NRL Round 14: Saturday Previews & Betting Tips
Newcastle have beaten the Roosters and Rabbitohs, can they make it a Premiership favourites clean sweep away to the Storm? Souths have lost two straight and will want to avoid a loss to the improving Panthers.
We’re in 2019 and 35-year-old hooker Cam Smith is demonstrating game-management masterclasses like he’s in a time warp from 2006. Melbourne’s come-from-behind 32-10 win over the Warriors shows Smith is NRL’s most irreplaceable player– there’s nobody in the competition who boasts the experience, confidence, durability and intelligence to manipulate game situations like him.
Melbourne were ambushed early to be down 10-0 but once Smith got a toehold in the game it was all over. Keep in mind Melbourne lost halfback Brodie Croft to concussion and five-eighth Cameron Munster was backing up from a gruelling Origin before immediately flying out trans-Tasman – it made no impact on Smith.
His distribution, kicking game and ability to exploit shoddy Warrior markers made all the difference. Jahrome Hughes had a peach of a performance at fullback while star winger Josh Addo-Carr showed no effects of his own Origin back-up. While their top four rivals are in a flux, Melbourne are ticking along nicely now.
They’ve found their rhythm and their forward leaders like Jesse Bromwich and Felise Kaufusi are finding their best form of the season so far. Melbourne are currently the team to beat and if they get over the white-hot Knights, it’d be a serious statement made to the rest of the NRL.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Newcastle’s six game win streak is their last two victories have come against Premiership heavyweights Sydney and Souths. Their 20-12 victory was hard-fought in every way, notably with a pre-halftime brawl erupting featuring headbutts, (attempted) haymakers and sin bins.
But the scuffle shouldn’t detract from a clinical performance led by Mitchell Pearce who is now in career-best form, the halfback having a blinder to help cover the loss of fellow key playmaker Kalyn Ponga who sat the game out post-Origin. Pearce’s kicking game was a highlight as Newcastle relentlessly built pressure and his latest halves partner Mason Lino played strongly with Connor Watson filling in for injured hooker Danny Levi.
Considering their pack enforcer Dave Klemmer will be missing for another month with his wrist fracture, the Knights forwards will do well to keep up the intensity they showed against a fiery Burgess-led Souths pack. The Bunnies had enough possession to threaten a late comeback but Newcastle held on and are now truly living up to their potential which had them billed as Premiership darkhorses pre-season.
Any team facing the Roosters, Rabbitohs and Storm consecutively would be beyond pleased with two wins – the Knights already have this though and will fancy themselves of continuing NRL’s hottest win streak at Melbourne.
Key stats: Melbourne have six straight wins over Newcastle. In that win they’ve led at half-time by an average of eight points. Suliasi Vunivalu loves Newcastle – he’s scored every time he’s played them (seven tries in five matches).
Best bet: Storm 1st half handicap -3.5 – $1.80* (Bet365)
Value bet: Suliasi Vunivalu anytime try scorer - $1.95* (BetEasy)
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs. Penrith Panthers – ANZ Stadium – 5:30pm
The post-game headline of “Benny and the Jet” had to wait another week as, despite a promising return to his first NRL club, James Roberts couldn’t enjoy a victory with coach Wayne Bennett with the Bunnies going down 20-12 to Newcastle.
The effort was there from Souths and certainly the Burgess boys brought the aggression, but for one of the rare times this season their attack couldn’t muster enough points. Hooker Damien Cook was perhaps the biggest example of how hard it is to back up Origin, the hooker’s second game in under 48 hours was nowhere near his dynamic best.
With experienced halfback Adam Reynolds indefinitely sidelined with back fractures and five-eighth Cody Walker not backing up from his NSW debut, Souths’ revamped attack never fully clicked. Roberts was parachuted straight in and made an early impact in scoring from Adam Doueihi’s kick but that was about as good as the Bunnies’ offence went all night.
The club’s second straight defeat is not a disaster but they do face a tricky stretch particularly with their inspirational leader Sam Burgess now sitting out five rounds with scheduled surgery. It’s a calculated gamble by the Bunnies to have their enforcer in prime condition post-rep season and with how well they’ve started a top-four spot is theirs to lose, but no doubt a win this week will put a spring back in the Bunnies’ hop.
The resurgent Panthers continued their fight back, recording their third win on the trot in beating the Roosters 18-10. It was a well-deserved win for Penrith with James Maloney having a season-best performance and star edge forward Viliame Kikau having an afternoon Cooper Cronk might be suffering the after-effects for a while to come.
