NRL Round 18: Sunday Match Previews & Betting Tips
The Titans start the post-Garth Brennan era against the table-topping Storm as they fight for credibility whilst traditional rivals clash with finals hopes in the balance close out round 18
Gold Coast Titans vs. Melbourne Storm – CBUS Super Stadium – 2pm
There were reports now former Titans coach Garth Brennan cleaned out his office before what proved to be his final match against the Panthers. Based on Gold Coast’s 24-2 surrender, it was evident the side had already checked out. The scoreline doesn’t do justice to the gulf between the sides – Penrith weren’t great but they were light years ahead of the bottom-placed Titans in effort and execution. Once again the Titans’ senior players primarily didn’t deliver. Bryce Cartwright had a horror night at his old club, Shannon Boyd was ineffective before his arm injury, Kevin Proctor was equal-highest in forward missed tackles (4, alongside bench prop Will Matthews) while doubts swirl over Tyrone Peachey and Ash Taylor’s futures on the Coast. Jarrod Wallace put in a wholehearted effort but when he’s booting a bomb out on the full it shows how shambolic the Titans’ attack was. With Brennan gone there are now joint caretaker coaches in Craig Hodges and Luke Burt – the hope being a change in the coaching box could be the spark for Gold Coast to avoid a 3rd wooden spoon. They’ll benefit from low expectations given their first assignment is the runaway Melbourne Storm, but it’ll be up to the players to improve their efforts immediately to silence calls for the franchise to relocate. There’s no better side at competing for 80 minutes than Melbourne – the Titans may be about to experience a first-hand lesson themselves.
In the 2019 Melbourne Storm, are we witnessing the most dominant regular season team in the NRL era? Their 40-16 belting of Cronulla saw them avenge their earlier loss to the Sharks – just like they did to the only other side to defeat them 17 rounds into the season, the Roosters. Such is their domination they’re on track to secure the Minor Premiership with a month to spare, yet while this column can look ahead, coach Craig Bellamy’s ruthlessness ensures the Storm only remain focused on their next victim – the hapless Titans. Cronulla matched it for short spells with Melbourne but in their inspirational skipper Cameron Smith’s 400th NRL appearance, there was no way the Storm were going to cave in like they did in the Shire. Their bookends Jesse Bromwich and Nelson Asofa-Solomona have been NRL’s leading prop pairing this year and their combined 369 run metres dwarfed the ex-Origin Cronulla duo Andrew Fifita and Matt Prior’s 93 metres. Fullback Jahrome Hughes is at the top of his game and he needs to be with in-form Ryan Papenhuyzen coveting the number one jersey from the bench. And while his brother is getting all the plaudits, Kenny Bromwich is having the best year of his career. The Kiwi is no longer a handy bench utility but instead a dominating edge forward who’s providing creativity to create points. Craig Bellamy now has the luxury of resting his Origin stars - excluding Dale Finucane - with such a strong buffer ahead of the competition. With Gold Coast sacking coach Garth Brennan there’s little question the Storm will be wary of a potential bounce-back but if Melbourne’s attitude is on, there won't be any mercy shown by Cameron Smith's side.
Key Stats: Gold Coast have lost 6 of their last 7 matches to Melbourne and haven’t beaten them in Robina since 2013. Cameron Smith averages over 4 goals per Titans match. Melbourne’s last six second half wins have come by an average of 16 points.
Best bet: Storm to score most converted tries - $1.61* (Sportsbet)
Value bet: Away team to win both halves - $2.50* (Unibet)
Manly Sea Eagles vs. Parramatta Eels – Lottoland - 4:05pm
So close, so far. Manly suffered a 21-20 defeat to Souths, preventing them from doing a double on the Bunnies after their own one point win earlier in 2019. The Sea Eagles had the effort but a combination of inaccurate goalkicking and ill-discipline curtailed their shot at four straight wins. Daly Cherry-Evans was almost best on ground in a losing effort with three try assists and promisingly his partnership with edge forward Curtis Sironen is now flourishing. A spate of injuries didn’t help Manly’s chances, promising five-eighth Cade Cust suffered a head knock and hooker Manase Fainu limped off inside the final fifteen minutes, yet they still battled on. Joel Thompson continued his own quietly impressive campaign with a late try to help level the scores but Adam Reynolds’ flawless kicking game was capped off with a match-winning field goal. Dylan Walker was amped up to face his former club and it showed with three penalties conceded – or one more than the entire Souths team gave away on the day. But Manly are at their best when they’re aggressive and coach Des Hasler would remain pleased with his side’s energy and a crucial showdown with Parra awaits. While they’re only a win away from third, Manly’s first goal come season’s end would be a top six finish to ensure at least one home final at Lottoland. A win against Parra would make the task far easier, yet a defeat and they’ll be needing to play catch up. Manly have dealt with the Origin period in a strong manner, and 2019’s surprise packet will be desperate to avoid consecutive losses for the first time since round 12.
Are the Eels daring to dream of September? It’s hard to deny their strike power and when they’re firing on all cylinders, they can rack up a score in rapid fashion. Their 30-18 win against the Tigers could have major finals ramifications. It boosted their position to sixth and gives them a little extra breathing room ahead of the chasing pack – including the Tigers. It seems halfback Mitchell Moses saves his best when facing his former side and for the second time in 2019 he played a key hand in defeating them at Bankwest. He found particular joy linking up with centre Brad Takairangi. We’ve spoken throughout 2019 of the potential the giant edge pairing of Takairangi and Blake Ferguson but instead of the NSW winger, this time it was the Cook Islander centre who stole the show. Takairangi’s first NRL hat-trick highlighted how dangerous Parra can be, coming off the back of a dominant forward pack looking all the better with lock Nathan Brown’s return to first grade. A lengthy pectoral injury sidelined the enforcer but with three starts under his belt Brown is now resembling the powerhouse who was an Origin darkhorse before injuries played havoc over his last 18 months. The slick hands he showed in capping off Takairangi’s hat-trick with a beautiful pass show the extra dimension Brown brings to the Eels attack and makes Parramatta a dangerous proposition to contain. It’s been a strong turnaround from Brad Arthur after their abysmal wooden spoon last year and a win over Manly will get the Eels even closer to a remarkable finals berth.
Key stats: Parra have owned Manly lately, winning 7 of their last 8. Manly’s sole win in that run was a 54-0 demolition at Lottoland. Round 22, 2017 was the last time the Eels won 4 straight. Manly are making Brookie a fortress with 4 wins in their last 5 matches there. Curtis Sironen now has 4 tries in his last 4 matches.
Tip: Sea Eagles
Best bet: Sea Eagles -5.5 - $1.90* (Unibet)
Value bet: Curtis Sironen anytime tryscorer - $4* (TAB)
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