NRL Magic Round: Saturday Match Previews & Betting Tips
Newcastle's rebounded strongly and look to continue their winning streak against Canterbury, the Warriors and Dragons fight it out to break their losing streak, and after struggling in the last month, the Storm now needs a win against a resurgent Paramatta.
Canterbury Bulldogs v Newcastle Knights – Suncorp Stadium – 3:00pm
It was déjà vu all over again for the Bulldogs this season – they had enough chances to get a badly needed win against Manly but they didn’t have the execution to finish the job, meaning they enter round nine in last place.
The 18-10 loss did see Dylan Napa make his return and the Queenslander showed how much his side have missed him by instantly leading their pack in metres gained. But despite the Doggies’ forwards creating a decent foundation, far too often the Dogs halves of Jack Cogger and Lachlan Lewis let the pressure off with kicks going dead on the sixth tackle.
Kieran Foran’s rapid recovery from what was meant to be a long-term ankle injury can’t happen soon enough. Reimis Smith continues to be a bright light in a gloomy season, the young winger adding two more tries and remaining his side’s most reliable attacking threat. The Dogs have only one direction to head on the ladder and unlike some of the sides in their vicinity, they’re at least putting the sustained effort in.
After a shambolic 2019 start, suddenly the Newcastle Knights have won two straight and are showing signs of the side who were considered a strong top eight chance in pre-season. Their 36-18 win away to the Warriors was impressive – and notably their two most important attacking players led by example Kalyn Ponga’s individual performance was outstanding, the way the fullback outshined his opposite in Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – the reigning Dally M Medallist no less – was brilliant to watch.
Ponga’s game showed why the experiment in shifting him to five-eighth is best left in the rear-view mirror. The Queenslander was able to pick and choose his spots and took maximum effect against a Warriors defensive line who didn’t have the legs to keep up with Newcastle’s strong finish. Halfback Mitchell Pearce has also stepped up significantly this past fortnight, and it’s no incidence this has also seen Newcastle deliver its two most convincing 2019 matches.
Pearce’s Origin cards are likely marked “no return” but it’s performances like this one – a try, 2 try assists and a whopping 432 kick metres plus his trademark defence – which saw Pearce earn his reputation has one of the best club halfbacks of the past decade.
Lachlan Fitzgibbon might not get the headlines his bigger-name teammates get but the edge forward is a genuinely impressive player and along with David Klemmer has been a constant in the Knights’ pack no matter the result or depth, and he backed it up with another impactful performance. It may have taken two months but it’s appearing Newcastle are finding their identity and have a great chance to make it three wins in a row after losing five straight.
Key stats: The Dogs are stuck in a rut away from ANZ Stadium – they’ve won only four of their last 17 away matches. The Knights meanwhile have lost six straight against the Bulldogs. These two sides have met in Queensland once – Newcastle winning 18-12 in Mackay in 2013. Both sides have lacklustre 2019 attacks, ranking 15th (Knights) and 16th (Bulldogs) in points scored. Reimis Smith has scored six tries in his last seven starts. Newcastle have scored the opening try in their last two wins.
Best bet: Knights to score first – $1.82*Value bet: Remis Smith anytime tryscorer – $2.30*
New Zealand Warriors v St George-Illawarra Dragons – Suncorp Stadium – 5:30pm
An incredible performance in losing away to the Storm by 1 point while heavily understrength, followed by signing a New Zealand international halfback on a lucrative deal effective immediately followed by a comprehensive loss to Newcastle at home…it’s been an eventful stretch for the Warriors.
New signing Kodi Nikorima watched his new side’s 36-18 loss from the ground and the ex-Bronco might have realised the challenge he has in steering the Warriors’ flagging campaign back on track. Maybe the most disappointing aspect of the loss was the Warriors were in a position to take the win – it was 18-all with 25 minutes to go and if anything momentum was favouring the home side. But despite coming off a considerably shorter turnaround and a trans-Tasman trip, it was Newcastle who came home stronger and ran in 18 unanswered points to seal the upset win.
The Warriors are making a costly habit of failing to finish off games in 2019 – just like against Melbourne and Souths for example – and it’s approaching a month since they last scored over 18 points. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck would have targeted this game against the young megastar Kalyn Ponga to show why he’s been regarded previously as NRL’s best fullback but the Kiwi was easily outpointed by the Queenslander. It’s not doom and gloom entirely – an over-reliance on Blake Green’s playmaking has been addressed with Nikorima’s arrival, and the talent remains for coach Steve Kearney to beat any side on their day. But the Warriors might rapidly be losing self-belief in being able to regularly win the close ones – and it’s those struggles which see them in 12th spot instead of the top eight.
The Dragons’ injury curse struck yet again during their 32-18 loss to Parramatta, this time Corey Norman being the luckless victim with a fractured eye socket ruling him out for several weeks. The Dragons started off hot in an early 14-0 lead but like so often in modern day NRL, that particular scoreline was soon swamped in a swift comeback.
