NRL Round 20: Saturday Match Previews & Betting Tips

Manly showed their Premiership credentials in Melbourne but need to maintain momentum as they host Newcastle while Penrith needs to get back on track against the lowly Bulldogs and Cronulla fight it out against South Sydney.

James Baxter
Wed, 31 Jul, 12:00 AM

Manly Sea Eagles vs. Newcastle Knights – Lottoland – 3:00pm

Last week we wrote on how well Manly is flying under the radar. After their incredible 11-10 golden point defeat of Melbourne away, the Sea Eagles can’t get away with it anymore.

Under Des Hasler, we’re now seeing a genuine Premiership contender. It’s hard to suggest otherwise and should Manly finish the season strongly enough to finish fourth, they’ll hardly fear a return to AAMI Park come week one of the finals.

Manly doesn’t have the depth other Premiership contenders like Melbourne and Sydney boast but their starting 17 have enough quality throughout to take it to any opposition.

It’s no coincidence Manly’s best win since 2013 came through a playmaking masterclass from Daly Cherry-Evans, some brilliance from fullback Tom Trbojevic and key middles Jake Trbojevic, Marty Taupau and Addin Fonua-Blake creating relentless pressure with and without the ball. It’s a basic formula but when firing it’s damn sure effective.

Reuben Garrick is a strong candidate for rookie of the year, the winger’s recruitment from the Dragons barely raised a noise outside of Brookvale but with his clutch goalkicking taking considerable pressure off DCE needing to shoulder even more responsibility, Garrick is proving invaluable down the right wing.

The Sea Eagles remain a win and a considerable points differential away from fourth-placed Canberra but there’s still time for them to overtake the Green Machine. Manly will be in finals footy, the only question is how far will Hasler’s men go?

What was meant to be the year Newcastle could start dreaming of success instead is at serious risk of becoming another Knightmare. Their 28-26 loss to the Tigers could prove a dagger to their September chances.

Kalyn Ponga’s controversial late sin bin from a desperate shoulder knocking Michael Chee-Kam out became a talking point but it can’t detract from the genuine slump Newcastle are now in with four straight losses.

Nathan Brown is one of the more outspoken NRL coaches and didn’t hold back post-game, saying some Knights should “hang their heads in shame” and guaranteeing selection changes based on form and he’s delivered with Danny Levi, Jesse Ramien, Herman Ese'ese and Jamie Buhrer all dropped.

The way Newcastle’s defence is imploding is perhaps the biggest sign they’re on track for a sixth straight season missing the finals.

The Roosters blitzed them for six tries in 25 minutes and the Knights responded with some equally soft defence last week against a Tigers side not exactly known for rampant attack.

Too often Newcastle opened up and their goalline defence was picked apart by veterans Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah. Kalyn Ponga might be a freak but he can’t turn Newcastle’s season around on his own.

Manly has earned a reputation in 2019 for their punishing pack playing above their credentials on paper. If Newcastle is serious about finals footy, their well-paid pack need to make a stand they haven’t looked close to doing so in the last month.

 

Key stats:

• Newcastle has now led four times at halftime this year and gone on to lose.

• Mitchell Pearce may have enjoyed his Origin redemption but his club form is a long way off his hot streak mid-season with only one try assist in his last six Newcastle games compared to 12 from the six games prior.

• Manly has won 8 from their last 11 over Newcastle, including round 5.

• Tom Trbojevic has continued his streak in winning every match he’s played in 2019 – he’s now 9-0.

• Jorge Taufua has scored in each of his last 7 matches against the Knights (10 tries overall).

 

Tip: Sea Eagles

Best bet: Sea Eagles second half - $1.63* (Unibet)

Value bet: Jorge Taufua anytime try scorer - $2* (TAB)

Canterbury Bulldogs vs. Penrith Panthers – Bankwest Stadium – 5:30pm

Canterbury punched above their weight in their 20-12 defeat to the Roosters, avoiding a brutal belting the Knights experienced last start and even giving the Premiers some nerves in the final minutes.

The Dogs were never going to outclass their opposition and did well to only trail 14-0 at the break following the Chooks’ wasting great chances.

The second half was a different story though with their right-edge attack starting to click and a Reimis Smith double narrowed the deficit. The problem though was an unforgivable Lachlan Lewis error from kickoff in between those two tries, the Chooks capitalising with ex-Dog Brett Morris to put the game all but beyond the Dogs.

Coach Dean Pay has room to work with though, Dallin Waetene-Zelezniak continues to bed in nicely at fullback, bench hooker Jeremy Marshall-King provided a game-changing spark as a second-half substitute and Josh Jackson loved his edge match-up with former Blues teammate Boyd Cordner.

Without Kieran Foran, the Dogs were haphazard in attack, halves Lewis and Jack Cogger never quite establishing themselves in the contest. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect for Pay was the sight of Aiden Tolman being the support runner for Marshall-King’s promising line break.

