NRL Round 8: Friday Night Previews & Betting Tips

A Queensland derby with two sides desperately needing the win. Melbourne barely scraped by a depleted Warriors – can Cronulla deliver a repeat result of the 2016 Grand Final?

James Baxter
Thu, 2 May, 12:00 AM

North Queensland Cowboys vs. Gold Coast Titans – 1300 Smiles Stadium- 6pm

It was back to square one for the Cowboys – coming off a strong win away to the Warriors, they failed to build on their momentum and instead deservedly lost 24-12 to the then-bottom Bulldogs. Jason Taumalolo watched the Dogs game from the bench and the Cowboys will be ecstatic if their beloved wrecking ball is a late call-up from an extended bench. But Taumalolo’s return won’t single-handedly resuscitate the Cowboys’ beleaguered 2019 season.

A horror 15 minute stretch in the second half sealed their fifth loss, conceding three straight tries to a Bulldogs side not known for a hot attack. Michael Morgan hasn’t shown the form which helped the Cowboys into the 2017 Grand Final – he’s struggled to control the game pace far too often. Hooker Jake Granville has also fallen out of favour, although starting games he’s now essentially playing second fiddle to bench hooker Kurt Baptiste. This is the latest change to what coach Paul Green had envisioned as his strongest spine – only Michael Morgan remains as an undisputed spine selection:

1 – Ben Barba (later replaced by Jordan Kahu, then Te Maire Martin and now Kahu again)

6 – Te Maire Martin (later replaced by Jake Clifford)

7 – Michael Morgan

9 – Jake Granville (being phased out for Kurt Baptiste)

With Martin sidelined indefinitely due to a brain bleed, this creates yet another selection change for green. This spine reshuffling isn’t an excuse though for their limp performance against the Bulldogs – Canterbury have made just as many changes. With or without Taumalolo, a forward pack stacked with representative and NRL experience should be laying a better platform to particularly give Morgan more to work with. With only one home win this season so far, the Titans offer a chance for the struggling Cowboys to rebuild a home advantage again.

After bursting out of the blocks to a 14-0 lead, the Titans swiftly collapsed to concede 30 unanswered points against the Tigers to end a promising two-game win streak. Despite having their first choice halves pairing in Tyrone Roberts and Ashley Taylor, the Titans attack fell apart after their opening 20 minute burst. The Tigers offered plenty of chances to the Gold Coast to get back into the contest particularly late in the second half, but despite a raft of red-zone sets, the Titans never looked likely to add to their tally.

Gold Coast resorted to panicked side-to-side plays and went away from their biggest strength – their middle forwards – and will need to learn from a chance which slipped away. Tyrone Peachey and Bryce Cartwright did at least offer some attacking spark throughout but coach Garth Brennan will know his halves need to do better to get their season back on track.

Key Stats: The Cowboys have a seven game win streak versus the Titans. The Titans’ last win in Townsville was 2012. This is a matchup with two teams who have struggled to hit great attacking heights in 2019 (Titans with the 12th ranked attack, Cowboys the 14th). The Titans’ last away victory was in round 23, 2018.

Tip: Cowboys

Best bet: Race to 30 points – neither team - $1.43

Value bet: Cowboys 1-12 - $3

Cronulla Sharks vs. Melbourne Storm – PointsBet Stadium - 7:55pm

They may be Sharks but Cronulla will feel like 2019 is a swim upstream with their injury curse striking again in a 29-6 loss away to Brisbane. Josh Dugan – in the warm-up – and Shaun Johnson – early first half – each had early nights with hamstring injuries, to go with Briton Nikora, Wade Graham, Aaron Woods and Matt Moylan still unavailable.

This went on top of Paul Gallen needing painkillers to play and Andrew Fifita dealing with a nagging hamstring issue. With Cronulla’s roster already high on inexperience, to be missing six first-choice players is a massive burden as shown with the Brisbane loss. You couldn’t fault the Sharkies’ effort – they competed all night but the quality just wasn’t there.

Brisbane ruthlessly targeted Cronulla’s second-game fullback William Kennedy and debutant winger Ronaldo Mulitalo, the young pair combining for six handling errors. Experienced winger Sosaia Feki didn’t have a single kick return for the game and with only 42% possession on the night, only Fifita (101m) hit three figures in running metres. It just wasn’t meant to be for Cronulla and in terms of opposition class they don’t get a respite next start.

Melbourne got their expected win against the Warriors – but the 13-12 victory did not go to according to plan. The Warriors were severely understrength and were expected to be easy fodder for a Storm side who were looking to rebound from their first loss of 2019 last start. Melbourne though continued an interesting recent trend where they struggled to put away a side closer to the bottom than top of the ladder.

Just like against Canterbury and North Queensland, the Storm were forced to dig deep and eke out a win when not at their best. This time around it was a 77th minute Brodie Croft field goal which got the Storm home – at least this was a turnaround from their Roosters loss where they couldn’t convert field goal chances.

But it wasn’t a vintage Storm display and since their round 3 ambush of Penrith, the Storm haven’t been consistently convincing – their second half against the Roosters was impressive but it needed to be with their opening 30 minutes leaving them 20-0 down. Individually there are Origin berths up for grabs for the likes of Christian Welch and Dale Finucane – look for the Melbourne pack to take the game to the Sharks and give Cameron Munster a platform to shine.

Key stats: The Sharks’ opposition have been the first to score 20 points in their last four rounds. Melbourne are unbeaten in away games in 2019. Cameron Munster has three tries in his last five games, with the Queenslander taking on increased attacking responsibility.

Tip: Storm

Best bet: Race to 20 points – Storm - $1.67

Value bet: Cameron Munster anytime tryscorer - $3.60

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