NRL Round 6: Easter Sunday Previews & Betting Tips
Gold Coast Titans v Newcastle Knights – CBUS Super Stadium - 4:05pm
The Titans got themselves off the bottom rung of the NRL ladder with a deserved 30-24 upset against Penrith. After four straight losses to start 2019, coach Garth Brennan challenged the mental attitude of his squad publicly and to their credit, his side responded with their most convincing performance of their campaign. They did so once again without Ash Taylor, their luckless halfback suffering another injury which removed him from the game early on.
The Titans seem snake bit with their spine already in 2019, with Taylor joining hooker Nathan Peats in the injury ward – but five-eighth Tyrone Roberts made his own return against the Panthers and showed the experience the Titans have craved in the halves. Without Taylor, he took playmaking responsibility and crucially also linked well with new first-choice hooker Mitch Rein. The Panthers are getting attention for their horrific defensive display but equally, the Titans deserve praise for shaking things up with their attack. Wily fullback Michael Gordon in game 250 had a blinder, and AJ Brimson clearly enjoyed his increased game time off the bench following Taylor’s exit.
The win did come at a cost though with Jarrod Wallace suspended a fortnight following a shoulder charge. Wallace and Jai Arrow have been head and shoulders above the rest of the Titans pack in their performances but much like Taylor’s injury opened the door for Roberts to step up, Shannon Boyd must do likewise. The ex-Raider has spent more time on the bench than as a starter in his Titans career but this is the prop’s chance to show Brennan why he deserves to be an automatic starter. The Titans played with guts and a similar effort against the beleaguered Knights could result in consecutive upsets for the Gold Coast.
Meanwhile what was meant to be the start of a new era for Newcastle has instead been more of the same recent disappointment. The Knights’ 26-18 loss at home to Manly was their fourth straight defeat, leaving them at 1-4 and at increasingly long odds to make the finals ($3.55 – BetEasy).
Coach Nathan Brown was given time to rebuild the club following the fallout of the Nathan Tinkler and Wayne Bennett regime – but following two seasons of aggressive recruitment, 2019 was the year the Knights had to deliver. Instead, they’ve looked a side low on confidence, lacking cohesion and error-prone.
They were favourites to beat Manly and kickstart their finals hopes but instead were shell-shocked by a Sea Eagles barrage. They trailed 18-0 during the first half and while they did eventually mount a comeback, the damage was already done. Kalyn Ponga’s move to fullback has been a positive playmaking change but worryingly the Knights are unsure of what their ideal halves combination is five weeks into the season. Mitchell Pearce is their undisputed halfback but Ponga, Connor Watson, Kurt Mann and Mason Lino have already spent time playing second receiver and none have exactly claimed the spot for their own. The constant reshuffling has matched the Knights’ losing run – they’ve been competitive throughout with losing margins of 2, 7, 1 and 8 but while their defence has been mostly solid (Manly’s first half aside), they’ve been unable to convert attacking opportunities into points consistently enough.
David Klemmer remains on fire as their new forward leader but he needs support. Unfortunately, it won’t come from veteran Aiden Guerra soon, the former Australian representative’s horror broken leg injury removes a key plank of Brown’s forward rotation. Mitchell Barnett did have his best game of 2019, racking up 56 involvements to go with a try and the lock may be looked at in filling the void created by Guerra’s absence. The clash with Titans is essentially an elimination final in April for the Knights. A 1-5 start historically is nearly impossible to overcome in reaching the finals and could have dire consequences for Brown’s coaching future. The Knights will not care how they get the win against the Titans – they just need the two points by any means necessary.
Key stats: Newcastle needs to overcome a poor recent record on the Gold Coast, losing their last three matches there. In a struggling Newcastle attack – the fourth worst in the league – Edrick Lee has at least been a reliable threat, scoring four tries in five games, including being Newcastle’s first try scorer twice already.
Best bet: Knights – $2* (Bet365)
Value bet: Edrick Lee first try scorer – $11* (TAB)
Canberra Raiders v Brisbane Broncos – Canberra Stadium – 6:10pm
What an impressive opening five weeks it’s been for the Raiders – their best season start since 2005. Coach Ricky Stuart has to deliver a finals spot after years of near misses and he couldn’t have wished for a much better start. The 4-1 Raiders boast the NRL’s tightest defence, earning its second shutout already in beating Parramatta 19-0. No other NRL side has had a clean sheet so far. Their only loss came against powerhouse Melbourne and was a competitive effort still.
