NRL Round 6: Easter Saturday Previews & Betting Tips
New Zealand Warriors v North Queensland Cowboys – Mt Smart Stadium - 5:30pm
The Warriors were left ruing a 28-24 loss to Souths where they had the game within their reach but were unable to seal it. It was still an admirable performance from New Zealand, particularly when they lost key playmaker Blake Green in the warmup with an injured groin. The injury left a makeshift halves pairing of utility Peta Hike and second gamer Chanel Harris-Tavita and while it didn’t stop the Warriors points flowing, their inability to respond to an experienced Souths’ late comeback proved telling. Issac Luke was a welcome returnee from his own injury problems and the veteran hooker’s presence was badly missed.
The Warriors were still leading the highflying Bunnies with eight to go but couldn’t control Souths five eighth Cody Walker’s brilliance attacking their line. Walker’s four-try arvo proved the difference and left the Warriors at 2-3 after five rounds. The Warriors have been everything from dominant (against the Bulldogs) to disastrous (against Manly in particular) and while they didn’t get the win last week, they did take it all the way against a Premiership contender.
When it rains, it absolutely pours for the poor Cowboys. Four straight defeats punctuated with injuries – winger Nene Macdonald’s broken ankle the latest – may have ended their campaign before it’s truly begun. The Cowboys were pummelled against Cronulla and Canberra but last week they stood up to the unbeaten Storm and matched it with them for spells. For a side so low in confidence it was an impressive effort considering the class of opposition.
Through injury and form coach Paul Green has continually reshuffled his backline and with Macdonald’s horror injury he’ll now have to do it again. Ben Hampton’s first game as a winger was his sixth different starting position and he got on the scoresheet, while Michael Morgan seemed to enjoy the challenge of facing Maroons teammate Cameron Munster in what was one of the star’s better performances of a frustrating season start. Four straight losses are nowhere near the club’s 2008 rock bottom of 13 straight and while it seems they can’t take a trick, a trip far away from home might give the Cowboys the chance to regroup and play without pressure.
Key stats: The Cowboys have only won once from their last six away matches to the Warriors. They’ve also only won one of their last seven overall away matches. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has scored in back-to-back matches plus also scored the last time he faced the Cowboys.
Best bet: Leading after 60 minutes – Warriors – $1.50* (Unibet)
Value bet: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck anytime try scorer – $2.50* (BetEasy)
St George Illawarra Dragons v Manly Sea Eagles – WIN Stadium – 7:30pm
The Dragons roared like it was 2010 in their 40-4 demolition of Canterbury last Sunday. Canterbury may have had only one win entering the clash but this was a danger game for a Dragons side coming off consecutive one-point wins and still looking for attacking cohesion with Gareth Widdop’s long-term injury. Coach Paul McGregor got that attacking rhythm in spades though with Ben Hunt having a blast at the Doggies expense. Widdop’s injury remains a significant blow for the Dragons with his leadership and goalkicking hard to replace, but it’s starting to look like the Dragons are rediscovering their attacking groove.
Canterbury may have contributed to their own demise with error after error but St George took advantage and had a strong showing from their undermanned pack. James Graham rose to the occasion against his old club with a powerful running display, Tariq Sims and Tyson Frizell caused great impact both on edges and through the middle while previously fringe members like Blake Lawrie and Luciano Leilua enjoyed increased responsibility with the likes of Jack de Belin and Korbin Sims unavailable. Matt Dufty is a joy to watch at fullback, he was unfortunate to be denied a second straight cutout pass try assist to a winger being denied for an alleged forward pass. Hunt and Corey Norman are looking more composed by the week in the halves and from staring into the abyss late on against Brisbane in what could have been an 0-3 season start, instead the Dragons are 3-2 and creating momentum and self-belief.
Des Hasler might be the NRL’s resident mad scientist – but there can be no doubting there’s method to his madness. Manly’s 26-18 away win against Newcastle was the Sea Eagles’ third straight win and a triumph for Hasler’s preparation. Manly are in the second 2019 spell without gamebreaker fullback Tom Trbojevic and looked far more adjusted to cover his absence this time around. In “Turbo Tom’s” first absence, Manly’s opposition put a target on halfback Daly Cherry Evans and attacked him at will. They did this knowing fill-in fullback Brendan Elliot was still adjusting to a new club’s system while in a new position himself and with Hasler unsure on whether his best five-eighth and utility interchange combo was Trent Hodkinson and Kane Elgey, while relying on Api Koroisau as his sole hooker. This resulted in a clunky Manly attack and a rough 0-2 start.
Trbojevic’s return was scintillating but short-lived, leaving doubts on whether it would be back to square one for Dessie. Instead, Hasler has deftly reshuffled his team to compensate for the key loss and now has one of NRL’s most in-form sides on his hands. Kane Elgey is now the undisputed five-eighth and crucially he had his best game for Manly against Newcastle, creating two tries and taking pressure off Cherry-Evans. Elliot knows he now has a lengthy stretch to focus on his fullback play and has been far more confident in organising Manly’s tightened defence from the back. Trent Hodkinson – who bemoaned playing as a utility – has been removed from the NRL side altogether with the dynamic Manase Fainu taking over the number 14 jersey and introducing a different dummy half energy compared to Koroisau when introduced. What’s even more impressive is their three-win streak includes three different approaches to winning a game.
Against the Warriors, Manly blew them away (this was with Turbo Tom) with attacking brilliance capitalising on Warrior mistakes and suspect defence. Against Souths, Manly fought their way to an unlikely win. Their completion rate was terrible but crucially their defence – and a loud Lottoland crowd – helped compensate for this, and they relied on their clutch halfback to pilot them home in golden point. Against Newcastle, Manly got off to a hot 18-0 start but even when they couldn’t maintain this level, they still managed to repel a desperate Newcastle fightback even with having key prop Addin Fonua-Blake in the bin late on.
Manly are a dangerous side to face. Their coach understands his club better than almost any other rival coach and is getting the most out of his squad. They’ve overcome the adversity of losing perhaps their best attacking player and found ways to win despite this. They’ll be underdogs again against the Dragons but that’s the way the mad scientist likes it.
Key stats: Manly doesn’t enjoy trips to Wollongong. Their last win there was in 2003 and since then they’ve lost six straight with only one single-digit losing margin and four times failing to score double digits themselves. Manly winger Jorge Taufua however has no problem with the Dragons – he’s got six tries from six matches against them.
Best bet: Dragons -6 – $1.91* (Bet365)
Value bet: Jorge Taufua anytime try scorer – $2.50* (Sportsbet)