Tyson Frizell was also a casualty, leaving the game early for an HIA before being rubbed out for good with an eye injury. Coach Paul McGregor’s side simply ran out of puff against a Parra side who once they received increased possession ran right over a disappointing Eels pack. The loss means a trend is already emerging in the 2019 Dragons – they opened with two losses, responded with four wins and now have again lost two straight.
This isn’t saying St George Illawarra are about to win a month straight but it’s showing this is a squad who ride their momentum – be it positive or negative.
With Norman’s absence, Jai Field will return to first grade and be expected to seamlessly fill in – a tough assignment given Norman has increasingly been the key attacking player in the Dragons’ structure. At 4-4 the Dragons naturally are midtable but given Ben Hunt is one of the few experienced Queensland halves or hookers left standing, they desperately need to start banking wins to take the pressure off an upcoming Origin series which likely sees them lose several key players. This includes the likes of Paul Vaughan, Tariq Sims and Frizell, further depleting a forward pack who have consistently been injury and availability-impacted this season. Fullback Matt Dufty at least is a shining light and remains capable of creating magic out of nothing – a trait which might suit the struggling Dragons nicely in Magic Round.
Key stats: The Dragons have won 12 of their 15 matches against the Warriors. The Dragons have particularly struggled away from their home grounds in 2019 – having a 2-3 record with both wins coming by one point.
Best bet: Dragons -2 – $1.91*
Value bet: Dragons 1-10 – $3.40*
Melbourne Storm v Parramatta Eels – Suncorp Stadium – 7:30pm
Storm coach Craig Bellamy isn’t one for mincing words. So when he described his side’s performance in their upset 20-18 defeat to Cronulla as “crap” you can only imagine the spray they copped behind closed doors. After a string of mixed performances which saw them only lose to the seemingly unstoppable Roosters, the Storm’s luck ran out in the Shire.
Optimists will point to Cronulla needing to play a perfect second half of 20 straight completions on the back of overwhelming possession to hang on to win, but realists will also point to the Storm’s ill-discipline and lacklustre attack sabotaging their chances.
Dale Finucane was a man of the match candidate in a beaten side but even with the NSW contender’s massive game, there wasn’t enough impact from Melbourne’s pack to stand up to the wholehearted Cronulla big men. The words “Storm” and “slump” are very rarely mentioned together but since their round three thrashing of Penrith – which in hindsight is not the level of opposition some expected pre-season – the Storm haven’t been their normal selves. A convincing win against Parramatta will put any creeping doubts to bed – after all, you wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of a Bellamy meltdown two weeks running.
Bankwest Stadium is quickly becoming an Eel Fortress, with Parramatta’s 32-18 win over the Dragons making it 2-0 at their new home ground. Unlike their first win there against the Tigers, this time the Eels were the ones on the end of an early ambush.
The Dragons raced to a 14-0 lead and looked comfortable in doing so. The Eels were taking time to adjust to St George Illawarra’s game style but once they found their own rhythm, the points flowed freely. Blake Ferguson is becoming the heart of his new side – after struggling through their shock loss to Newcastle with a rib injury, the now fully-fit Ferguson led the way in the Parramatta resurgence.
But it wasn’t just one way traffic down Parra’s right-edge, as Maika Sivo on the opposite flank is quickly becoming a cult hero himself. The flying Fijian is looking more confident in himself at NRL level by the match and his two tries meant the Eels’ attack is suddenly using the whole field width. Wingers are often unsung but Ferguson and Siva’s importance can’t be understated. Combined they ran for a whopping 380 metres overall, while the Dragons’ Mikaele Ravalawa and Jordan Pereira ran a lowly 199 metres – Pereira’s late sin bin summing things up.
When their massive wingers are laying the platform for Parra sets with their strong kick returns, it’s opening up space for their spine to quickly rack up points against oppositions on the back foot. Clint Gutherson’s support play is a dangerous weapon, halves Jaeman Salmon and Mitchell Moses are unpredictable especially when running ball in hand against scrambling defensive lines while young hooker Reed Mahoney has gone from being the last Eels hooker standing in pre-season to suddenly a darkhorse Queensland contender.
The Eels continue to be a work in progress but it’s also clear they’re buying into coach Brad Arthur’s blueprint and enter their match against the Storm as the side with better form. The Eels pushed the heavyweight Roosters all the way for 60 minutes before fading away as the Premiers stepped up their intensity. Five weeks on, have the Eels learned what it takes to defeat a Premiership powerhouse? We’re about to find out.
Key stats: Melbourne has won six of their last eight matches against Parramatta. In the Storm’s last four wins they won the second half every time. Blake Ferguson has scored six tries in his last nine matches against the Storm to go with four tries in 2019 already.
Best bet: Storm to win second half – $1.70*
Value bet: Blake Ferguson anytime try scorer – $2.40*