NRL Round 8: Sunday Match Previews & Betting Tips

The plucky Warriors did everything but win last start, and now face a Knights side increasing in confidence. Parra suffered a wakeup call last week – will a return to their new home get them back on track against the Dragons?

James Baxter
Thu, 2 May, 00:00

New Zealand Warriors vs. Newcastle Knights – Mt Smart Stadium - 2:00pm

Rugby league can be a cruel game. The Warriors entered a match in Melbourne without a friend – they were missing Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Blake Green and David Fusitu’a to boot – but instead were unfortunate not to pull off NRL’s biggest 2019 upset. The 13-12 loss via Storm halfback Brodie Croft’s 77th minute field goal was undeserved in many ways.

Unlike some of their recent losses, this time the Warriors were up for the grind and they frustrated Melbourne with hard-hitting defence and an attacking game built around veteran hooker Issac Luke rolling back the years with a clinic of game management, keeping Storm’s markers particularly on edge with his dynamic runs creating space for emergency halfback Tohu Harris to assist young five-eighth Chanel Harris-Tavita in keeping things ticking over in attack. But just like their round five Souths loss, the Warriors lacked that extra polish to finish off a huge win against a Premiership contender.

It’s a tremendous learning process for a New Zealand side packed with young talent and in the least was a fantastic improvement in effort after their dismal loss to the Cowboys. With Tuivasa-Sheck, Green and Fusitu’a all aiming for returns this week, their re-entry could provide that crucial attacking edge to get them over the line.

Newcastle finally ended a horror five game losing streak in a convincing 28-14 win over Parramatta. In easily their best performance of 2019, the Knights raced to an early 20-0 and comfortably saw off a shellshocked Eels side who might have been expecting an easier contest. Mitchell Pearce was in control and fittingly capped off the win with a trademark run to muscle through to score, while fullback Kalyn Ponga’s support play offered Newcastle fans hope their season might not be a write-off just yet.

Impressively for a side low in confidence, the Knights maintained their intensity throughout, including their bench rotation. Interchange prop James Gavet made an instant impact to score upon coming on, but it was their sustained aggression which ensured Parramatta’s attempted fightback never got into full gear. Newcastle might have that winning feeling back but considering round 19 last year was the most recent time they’ve had consecutive wins, they cannot afford to let their flicker of hope fade out.

Key stats: The Warriors have won five of their last six matches against Newcastle. Newcastle last won in Auckland way back in 2012. David Fusitu’a has 11 tries in his last five matches against the Knights. Five of the Knights’ last six losses have been under 12 points while in their last three games Newcastle’s combined match totals have been an average of 46.7 points.

Tip: Warriors

Best bet: David Fusitu’a anytime tryscorer - $2

Value bet: Warriors -1.5/Over 36.5 points - $2.60

Parramatta Eels vs. St George Illawarra Dragons – Bankwest Stadium – 4:05pm

Will the real 2019 Parramatta Eels please stand up? Is it the side who torched the Tigers, the side who pushed the Premiers all the way or the side who capitulated in the first 30 minutes to a Newcastle side who entered the game dead last? Their 28-14 loss to the Knights was a sudden halt to the optimism which had been growing Parramatta way.

Whether it was complacency or old habits returning, the Eels’ start in Newcastle doomed them swiftly. Newcastle were hungry and ready for the fight – the Eels meanwhile were sloppy and lacking direction in attack. Mitchell Moses was our Oddschecker Player of the Week last round but this time he resembled more the confidence-ravaged halfback from 2018.

Fullback Clint Gutherson’s contract saga is playing out in the press but he did his asking price little favour with an error-riddled performance, while winger Blake Ferguson – who was rushed into the side following a spell with a rib injury – didn’t seem to be fully fit, his kick returns lacking the reigning Dally M Winger of the Year’s famous power. The Eels did show some fightback after their slow start – the problem being they were already 20-0 down and needing to chase points.

Manu Ma’u was their best player in his return from his own injury struggles, scoring a try and being the main forward to retaliate David Klemmer’s aggression, but a late headknock also ended Ma’u’s day early and summed up an afternoon to forget. The biggest question facing the 2019 Eels was always going to be how they responded to adversity.

With new signings and inexperience throughout, many of the Eels side didn’t necessarily experience their painful 2018 wooden spoon and the losing culture which enveloped the club that season. But in what was their most disappointing loss of the season so far, will the Eels respond with an improved performance, or will their heads drop at the thought of a nightmare repeating itself?

It was a rollercoaster for the Dragons on ANZAC Day, their 20-10 loss to the Roosters filled with highs and lows. They started rather poorly, a 14-0 deficit early on was a result of the Dragons being starved of possession compounded by relentless Cooper Cronk pressure. But as possession started swinging back towards St George Illawarra’s way, so too did the game’s balance.

Matt Dufty’s incredible 50 metre break through the heart of the Roosters’ defence and leaving rival James Tedesco in the SCG dust saw the Dragons edge to within four points of the now-floundering Roosters, but in the end a Dufty error gave Roosters prop Sia Siua Taukeiaho the chance to score his own memorable try to finish the game.

Coach Paul McGregor focused on the positives following the loss, saying his side had pushed “the best team in the world’ all the way and on another day, perhaps his side finds a way to take the lead late on. It was a strong effort by the Dragons, especially considering halfback Ben Hunt was playing injured with a crook shoulder – eventually leaving the field – and refusing to be blown apart by a hot Roosters start unlike Brisbane.

Zac Lomax’s return was billed primarily for his goal-kicking ability and while Lomax has shown himself as a sharpshooter, it’s unfair to pigeonhole him just as a specialist kicker. His try last start was smartly finished on the wing and when Hunt left play, Lomax showed his versatility in switching to a fill-in five-eighth. This week he’s been named to start as a centre. It’s another backline tweak by McGregor but given Tim Lafai’s struggles at replacing injured Gareth Widdop’s goalkicking role, it’s an understandable call.

Tariq Sims and Tyson Frizell took the fight to the Roosters pack and lock Blake Lawrie quietly continues to impress as a defensive workhorse in the middle while more illustrious teammates get the spotlight. The Chooks defeat ended a four game winning streak for the Dragons but there were plenty of encouraging signs for the St George Illawarra faithful.

Key Stats: The Dragons need to turn the tide against Parramatta – they’ve only won one of their last eight head-to-heads. Clint Gutherson has four tries in his last four games against the Dragons. Three of the Dragons’ four 2019 wins have been by a combined margin of four points.

Tip: Dragons

Best bet: Dragons +1.5 - $1.90

Value bet: Clint Gutherson anytime tryscorer - $2.88


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