NRL Round 20: Sunday Match Previews & Betting Tips
Struggling to build consistency, will a meeting with wooden spoon favourites Gold Coast be the boost the Roosters need? A finals spot is Parramatta’s to lose, can they stand up to a desperate Dragons at Kogarah to finish round 20?
Sydney Roosters vs. Gold Coast Titans – SCG – 2pm
The Roosters got the job done in a sluggish 20-12 defeat of Canterbury, the Premiers seemingly in cruise control and happy to take the two competition points without pushing themselves to anywhere near peak performance.
Bombed tries, handling errors, ill-discipline – in many respects it was a similar performance to their opening 55 minutes against Newcastle the previous round. The big difference however there was no sudden roaring into life with slick attack and confident footy – instead, it was the lowly Dogs who came home with a wet sail to keep the match alive until the final minute.
Joseph Manu was one of the Roosters’ best, the Kiwi centre scoring and was it not for a heel glancing the touchline he would have bagged an impressive double. The Chooks could have easily been ahead by a far greater margin than 14 points at halftime had they finished their many chances but a tendency to play side-to-side footy without necessarily earning that right against a desperate Bulldogs’ goalline defence kept the contest within Canterbury’s reach.
The Roosters, therefore, may have been fortunate they were stumbling towards the match finish opposing a wooden spoon contender with a constantly misfiring attack, as they gave the Dogs plenty of opportunities in the second half through a slew of knock-ons. So often the Roosters are brilliant when it truly counts yet make their lives difficult for themselves against the battlers.
The Titans are the best textbook example of a “struggling club” you’re likely to find in 2019. Through injuries and suspension, the Chooks are without their first-choice front row of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend and Sia Siua Taukeiaho, plus skipper Boyd Cordner is also out with a calf injury. There are some big fish for the Roosters to fry in coming weeks but based on their sloppy Canterbury display they’ll be wise to not put the cart against the horse with the Titans having zero to lose.
Gold Coast inched closer to the wooden spoon with their limp 34-12 defeat to Brisbane a stark contrast to fellow battlers Canterbury and St George Illawarra going down swinging in their own defeats. The best news for the Titans was the revelation St Helens coach Justin Holbrook will become their new mentor from 2020.
Holbrook was a journeyman halfback in his playing days and has taken a coaching journey similar to Premiership-winning coaches Trent Robinson and Michael Maguire, serving as an assistant in the NRL before enjoying success in the UK Super League.
That apprenticeship is also similar to the likes of Michael Potter and Matthew Elliott for instance who perhaps didn’t enjoy the coaching careers in Australia they dreamed of, but it remains a coup for Gold Coast to attract a young coach who’s only known success in his burgeoning career.
The bad news is though there are still six matches to go in 2019 and based on how easily Brisbane bullied the Titans, it could feel more like six months remaining. Jarrod Wallace was one of the few Titans to put up a genuine fight, the Queenslander battling hard against his former side.
Interim coach Craig Hodges can only play with the cards he’s been dealt but it’s clear when looking at the side named against Brisbane why Gold Coast is at rock bottom.
AJ Brimson is a huge young talent but being asked to play halfback is a tough ask for someone who has made the most impact as a fullback.
Tyrone Peachey and Leilani Latu are on a significant amount of coin and stuck as bench players – a promotion for the latter after being in Intrust Super Cup wilderness – made little impact, while a succession of injuries has prevented their outside backs finding any cohesion.
Knowing who their 2020 coach is could be a spark for certain players who may well be playing for their NRL futures.
• The Roosters have won their last 4 straight over the Titans, being the first to 20 points every time.
• Latrell Mitchell has scored tries in every career match against Gold Coast (6 tries in 4 games).
• The Titans have lost 5 straight games, with the last 4 each being 13+.
Best bet: Roosters 13+ - $1.67* (BetEasy)
Value bet: Latrell Mitchell anytime try scorer/Roosters first to 20 points - $2.14* (Sportsbet)
St George Illawarra Dragons vs. Parramatta Eels – Netstrata Jubilee Stadium – 4:05pm
How much more painful can the Dragons’ year get? Just when St Gorge Illawarra thought they had a breakthrough feel-good win over Souths courtesy of the returning Gareth Widdop’s 79th-minute penalty goal, a successful short kickoff gave the Bunnies one last set. With time running out Campbell Graham squeezed through the left wing of the ANZ Stadium pitch and sunk the Dragons’ miserable campaign to a crushing new low.
Making the loss even worse was it undid an impressive second-half fightback where the Dragons trailed by six with six minutes left and Adam Reynolds looked to ice the match with a field goal. Yet workaholic hooker Cam McInnes still had enough in the tank to charge down the kick and then beat two Souths defenders to the ricochet, with debutante winger Jason Saab then scoring his second try after the resulting spread.
Widdop’s return was a fillip for the low-in-confidence Dragons, the Englishman instilling a fight in the team not seen anywhere near enough this year. His imminent departure to Warrington is a monumental blow but he'd have taken pride in how McInnes did everything but tackle himself into a standstill, or the long toil Paul Vaughan and James Graham put in – even Saab’s electrifying debut showing there are reasons for hope.
The Dragons remain in 14th spot with the wooden spoon still a mathematical possibility but after their recent run of limp performances, their heartbreaking Souths loss shows they’re not throwing in the towel just yet.
It was controversial and four match officials subsequently got punted but the Eels couldn’t care after their 24-22 win at home to the Warriors kept them inside the top eight.
It was an improved outing for Parra after they got scorched by Manly the previous week, with Mitchell Moses taking charge and making the most of some big games from forwards like Manu Ma’u and Nathan Brown.
Clint Gutherson shined as an auxiliary five-eighth and with Brad Takairangi suddenly bursting into career-best form, Parra’s attack is causing serious problems for the opposition. Winger Blake Ferguson remains an indefinite out with an infection but it’s a credit to coach Brad Arthur’s side in handling his absence effectively.
Earlier in 2019, it seemed whenever Ferguson was off, so too were the Eels. But confidence out west is growing with the realisation a finals berth is theirs to lose.
Even after their Manly loss, skipper Gutherson was thinking positively in how well his side finished the match with the final two tries – this side is still a work in progress but their self-confidence is crucial especially compared to some of the chasing pack’s.
Sunday looms as a danger game, however. St George Illawarra has nothing to lose and realistically are one win away from ruling themselves out of the wooden spoon hunt.
As Souths will attest, the Dragons are capable of a surprise and Parramatta can’t expect to rock up at a packed Kogarah expecting a win. An 80-minute performance, however, will take Parra another step closer to a remarkable turnaround from their own wooden spoon last year.
• The Dragons have 4 straight defeats while Parra has 4 wins from 5.
• The Eels have the wood in head-to-heads with 8 wins from the last 9.
• Maika Sivo is on fire – he’s got 14 tries in his last 16 games, including a double when Parramatta beat St George Illawarra 32-18 in round 8.
• The Eels are unbeaten in their last 5 second halves.
Best bet: Maika Sivo anytime try scorer - $2.10* (TAB)
Value bet: Eels second half - $2.15* (TAB)