NRL Round 8: Saturday Match Previews & Betting Tips

Canberra and Penrith aim for a swift turnaround in Wagga. It’s the Des Hasler cup – the Bulldogs face their former coach for the first time when they head to Brookie and Dessie’s Sea Eagles. The Chooks are cooking nicely in 2019 – can the erratic Tigers stop them winning seven straight?

Adam King
Thu, 2 May, 12:00 AM

Canberra Raiders vs. Penrith Panthers – McDonalds Park (Wagga) - 3:00pm

Canberra entered their match away to Manly on a high – they were a mathematical chance of ending the round in first place depending on their result. Instead they fell victim to a Sea Eagle ambush in a disappointing 24-20 defeat. Even with Daly Cherry-Evans leaving the game injured, the Raiders couldn’t stop their former half Lachlan Croker enjoying a revenge match against them. Worryingly, Manly may have also exposed a weakness in the Raiders’ previously dominant forward pack.

Manly increasingly favoured an offload-based game in DCE’s absence and made more offloads – 15 – in the match than Canberra have faced in any other 2019 game (Parramatta had 10 in round 5). Their forwards were unable to complete tackles and it allowed the likes of Croker and Manase Fainu to carve up a tiring Raiders middle. Jordan Rapana’s rib injury saw him substituted in the first half and impacted coach Ricky Stuart’s rotation strategy.

The loss was deserved and perhaps a wakeup call for the once-under-the-radar Raiders. Jack Wighton though was a standout with the converted pivot scoring twice in the opening ten minutes and seemingly giving Canberra a buffer to control the game with. Canberra aren’t the first side to suffer a Manly blitz at Lottoland but will be desperate to show their collapse is not a sign the “Faders” tag the club has been stuck with in the last two years might be on the way back.

The Panthers’ miserable 2019 continued with another painful loss, this time 22-18 against Souths. Now 2-5, Penrith are closer to the bottom than the top eight and can’t afford to give any more headstarts to teams both on the ladder and in matches. It was a decent effort against the Bunnies, with Nathan Cleary and James Maloney showing more attacking threat together than in recent weeks and Viliame Kikau’s powerhouse try giving Penrith hope of an unlikely comeback but it wasn’t to be.

Captain James Tamou continues winding back the clock with another huge game in the middle, his 191 running metres surpassing Souths’ starting front row’s combined. Penrith though are a side low in confidence and facing a Raiders side who have shaken off years of near-misses is a daunting challenge for Ivan Cleary’s side.

Key stats: Canberra haven’t suffered back-to-back losses since Round 22, 2018. Penrith have lost four of their last five first halves while the Raiders have won five from five. Nick Cotric has four tries in four starts against Penrith.

Tip: Raiders

Best bet: Raiders to win first half - $1.95

Value bet: Nick Cotric anytime tryscorer - $2.10

Manly Sea Eagles vs. Canterbury Bulldogs – Lottoland – 5:30pm

There’s a long way to go yet in 2019 but Manly coach Des Hasler must be an unheralded contender for Dally M Coach of the Year. Not much was expected of Manly this season – a new coach rebuilding from a disastrous Trent Barrett “exit,” boardroom tension, salary cap issues preventing big-money signings and an injury toll which is growing by the week. But Manly’s 24-20 win over Canberra leaves the Sea Eagles in 6th spot entering round eight and ahead of far more fancied sides.

Manly’s latest win had Hasler’s fingerprints all over it. Kane Elgey was seemingly establishing himself as Daly Cherry-Evans’ halves partner but found himself axed pre-game for Lachlan Croker. Considering ex-Raider Croker hadn’t played NRL for over a year following an ACL injury, it was a bold selection call but it proved inspired. Unlike Elgey and Trent Hodkinson, Croker wasn’t just playing a support role for DCE – he showed early on he was prepared to play first receiver.

This wasn’t a case of an over-enthusiastic player taking control but instead was a natural organiser playing the game as he read it. Croker scored himself through a great support run and Manly were growing in rhythm after the Raiders earlier had bolted to the lead. But early in the second half Cherry-Evans suffered an ankle injury sidelining him for at least a month – and just like his first half, Croker stepped up to lead his side.

Ably supported by Corey Waddell, Curtis Sironen and Jake Trbojevic, Croker convincingly guided his side home. When Manly had their golden era during Hasler’s first tenure, Brookvale Oval was infamously knows as “The Fortress.” That reputation slowly eroded away in recent years but that unique Manly vibe was alive and well against a Raiders side who entered the match with NRL’s best defence.

