NRL Magic Round: Friday Night Previews & Betting Tips

The Panthers broke Tigers hearts in round four – can the Tigers return serve in potentially finishing Ivan Cleary’s season? And will an in-form Manly deliver a knockout blow to the besieged Broncos

James Baxter
Tue, 7 May, 12:00 AM

Wests Tigers v Penrith Panthers – Suncorp Stadium – 6pm

The Tigers felt the wrath of a Tricoloured onslaught led by Latrell Mitchell in their 42-12 belting at the SCG. Wests were never truly in the contest, unable to convert their brief moments of dominance into sustained periods of pressure.

Their two tries came from individual plays (Ryan Matterson from a scrum 10m out, Robbie Farah with a cheeky barge over 1m out) and they simply got outmuscled by an inspired Roosters pack and outmatched by an electric backline. Moses Mbye and Esan Marsters had nights to forget. Mbye never looked convincing in the unique SCG windy conditions while Marsters became Mitchell’s latest defensive victim – the only consolation for the young Kiwi being he won’t be the last.

With Benji Marshall and Josh Reynolds unavailable meaning Matterson becoming a fill-in five-eighth, halfback Luke Brooks struggled to balance his organisational duties with his own attacking game. Brooks is at his best when looking to play through a defensive line with his change of pace and footwork, and no doubt will be hollering for a Marshall return.

Penrith experienced a Wagga disaster – their limp 30-12 loss meaning only the Bulldogs’ worse points difference is keeping the Panthers off last spot. It wasn’t just their disjointed performance which was disappointing – at a time where the Panthers have faced injury worries, they got an even worse dose of ill fortune to compound their concerns.

Viliame Kikau’s leg injury, Isaah Yeo’s shoulder dislocation and Malaki Watene-Zelezniak rib complaint are just the latest additions to a growing injury list. Yet injuries alone do not excuse this side starting 2-6. Penrith has lacked the defensive attitude needed to consistently compete week to week. Perhaps the only table the Panthers are top of is the dreaded Missed Tackles one.

Compounding their defensive fragility, they’re also joint top of the errors count alongside the Roosters. This is somewhat misleading however given the Roosters’ style revolves around aggressive attack and backing their watertight defence to cover from the inevitable mistakes. Penrith’s errors meanwhile are more fundamental ones, resembling a side out of form and confidence. Perhaps the only positive for the Panthers this week is they face a side they know they can beat in 2019. But they can’t afford to rely on a similar level of performance they showed in that round four golden point win – the broken Panthers need to step up this week or else they’ll be put out of their misery.


Key Stats: These sides met in round four, where the Panthers’ 9-8 golden point win was their fifth straight against the Tigers. In this losing streak, the matches have only averaged a combined 33 points per game. Panthers captain James Tamou has won four from four matches against the Tigers since joining Penrith. The Tigers though at least enter this match in better form, winning two of their last four starts while the Panthers have lost four straight. The Tigers have won five second halves in 2019.


Tip: Tigers

Best bet: Tigers to win second half $2.23*

Value bet: Tigers -0.5/Under 38.5 points $3.40*

Manly Sea Eagles v Brisbane Broncos – Suncorp Stadium – 7:55pm

Another week, another test passed for Des Hasler’s Sea Eagles.

Their 18-10 win over the Bulldogs was the latest in a trend of gutsy, grinding wins built upon every player making the most of their ability and effort. Even turmoil in their halves hasn’t stopped Manly establishing itself in the top eight.

Last week Lachlan Croker guided Manly hope with Daly Cherry-Evans’ ankle injury, this week it was Kane Elgey taking command with Croker succumbing to a hamstring issue. Croker wasn’t alone in leaving the game early either – powerful prop Addin Fonua-Blake also suffered a knee injury and meant Manly’s remaining bench had to play far beyond their usual rotations.

There are no star signings in Hasler’s side - winger Reuben Garrick joined Manly from the Dragons looking for a shot at first grade and he repaid Hasler’s faith by scoring all 18 points. Backrower Corey Waddell switched from Penrith’s lower grades and has adapted to NRL level instantly. This is the Des Hasler Manly effect and with a defence capable of making goal-line stands consistently, Manly are proving themselves a genuine finals contender – and all this without the injured DCE and Tom Trbojevic.

For a club demanding success as much as the Brisbane Broncos are, their 38-6 hiding from Souths – with ex-coach Wayne Bennett grinning on – must feel like their equivalent of hitting rock bottom.

We know the saga involving the Broncos deciding then-Souths coach Anthony Seibold was the man to take them to a seventh Premiership and beyond, but few would have seen a Brisbane collapse quite like this happening.

Broncos legend and board member Darren Lockyer said following the loss the Broncos must accept a top-four finish is unlikely. If Brisbane does not snap out of their slow start to the season, they’re at risk of fighting off a wooden spoon battle let alone reaching the finals. We’ve seen clubs suffer heavy defeats in 2019 where the effort has been there even if the quality is not – case in point the Cronulla Sharks’ loss to the Broncos in round seven.

Brisbane’s performance against Souths does not belong in this category. After a tight first fifteen minutes, Souths broke through the Broncos line and from there it was one-way Bunnies traffic. Rookie halfback Tom Dearden was handed the keys to the Broncos attack following Kodi Nikorima’s immediate departure to the Warriors and the 18-year-old played with heart behind a well-beaten forward pack.

The hope was star five-eighth Anthony Milford would build from his promising Cronulla game and step up as the experienced halves partner, but instead, he was played off the ANZ Stadium park by opposite pivot Cody Walker. How Brisbane would have longed for such a brilliant, dynamic attacking spark like the mercurial Walker.

The most troubling part of the loss was it looked like the Broncos were a broken side. The quality is still there for Brisbane to turn things around but their confidence looked shot against a Souths side who the Broncos were expected to finish ahead of in the pre-season.

At 2-6 they’re needing to rewrite NRL logic just to reach the finals and just like when they last faced the Sea Eagles in a Manly “home” game at Suncorp, they will enter as strong favourites. Seibold has made big selection calls in dropping James Roberts and Jamayne Isaako while hooker Andrew McCullough has suffered a knee injury sidelining him for several weeks. But if the Broncos repeat their dismal performance displayed in their last start, the already restless locals might become deafening.


Key stats: Corey Oates loves facing Manly – he’s scored seven tries in four matches on the wing against them, including a lazy four tries in their last start. These sides last six matches at Suncorp have averaged 50 combined points. In this stretch, the Broncos have won the first half four times at an average of 13 points.


Tip: Broncos

Best bet: Corey Oates anytime try scorer  $1.75*

Value bet: Broncos 9+ halftime $3.50*

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