NRL Round 18: Saturday Match Previews & Betting Tips

Two sides in form slumps square off at the SCG – the Roosters host the Knights with significant top eight ramifications. The Raiders are on track for the top four and will need to put away a battling Tigers outfit to maintain their momentum.

James Baxter
 | 
Thu, 18 Jul, 12:00 AM

Sydney Roosters vs. Newcastle Knights – Sydney Cricket Ground - 3:00pm

The resting of Origin stars James Tedesco and Boyd Cordner may have bitten the Roosters on the backside, their shock 15-12 defeat to the Cowboys their fifth loss in six starts. Coach Trent Robinson stood by his decision post-game and instead took aim at his team’s defensive attitude.

On paper conceding 15 points is hardly a disaster but North Queensland’s two tries were each preventable if the Roosters’ line were at the top of their game. Instead young half Jake Clifford sliced through a brittle left edge with ease and giant five-eighth John Asiata powered his way past multiple Chooks defenders who seemed unkeen on protecting their side’s six point lead late on.

At full-strength the Roosters have the firepower to blow oppositions away but Robinson prides his team on defence-first and with their nightmare 38-12 humiliation from Newcastle last time they faced still fresh, Saturday offers the opportunity for the Premiers to rediscover their identity. Jake Friend made his return from a long bicep layoff and it appeared happy days early on with the Queenslander scoring his team’s first try and freeing Victor Radley to play his preferred lock position.

His lack of match fitness however proved costly when an inexplicable forward pass gave the Cowboys perfect field position to set up Clifford’s field goal and eventual win. The Roosters though will be a different side with their first-choice spine finally all available and with a public spray from their respected coach, they will not want to stretch their worst run of results since 2016 any longer.

Will Kalyn Ponga be the Knights’ saviour? Their strong recovery from a disastrous season opener now feels an eon ago with a 20-14 loss at home to a Bulldogs team who entered the match last giving Newcastle their third loss in four matches.

Ponga might be a superstar and his return from a calf injury will give Newcastle their best player back - but at just 21 years of age he’s still learning at the top level. If Newcastle’s pack continue to struggle to create momentum then even Andrew Johns circa 2001 couldn’t pull these Knights out of their slump.

David Klemmer was the only Knight forward to break past 100 run metres and for a side more accustomed to battling off the wooden spoon than a finals spot in recent years, perhaps the spate of Origin callups have hurt Newcastle more than any other side. Mitchell Pearce might have gotten his Origin redemption but it’s no incidence Newcastle were at their best when their veteran halfback was on fire – like for example the last time he faced the club who opted for Cooper Cronk over him.

Mitchell Barnett will return from suspension to bolster the Knights pack and while the Roosters might have their key strike weapons together, they’re hardly in form themselves, so what better time to strike back than in Ponga’s comeback?

Key stats: 

- Only once in 31 years have the Knights beaten the Roosters twice in a year – 2001, which included a finals match.

- The Knights have only beaten the Roosters in Sydney once since 2002.

- James Tedesco has 8 tries in his last 11 club games.

- The Chooks have won 7 of their last 8 first halves head-to-head.

Tip: Roosters

Best bet: Roosters first half - $1.55* (TopBetta)

Value bet: James Tedesco anytime tryscorer - $2.10* (Sportsbet)

Canberra Raiders vs. Wests Tigers – GIO Stadium – 5:30pm

Faced with a potential banana skin match against the Dragons, Canberra instead flexed their muscles in their dominant 36-14 triumph. The Raiders were in such control they lost centre Nick Cotric to a rare send off yet outscored St George Illawarra 10-4 after he left the game. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad continues to be the best value recruit in NRL with a superb two try performance while clocking 220 run metres, giving the Raiders so much spark in their attack both off kick returns and in opposing red zones.

Josh Papalii backed up from Origin in style with a strong match against a Dragons pack with plenty of Origin experience, while the veteran presence of Sia Soliola maintained Canberra’s momentum even throughout bench rotations.

Canberra enjoyed 56% possession and didn’t squander it, maintaining a high completion rate throughout to drain the life from the Dragons who briefly fought back in the second half with two straight tries but considering the score was 26-0 and Jarrod Croker’s wayward goalkicking, the contest was already run and done.

Coach Ricky Stuart is a notoriously hard marker though and will despise any hint of complacency when they face the struggling Tigers this weekend. Earlier in 2019 the Raiders were flying high and hosted the then-lowly Cowboys only to be blitzed by the visitors. With sides around them on the ladder battling to string consecutive wins together, a top four spot is theirs to lose. We’re about to find out how ruthless the Raiders really are.

