NRL Round 7: Friday Night Previews & Betting Tips

The Bulldogs are desperate to climb out of last spot but face a suddenly confident Cowboys side while the in-turmoil-Panthers go head-to-head against the top four Rabbitohs.

James Baxter
 | 
Tue, 23 Apr, 12:00 AM

Canterbury v North Queensland Cowboys – ANZ Stadium - 6pm

After their Dragons belting leaving the Dogs at bottom place again, a match against Premiership contender Souths wasn’t exactly an ideal next challenge for coach Dean Pay. To the Bulldogs’ credit though, they made a far better attempt at containing a superior opposition this time around. It wasn’t pretty to watch but the Bulldogs’ defensive strategy of slowing down the Souths ruck as much and as often as possible was effective in taking the spark out of a dynamic Bunnies attack.

The Dogs still have the league’s worst defence but their best hope of upsetting Souths was through a grinding, tight pace, which they were able to partially create. The problem was the Dogs remain ineffective in attack. They average under 12 points a game in 2019 and have only surpassed 16 points once. Their spine is NRL’s most inexperienced with two recruits still finding their way at the club. Jayden Okunbor had a promising first two career games against the Tigers and Storm but his last two starts have been error-riddled on the wing.

It remains hard to see where the Bulldogs will find enough points to give themselves a competitive chance in 2019. A lot of the pressure is coming from their forward pack – only once in 2019 have the Dogs outrun their opponents, and even that was only 96 metres more than the Tigers in round three.

The Cowboys meanwhile were deserved 17-10 winners away to the Warriors in what was a must-win game on several levels. Three straight demoralising losses at home left their 2019 campaign in turmoil but an away trip to New Zealand has seen hope emerge.

Josh McGuire had a barnstorming 200th NRL game, making over 200m and 43 tackles to lead the way for a Cowboys pack who started living up to their potential. Michael Morgan faced criticisms over not controlling his side as their lead playmaker but the halfback certainly did just that against the Warriors. The Cowboys didn’t blow the Warriors away but they remained in the fight and were able to back their defence in against the Warriors’ misfiring attack. Jordan Kahu’s goalkicking also made a huge difference, two penalty goals giving North Queensland breathing room.

 

Key Stats: The Cowboys have won five of their six against the Bulldogs. The last time the Dogs beat the Cowboys in Sydney was 2012. Both sides have only surpassed twenty points once each in 2019. Canterbury are yet to lead at halftime at home in 2019.

 

Tip: Cowboys

Best bet: Cowboys half time  $2.20* (TopBetta)

Value bet: Cowboys +2.5 and Under 40.5 Points $2.80* (Sportsbet)

Penrith Panthers v South Sydney Rabbitohs – Penrith Stadium - 7:55pm

Last round was a Penrith disaster. With the NRL as tight as it is, you can’t afford to lead 20-6 away from home with 15 minutes left against a side racked with injuries yet in a similar ladder position to you and not capitalise. Yet that’s exactly what happened to Ivan Cleary’s side as they imploded with brain snaps, a penalty try and a complete lack of composure to fall 24-20. Perhaps the most worrying aspect of their 2-4 start is despite plenty of selection changes, Penrith defensively remain liabilities.

James Maloney has a defensive bodyguard in Viliame Kikau but they missed a combined 11 tackles. But it wasn’t just their right-edge defence which became vulnerable in the Sharks’ comeback – their left edge became broken repeatedly by Bronson Xerri while their middle also couldn’t handle an Andrew Fifita-led fightback. This might be Cleary’s second stint at the Panthers but we still don’t know what exactly this version of the club has as its identity. It started the season with six co-captains before deciding on James Tamou as its sole leader after five rounds.

Both their wins have been nail biters which they could well have lost (16-14 vs Newcastle, 9-8 against Wests). They’ve lacked confidence to put away sides severely under-strength (Parramatta) or previously winless (Titans) while they got outplayed thoroughly by the strongest side they’ve thus far faced (Manly). Dallin Watene-Zelezniak impressed New Zealand enough to be selected as captain yet he’s now ten matches without a Panthers try and conceded an unforgivable penalty against Chad Townsend while in possession. The Panthers were considered a top eight certainty in pre-season but they’ve shown nothing to deserve such confidence. Another defeat to Souths could leave their final hopes in severe doubt before we’ve even reached Origin season.

On paper it may look a close affair but the Souths 14-6 win over Canterbury was never in doubt. It wasn’t a vintage display by any means from the Bunnies who were frustrated by the Dogs’ attempts to slow the game’s pace to a crawl. Yet Souths remained in control and like all good sides do, they got the two points even when not at their best.

The biggest talking point from the win was their coach Wayne Bennett directly calling out the NRL post-game for allowing the ruck to degenerate to what his side experienced – and while that could be music to the ears of neutrals who had to sit through this, it also could be a step in self-preservation. The Dogs might have given other sides who might ordinarily struggle to contain the likes of Damien Cook a blueprint in slowing down the play the balls as much as possible. A side with defensive problems like Penrith have could well look to replicate this – it could be their only hope.

 

Key stats: Although the Panthers won their last head-to-head match with Souths, the last time they beat them twice straight was in 2011. The Panthers have made the most errors and missed the most tackles in 2019. Campbell Graham has six tries in six games.

 

Tip: Rabbitohs

Best bet: Campbell Graham to score anytime $1.83* (Sportsbet)

Value bet: Souths -2.5 $1.91* (Bet365)

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