Stuart possibly divides opinion the most out of all NRL coaches with punters. He hasn’t shaken off the jibes at him not following up early Premiership success with a star-studded Roosters roster in his career since but it’s evident this Canberra side are enjoying Stuart’s work. “Sticky” deserves praise for making tough calls in the off-season – such as moving on popular five eighth Blake Austin while reshuffling his attacking spine – and so far it’s paying impressive dividends. Stuart made his coaching reputation on miserly, in-your-face defensive structures. Canberra’s defensive line is remarkably improved after five games compared to their previous five seasons under coach Stuart:
Canberra average points conceded per game after first five rounds:
2019 – 8.8 points per game
2018 – 24.4 points per game
2017 – 19.8 points per game
2016 – 19.6 points per game
2015 – 22 points per game
2014 – 20.4 points per game
What this suddenly stingy defence has created is far less pressure on the Raiders to run up high points tallies they once were known for – this do or die attacking approach was almost a necessary evil due to their leaky defence. It’s allowed Jack Wighton to adapt to his new five-eighth role with confidence and room for error.
Compare Wighton’s positional shift to Kalyn Ponga’s for example. The Newcastle star was playing behind a beaten pack and having to chase games instead of controlling the game’s speed and utilising a run game as suited. Ponga’s already been moved back to fullback in a desperate attempt to reignite the Knights. Wighton meanwhile has been able to grow into the role’s demands at his own pace.
Sam Williams – a replacement halfback for injured Aidan Sezer – has played so well he’s now retaining the seven jersey upon Sezer’s return to fitness. Canberra’s pack has also had to cope with a key unavailability in Joseph Tapine (plagued with thumb injuries, the unlucky backrower now faces up to three months out with an ankle concern) but managed to collectively pick up his load. Canberra will now be licking their lips at a chance to put a dagger into Brisbane’s already faint finals hopes. For the Raiders to reach the finals for the first time since 2016 they need to replace one of the previous year’s established top eight sides. Defeating Brisbane will go a massive way in achieving this.
It’s now come to this for Brisbane – a trip to Canberra which could define their season. The fact this scenario is happening in April shows how miserable the Broncos’ current position is. Canterbury in 2013 recovered from a 1-5 start to reach the finals so while a loss may not guarantee the Broncos’ finals hopes are over, it would go very close to doing so.
A win though could be the start of a turnaround and even with their 1-4 start, the talent remains for coach Anthony Seibold to start a positive streak. Their 22-16 loss at home to the Tigers though was a bitter one. Brisbane once again found themselves behind in the second half but this time managed to respond to eventually level the game with ten minutes to go. A complete inability though to properly set up a field goal attempt with a full set of six and ideal field territory revealed how low Brisbane’s self-confidence is. After their one-point loss to St George in round three, Brisbane are now showing signs of a side with mental scars under pressure.
Jack Bird was earlier earning headlines for his strong efforts after a horror 2018, yet the centre is now in the wrong headlines for butchering two tries in two weeks. You get the feeling Brisbane’s best hope at winning a game in their current context is to blow a side away with attack – like their sole win against North Queensland – rather than sneak home a win in a tight game. Seibold- at least on the surface – is appearing to maintain the faith in the beleaguered squad by again opting against a selection overhaul other sides with a 1-4 record (Newcastle, Canterbury, North Queensland) have proceeded with in recent times. But patience can only last so long and a club who are arguably NRL’s biggest off the field are not designed to be equal last. Canberra’s defence has conceded the fewest points entering round six and will be backed by a loud home crowd. The Broncos’ ten-day turnaround is essentially a mini-bye. Has the time been enough for Siebold to inspire his side for their biggest game of the season?
Key Stats: Brisbane have won their last six matches against the Raiders. The last five results have been with margins underneath 12 points. Canberra though were ahead at halftime in their last two Broncos matches, to go with being in front at half-time in each of their four 2019 victories.
Best bet: First half – Raiders – $1.85* (TAB)
Value bet: Raiders 1-12 – $3* (Sportsbet)