NRL Round 19: Friday Match Previews & Betting Tips
Two struggling teams with the chance to stop freefalling meet with the Knights facing the Tigers in a critical Friday night clash. Gareth Widdop is back but it’s going to take more than the inspirational Brit’s return to fire up the Dragons against the Bunnies.
Newcastle Knights v Wests Tigers – McDonald Jones Stadium – 6pm
For 55 minutes the Newcastle Knights took it to the reigning Premiers Roosters and if they had better execution could well have found themselves in the lead rather than trailing 12-10. Yet when the Chooks stepped up their game, Newcastle was blown away to leak six unanswered tries and leave their season suddenly on the brink. The 48-10 demolition was the Knights’ fourth defeat in five outings and after their strong mid-season turnaround, suddenly they’re in a battle just to reach the finals.
We’ve spoken previously of Newcastle struggling to adapt to the rep season demands and with their tired surrender against the Roosters, it’s clear Nathan Brown’s side are hitting a hefty roadblock in their rebuilding project.
A carousel of five-eighth options has been a constant in 2019 and Kurt Mann’s latest foray in the number six jersey didn’t pay dividends. Mann was a defensive target for the rampant Roosters in their second-half scoring spree and when Newcastle had possession, too often their up-tempo attack slowed down when he found the ball. After he enjoyed a revenge game in his last Rooster clash, halfback Mitchell Pearce endured a miserable afternoon himself – the NSW playmaker powerless to turn the tide and failing to combine regularly with Kalyn Ponga.
David Klemmer was the only Knight forward to play to his potential, which might be the most worrying indication of Newcastle’s finals dreams. Rightly or wrongly Newcastle has the perception of being a one-man team at times through the brilliance of Ponga. Yet it’s their enforcer Klemmer who is their most important player and the big man desperately needs support from his pack colleagues to give his playmakers the platform they need to turn their season around once more.
Daniel Saifiti and Mitch Barnett, for example, missed a combined 13 tackles, while even accounting for Jake Friend’s departure after five minutes with an arm fracture with 0 runs, the Roosters’ starting pack ran for over 240m more than Newcastle’s. The Knights have the talent to steady the ship but they need to do so quickly – a loss and they’ll be outside of the eight with only six matches left.
It’s now three straight defeats for the Wests Tigers, their 20-12 loss to Canberra seeing their finals chances further on the decline and pushing coach Michael Maguire to breaking point. Their slow start to the Raiders saw them trail 20-6 and needing to resort to catch-up footy, hardly traits Maguire’s sides are known for.
The ex-Souths premiership winner went away from his private tendencies to give the team a public spray post-game, challenging them to “harden up” their “soft” defence and being “really annoyed and disappointed with where we are at this moment.” Maguire’s shown in his short tenure at Concord he’s unafraid to make bold selection calls – primarily opting for Benji Marshall over Josh Reynolds and dropping senior forwards like Ben Matulino and Russell Packer – and with their season fading away rapidly, it’ll be fascinating to see the response the Tigers give on Friday night.
The Tigers’ second-half catch-up attempts only resulted in a single try despite a glut of possession and chances, and for a side with one of NRL’s longest finals droughts, it can hardly be helping their confidence to be dropping matches at a critical season stage. Their struggles were perhaps best summed up when they were given a golden shot at points after a Raiders handling error in attacking territory, only for a horrible pass from the scrum to find its way back to Canberra.
The good news for the Tigers though is their opposition this week are going through their own form slump and if the Tigers can’t lift against the battling Knights, they’ll be watching finals footy from afar yet again.
Key Stats: When Newcastle win at home in 2019, it’s generally with ease – three of their four wins have been 13+. The Tigers are yet to win an away game in NSW this season. Mitchell Pearce enjoys facing the Tigers, across his two clubs he has a 14-4 record against them including 14 tries.
Best bet: Knights -5.5 - $1.90* (Unibet)
Value bet: Mitchell Pearce anytime try scorer - $4.20* (Sportsbet)
South Sydney Rabbitohs v St George Illawarra Dragons – ANZ Stadium – 7:55pm
Souths made it consecutive wins for the first time since round 11 after defeating the Cowboys 30-18 in Townsville. The game was far tighter than the scoreline suggests with the Bunnies needing to fight back after finding themselves down 18-12 inside the final nine minutes.
The game summed up where South Sydney currently find themselves after their recent form slump – not yet stringing an 80-minute performance together but with enough flashes of quality to get by. With Sam Burgess still unavailable, Ethan Lowe has established himself as a badly-needed pack leader. The ex-Cowboy was in no mood to miss out on a chance to show former coach Paul Green what he’s missed out on with the Queensland rep scoring twice inside the opening 25 minutes.
With Souths’ forward depth continually tested in 2019, Lowe has become a mainstay and another success story for Wayne Bennett, whose reputation for bringing out the best in cut-price forwards speaks for itself. Whatever deal Cameron Murray is on currently may as well be valued as cheap as chips too – the irrepressible lock bagging another try during a workhorse display and doing what few others have done in successfully taking it to counterpart Jason Taumalolo.
Dane Gagai showed the form he’s become famous for at Origin level on the wing, scoring a try, registering 162m and three tackle breaks. Souths are well-placed in second spot but with Melbourne streets ahead and the Roosters making a thumping statement over Newcastle, the Bunnies will be out for a complete performance.
The Dragons’ miserable 2019 sunk to a new low last week, crashing 40-18 at Penrith with the only race they’re involved in now to avoid the joint venture’s worst season finish in history. After a tight first half the St George Illawarra floodgates burst open with four tries in sixteen minutes and for a side so low in confidence, it seems once the tide turns against the Dragons the contest is over.
Ben Hunt was a healthy scratch and while there was plenty of controversy in the wisdom of coach Paul McGregor resting him for what was the side’s final roll of the dice to stay alive in 2019, based on the effort shown in the second half the Queenslander would have made no impact regardless.
The Dragons had one forward (Blake Lawrie at 102m) surpass 100 run metres – the Panthers had five, with the Dragons overall making 543 fewer run metres on the night. It’s a double-edged sword now for McGregor. His side in their current lengthy slump has neither the attacking spark nor defensive steel to pinch a result. James Graham’s return from injury hasn’t been the cure for an under-performing pack, much like Gareth Widdop’s impending return will not be a quick-fix for systemic attacking flaws.
The Dragons are four points clear of the bottom-placed Titans yet will face Gold Coast twice in the final rounds, meaning even though the finals are long gone, they still have a battle on their hands. It’s hard to see where the turnaround will come from though. This appears a broken side without a way forward this campaign. The Bulldogs in fifteenth have at least had a couple of recent wins to give their fans hope while the Titans players are auditioning for a new coach. The Dragons meanwhile are limping to season’s end and if they’re not ready for a fight against the hungry Bunnies, they could cop another thrashing.
Key stats: Souths hold a 12-3 record over St George Illawarra since 2011. Souths overall boasts the NRL’s fourth-best attack while the nobody has leaked more points than the Dragons. Dane Gagai has three tries in his last four starts. These sides met in round two with Souths winning 34-18. Adam Reynolds is on fire with the boot, nailing 34/36 from round 8 on.
Best bet: Souths most converted tries - $1.63* (Sportsbet)
Value bet: Dane Gagai anytime try scorer/Souths 13+ - $3.50* (Sportsbet)