Kikau was brilliant with the ball – scoring a double and going close to a remarkable hat-trick – but it was his mongrel in defence which rattled the Premiers. Cronk was his side’s primary playmaker so the Fijian made it his business to give the halfback hell. Every bone-rattling shot Kikau laid upon Cronk was legal but the hits piled up and resulted in Cronk having a quiet performance, proving crucial in the game’s fate.
Maloney meanwhile took centre stage and enjoyed sticking the knife into his old side. If the fiery five-eighth had more games like this earlier in 2019, Brad Fittler wouldn’t have dared to strip him of his Blues position. Instead, the Blues loss is the Panthers’ gain. Fellow NSW discard Reagan Campbell-Gillard also delivered the goods with a tremendous display and Penrith coach Ivan Cleary may well be wondering where this type of act hasn’t been more common this campaign.
Rookie winger Brian To’o also had another exciting match, his kick returns a highlight and giving the Panthers great balance on both edges with Josh Mansour looking more like his old self than he has in recent times.
Key stats: The last time Souths lost three straight was round 24, 2018 while the last time Penrith won four straight was round 14, 2018. Even in Souths’ losses in 2019 they’ve been competitive, losing their three games by a combined 21 points. James Roberts has scored in his last four matches against the Panthers.
Best bet: Rabbitohs -6 - $2* (Bet365)
Value bet: James Roberts anytime try scorer - $2.37* (Sportsbet)
Parramatta Eels vs. Brisbane Broncos – ANZ Stadium – 7:30pm
Just weeks after a bold selection reshuffle sparked the Eels back into life, their 42-22 defeat to Cronulla may mean it’s back to the drawing board for coach Brad Arthur. The 20 point losing margin was kind to Parra – they were completely outclassed by a hungry Cronulla, at one stage trailing 38-6 and a live chance at conceding 50+ again this year.
As you’d expect precious little went right for the Eels, star winger Blake Ferguson’s form slump continued while skipper Clint Gutherson’s second-minute knockout was a disaster his side never recovered from. Perhaps the only promising sign was winger Maika Sivo’s hot try-scoring streak continuing with the Fijian bagging another double.
Parra looked their best in the final twenty minutes to score three quick tries but considering their opposition had the win assured it does need taking with a grain of salt. Lock Nathan Brown at least made a successful comeback from his long-term pectoral injury and gives the Eels their pack leader once again.
Arthur gave his side a hell of a blast in his post-game presser, openly calling them “dumb” and challenging them whether they want to be full-time or part-time professionals. It was perhaps the biggest public blast from a coach since Garth Brennan’s to the Titans earlier this year – that time it worked with the Titans responding in style with an upset win.
Having already dropped his selection bombshell last month in dropping four senior starters (including the now-departed Tim Mannah), Arthur will be hoping the hairdryer treatment does the trick this week. If not, there’s not much else the Eels mentor can pull out from his bag of tricks to revitalise their season.
Based on both teams’ recent history, you’d have been forgiven for pencilling in a convincing Broncos victory when they hosted the Titans last round. Instead, Brisbane were blitzed by an inspired Gold coast, going down 26-18 to derail what’s been a promising mid-year turnaround. Brisbane had no answer for a brilliant Tyrone Roberts performance and struggled to recover from losing young half Tom Dearden to an ankle injury.
With Kodi Nikorima long gone, it forced young hooker Jake Turpin to revert to a halfback role he hadn’t played since his developmental days. It also meant the returning Andrew McCullough got perhaps a lengthier stint than expected off the bench. This week coach Anthony Seibold has named Sean O’Sullivan for his club debut at seven, the ex-Rooster comes with high praise from Trent Robinson for his maturity and kicking game.
He’s going to need both traits considering five-eighth Anthony Milford is at his best when there’s a controlling halfback to worry about organisational duties. Joe Ofahengaue’s leg laceration from Origin also denies Brisbane his bench impact and this was another area the Titans got the better of the Broncos last week. Jaydn Su’A isn’t the blockbusting runner Big Joe is but for someone who’s fallen out of favour under Seibold, he needs to take advantage of his game time badly.
Starting props Matt Lodge and Payne Haas have the power to blast through Parra’s middle and must give territory for the inexperienced O’Sullivan to work with. Look for veteran fullback Darius Boyd to become increasingly involved in attack, particularly in the opposition red zone – his sweeping plays provide a safe Plan B for O’Sullivan to use should Parramatta aggressively approach him.
Key stats: Brisbane have won four of their last six away matches against Parramatta. The Eels have conceded first points in six of their last seven matches. Corey Oates has seven tries in six games against Parra.
Best bet: Broncos to score first - $1.97* (Sportsbet)
Value bet: Corey Oates anytime tryscorer - $2* (TAB)