The Tigers have made life increasingly difficult for themselves with two straight defeats putting their finals hopes in jeopardy. Their 30-18 defeat to Parramatta was a frustrating day for coach Michael Maguire, whose side couldn’t do justice for Benji Marshall’s 300th NRL appearance. Parramatta opting to take penalty goals kept the Tigers in the contest in the first half – until Brad Takairangi exploded with two tries to undo the Tigers’ defensive pressure.

Continued handling errors and ill-discipline eventually caught up with Wests and the Eels ran away in the second half. Fullback Corey Thompson had a mixed game, scoring the opening try but then being fractionally offside to deny his side a crucial second try which the Tigers then compounded by conceding a try to the Eels off the very next set.

The match also highlighted a worrying trend for halfback Luke Brooks, who again was outplayed by ex-halves partner Mitch Moses. While speculation abounds on the futures of five-eighths Benji Marshall and Josh Reynolds, Brooks has enough experience now to be a driving force in must-win matches like this one but too often the Tigers’ attack is falling short.

Wests have the roster quality to make the finals but they need to significantly ramp up their intensity to have a hope. There have been some horror showings in Canberra in recent Tigers’ history and a similar effort will see their finals chances became even slimmer.

Key stats:

Canberra hold a 7-2 recent record over the Tigers and are prolific scorers against them – their lowest winning score in this run is 28 points, while even in defeat their lowest score is 18 points.

- They’ve also won six straight second halves against Wests.

Tip: Raiders

Best bet: Raiders second half - $1.65* (Unibet)

Value bet: Raiders to score 31+  - $3.75* (Sportsbet)

North Queensland Cowboys vs. South Sydney Rabbitohs –1300 SMILES Stadium – 7:30pm

North Queensland entered their Gosford showdown with the Roosters with few expecting them to keep their season alive – yet Paul Green’s men thoroughly deserved their 15-12 ambush, overcoming Michael Morgan’s absence with a standout display from young halfback Jake Clifford.

With Morgan and the legendary Jonathan Thurston watching on, Clifford showed the lessons in game management and backing himself he’s received from his two mentors in guiding the Cowboys home – a fair effort considering alongside makeshift halves partner John Asiata he outplayed the reigning Premiership halves Cooper Cronk and Luke Keary.

The Cowboys certainly lifted for backrower Gavin Cooper’s 300th NRL cap and with a trademark powerhouse game from Jason Taumalolo, the Cowboys kept their nerve in the tight affair after some painful near misses throughout 2019. Jake Granville at one stage was a risk of being demoted to a second-string hooker but following Kurt Baptiste’s serious knee injury, he’s starting to regain his mojo and pumping out 80 minute games to ease pressure on his young halves.

Considering the other member of the Cowboys’ spine last start was fullback Scott Drinkwater making his second NRL appearance, Granville’s experience was crucial and in Damien Cook the North Queensland hooker now gets the chance to stand up to the best in the position. There’s a lot the Cowboys need to go right to keep their finals hopes going but if they continue to show the hustle they displayed against the Roosters, they’ll be a handful to contain.

After a frustrating four game losing streak, Souths finally got back in the winners’ circle in a nail-biting 21-20 win at home to Manly. The Bunnies had to overcome plenty in the win, including some abysmal officiating, but once again the right boot of Adam Reynolds proved priceless. The star halfback’s clinical kicking game proved the difference, even with Souths scoring fewer tries on the day.

The win was a triumph for the Rabbitohs’ depth, particularly in the forwards. With injuries and suspensions galore, the likes of Dean Britt, mid-season recruit Jaydn Su’a and Bayley Sironen all played their parts, while Liam Knight is finally realising the potential which had junior scouts raving when he was in Manly’s system.

Coach Wayne Bennett opted against resting his Origin reps given his side’s desperation to break their poor run and might have been sweating bullets when Joel Thompson crashed over to level scores at 20-all inside the final eight minutes. One man who remained on the sidelines was Ethan Lowe, who had an inspirational Maroon debut but was rested from club duty.

With Sam Burgess still out, Lowe's inclusion is needed Bunny boost. The crucial win keeps Souths ahead of their bitter rivals the Roosters but they’ll do well to learn from the Chooks’ mistakes last round, when the Tricolours’ poor defensive attitude saw two precious competition points head to North Queensland instead. With the Bunnies edging towards being full-strength, they’ll be out to secure consecutive wins for the first time since round 11.

Key stats:

Souths have 3 straight wins over the Cowboys throughout Queensland.

- James Roberts has 6 tries from his last 7 matches against NQ.

- The Bunnies’ average win margin in 2019 away from ANZ is 9 points.

Tip: Rabbitohs

Best bet: James Roberts anytime tryscorer - $2.40* (Sportsbet)

Value bet: Rabbitohs 1-12 - $3* (Bet365)

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