Tolman is many things – a workhorse, NSW veteran, forward leader – but it really shouldn’t be a prop showing the wits to back up the hooker. But the Dogs are at least showing some fight and with speculation rampant on the futures of their coach, Foran plus long-term recruitment plans, the easiest way to dispel the doubts is with another win which will put even more distance between themselves and the last-placed imploding Titans.

 

Penrith might have hit seventh heaven a fortnight ago but Canberra prevented the Panthers stretching their win streak to eight in a hard-hitting 30-18 result. The Panthers paid the price for failing to convert sustained periods of domination into points – an issue the Raiders didn’t face, as highlighted with their second half-splurge.

The loss all but ends any Panthers goals of a top-four spot, which itself shows how far they’ve come over the last two months. It’s easy to forget just how poor Penrith was in the season’s first third – hitting bottom spot at round 10.

Veteran playmaker James Maloney ended months of speculation in confirming his early departure to Super League side Catalans at season’s end and the wily five-eighth will need to guide his side back on track with a top-six spot – and the week one home final rights coming with it – now their realistic target.

An underrated aspect of the Panthers’ resurgence has been the renewed form of Josh Mansour – who was dropped earlier in the year – and discovery of tryscoring machine Brian To’o. Unfortunately, the pair didn’t have their best outings against Canberra and their separate errors led to critical Canberra points.

Penrith overall didn’t perform badly on the day, they simply were outplayed. They can’t afford to feel sorry for themselves though, another defeat and they’ll find themselves in the ugly quagmire to play finals footy.

 

Key stats:

Penrith has won 4 of their last 5 head-to-heads.

The Dogs are slow starters, losing their last 3 first halves by an average of 8 points, while the Panthers’ last three first-half wins are by an average of 6 points.

 

Tip: Panthers

Best bet: Away team to win both halves - $2.60* (Unibet)

Value bet: Panthers 5-8 half-time margin - $5* (BetEasy)

Cronulla Sharks vs. South Sydney Rabbitohs – Pointsbet Stadium – 7:30pm

It wasn’t pretty, in fact likely added more grey hairs to coach John Morris, but Cronulla finally stopped their losing run as they squeaked by North Queensland 16-14 at home.

Shaun Johnson has been a scapegoat with Cronulla losing five consecutive matches but the big money Kiwi stepped up with a badly-needed performance to help prove the difference. Two try assists, a line break and two more line-break assists helped the Sharks overcome a poor match start to come home strongly enough.

Considering they were missing key leaders like Andrew Fifita, Matt Moylan and Wade Graham, the Sharks’ young talent would take huge confidence in doing their job in a must-win fixture.

Jack Williams and Braden Hamlin-Uele had some of their best performances to date, yet ironically it was NRL’s oldest player who came up trumps. 37-year-old Paul Gallen played with the enthusiasm of someone half his age in earning 222m and making 35 tackles to go a long way in compensating for the hard yards Fifita normally would deliver.

The comeback win could be a turning point for the Sharkies campaign – or it could be their final flicker. Souths themselves made a great escape last round but are stacked with talent and experience.

Cronulla can’t give Souths the head start they gave North Queensland and expect to overcome it in the same fashion – it might leave Morris with a full set of greys if so.

Wayne Bennett may have been the most relieved man in Homebush last week, the veteran coach seeing his Souths side steal a 20-16 win over St George Illawarra through Campbell Graham’s siren-beating try.

It shouldn’t have come down to a miraculous comeback though, the Bunnies having enough chances to put the Dragons away beforehand – notably a disastrous Adam Reynolds field goal attempt while leading 14-8 which was charged down and eventually scored from to level the match. Gareth Widdop then coolly nailed a 79th-minute penalty goal to seemingly condemn the Bunnies to a shock defeat but their preparations in practising short kickoffs constantly at training paid big dividends to soon see Graham glide in for a famous try.

Statistically, there was little wrong with Souths’ performance – they dominated possession, territory, penalties and completions – they just narrowly avoided paying the ultimate price for Reynolds having one of his worst nights with the boot, converting only 1/4 from tries.

Dane Gagai is enjoying tryscoring form normally associated with his stellar Queensland record than club level, bagging a double. Cameron Murray in the pack continues to be a Dally M Lock of the Year candidate in a stacked field with another workhorse display and will be delighted Sam Burgess is finally fit to play again.

Souths very nearly cost themselves their coveted second spot with a slip up to a lowly opposition – Cronulla is battling to stay alive in their finals chase and will be keen to exploit any Bunnies nerves.

 

Key stats:

Cronulla has won 5 of their last 6 home matches against the Bunnies.

•​​ Souths have also been involved in plenty of tight contests, their last 7 matches seeing the margin 1-12 every time. Dane Gagai now has 5 tries in his last 5 matches.

 

Tip: Rabbitohs

Best bet: Dane Gagai anytime try scorer - $2.40* (TAB)

Value bet: Souths 1-12 - $2.90* (Bet365)

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