The crowd – just like in Manly’s golden point win over Souths in round 4 – created a strong advantage and given Manly lost DCE along with Tom Trbojevic still some time away from returning from injury, it’s clear Hasler is maximising every advantage he can get out of a side squeezing the most of their available talent. Hasler insists his first match against a Canterbury club who he had an inglorious exit from is purely business but with Manly within reach of a 5-3 season start, you know the Mad Scientist will have a formula to take it to the Bulldogs.

Canterbury meanwhile impressed in their 24-12 win over North Queensland at ANZ. Corey Harawira-Naera earned the headlines with a two try effort combined with a try-saving tackle on Gavin Cooper, but it really was a team effort which gave the Bulldogs their second win on 2019.

The Canterbury forwards outshined a Cowboys pack with far more experience, highlighted by Aiden Tolman’s monstrous evening. Combining 20 hits (142 running metres) with 43 tackles without a miss, it was an inspirational effort from the unsung middle. Combined with a typical Josh Jackson game – capped off with a try from Canterbury’s heart and soul – and Rhyse Martin’s power running, it was a blueprint for the 2019 version of the Bulldogs.

With NRL’s most inexperienced spine, it’s essential for the Bulldogs pack to create territorial advantage and a second-half blitz where the Bulldogs laid on three tries in 15 minutes came off the back of sustained Canterbury pressure. Harawira-Naera was unstoppable and fullback Nick Meaney continued his improvement. Canterbury’s challenge now becomes earning consecutive victories for the first time since August 2018.

Key stats: Des Hasler won three of his last four games as Manly coach against the Bulldogs. The Dogs have struggled away, only winning two of their last seven while also conceding the first try in three of their last four starts.

Tip: Sea Eagles

Best bet: Manly to score first try - $1.90

Value bet: Manly -2.5 - $2

Sydney Roosters vs. Wests Tigers – SCG – 7:30pm

Six straight wins has given the Sydney Roosters their best season start since 1999 – and it might be especially handy with the Premiers suffering a huge blow in their 20-10 ANZAC Day win over the Dragons. Jake Friend had only just returned from a shoulder injury but the Australian international hooker was in complete control, setting up Angus Crichton’s try with a delightful short-ball to go with a 40/20 and dominant kicking game.

When the Dragons roared back in the second half and the game on the line it was the inspirational Roosters co-captain who nailed Matt Dufty with a textbook crunching tackle to dislodge the ball and allow Sia Siua Taukeiaho to seal the win with a barnstorming try. Remarkably, Friend pulled the tackle off with a ruptured biceps. The injury likely sees Friend sidelined for at least three months and could be the biggest player hurdle yet for the Roosters’ back-to-back title hopes.

But the biggest non-player hurdle for the Chooks could be their continued second-half fadeouts. It seems odd for a side with six straight victories to have a glaring weakness but once again the Roosters started off hot before suffering a second-half fightback. Dufty’s sensational solo try will go down in season highlights and tricoloured nightmares. It got the Dragons back to within four points which seemed absurd to consider how dominant the Roosters were in the first half.

James Tedesco and Latrell Mitchell looked unstoppable in attack as the Roosters appeared to compensate for Luke Keary’s concussion-enforced absence nicely. But with Friend’s long-term injury, the Roosters will need to get familiar to life without a key playmaker.

After their 51-6 capitulation to Parramatta, the Tigers looked like heading down that same path as they trailed Gold Coast 14-0 early on in Tamworth. But this time Wests had a response and appeared a different side running home comfortable 30-14 winners. In an interesting coincidence, the Tigers’ 30 unanswered points came after starting five-eighth Josh Reynolds limped off with a knee injury.

Reynolds showed his trademark heart in throwing his body in the way of Titans attackers while clearly injured, but his absence forced fullback Moses Mbye to become more influential in attack to great dividends. Mbye’s two try assists broke a drought stretching back to round 24 2018, and he looked far more comfortable than he did in the Parra demolition needing to fill in at hooker. Luke Brooks also recovered from a poor showing, creating two tries of his own with his trusty left boot. Mahe Fauna’s hat-trick was icing on the cake and gives the Tigers a 4-3 start under Michael Maguire.

Key stats: In seven 2019 second halves, only twice (Brisbane and Parramatta) have the Roosters not conceded consecutive second-half tries. They prefer first halves – winning all seven so far at an average margin of 12.2 points. The Roosters have won 11 of their last 12 matches against the Tigers. Daniel Tupou loves the Tigers – he’s scored 14 tries in just 9 matches against them.

Tip: Roosters

Best bet: Daniel Tupou anytime tryscorer - $1.80

Value bet: Roosters 9+ half-time margin - $2.50

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