampered with the loss of fullback Matt Moylan (hamstring) and five-eighth Shaun Johnson (quad), with a backline reshuffle including an inexperienced Kyle Flanagan and debutant Bronson Xerri never hitting full gear. Josh Dugan made his name in his early days as a fullback but the now centre’s rust filling in for Moylan was showing. An unforced drop off a basic Mitchell Moses punt summed up Dugan’s unhappy evening.

Cronulla then suffered another injury blow with Aaron Woods injuring a foot and looking like he’ll join Moylan on the sidelines for several weeks. Perhaps the only element pleasing first-year coach John Morris would be his side’s effort. They were outplayed but the undermanned Sharks continued to compete and it was only through Michael Jennings’ late try off another Sharks error which sealed the Sharks’ fate. Chad Townsend will be thankful his halves partner Johnson has been named this week, the Cronulla halfback over doubled the number of possessions Flanagan had as he shouldered playmaking responsibility (79 to 39).

With Woods’ withdrawal, Andrew Fifita took on even greater minutes and had a workhorse effort of 19 carries to go with 37 tackles. It was a monster effort and one he may need to replicate against a Roosters pack who steamrolled through Brisbane. Cronulla sits 2-2 and suffering an injury crisis, a shot against the Premier Roosters at home almost becomes a free shot for a Sharkies side who will be given little chance by outsiders. Cronulla’s execution couldn’t match their effort last week – if they combine the two attributes on Saturday night they’ve still got the ability to surprise the Roosters.

The Roosters meanwhile made an almighty statement – their 36-4 demolition over Brisbane was arguably the most impressive performance of the NRL season so far. Missing hooker Jake Friend, prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and then losing halfback Cooper Cronk midgame, the Roosters instead played Brisbane off the SCG pitch. There were tricoloured star performances all over. Luke Keary excelled again under increased responsibility with two try assists – yet Cronk managed to create three tries of his own while on the field.

Sia Siua Taukeiaho has quietly become of the league’s most under-rated enforcers, racking up 197 metres and providing two offloads – both the highest achieved in the Chooks pack. Mitchell Aubusson is seemingly ageless, remarkably, the backrower is one of the NRL’s leading try scorers this season so far bolstered by his first double since 2014. The Roosters attract attention from their stars like James Tedesco, Boyd Cordner and Angus Crichton who haven’t yet been mentioned in this preview despite each excelling against the Broncos, but they also got maximum value out of backup winger Matt Ikuvalu.

He may have had a nightmare against the Eels but Ikuvalu rebounded in style and repaid coach Trent Robinson’s faith. He defended tryscoring beast Corey Oates well, got the first try himself and his 206 running metres surpassed Brisbane’s wingers Oates and Jamayne Isaako combined. It’s this trait which makes the Roosters so hard to beat. When they’re firing, very few teams can stop them – just ask the Broncos, who never saw their ambush coming.

 

Key stat: Chooks winger Daniel Tupou has four tries from four matches this season to go with six tries in eight matches against the Sharks. The Roosters have won their last three straight against Cronulla. The Roosters have the NRL’s best attack going into round five.

 

Tip: Roosters

Best bet: Race to 10 points – Roosters – $1.55* (BetEasy)

Value bet: Daniel Tupou anytime try scorer – $1.90* (TAB)


 

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