NRL Round 21 Friday Match Previews & Betting Tips
Manly is on a roll with a top-four spot in sight while the Warriors try to rebound from their self-destruction last star and it's a must-win game for both sides with the loser out of the eight when Penrith hosts Cronulla in a Friday night showdown.
New Zealand Warriors v Manly Sea Eagles – Mt Smart Stadium – 6pm
A top-eight spot to play for in front of a parochial home crowd against a travelling team on a five-day turnaround and a chip on their shoulders after a controversial loss – the stage was set for the Warriors against Canberra.
Instead, New Zealand copped a 46-12 embarrassment and leave their long-suffering punters yet again frustrated at how inconsistent the club is.
If they had poor officiating as an excuse in their Parra loss then they had no cop-outs available for the terrible effort shown with their season on the line, all but waving a white flag to the rampant Raiders who cruised to a 30-0 halftime lead. Canberra was flawless with the ball while the Warriors were shellshocked in the few times they actually maintained possession.
Losing Kodi Nikorima to an ankle injury midway through the first half isn’t an excuse for their capitulation – his replacement Chanel Harris-Tavita scored all the Warriors points himself in the second half. But clearly, there is something very wrong within the Warriors’ camp to turn in one of the worst efforts by any side in recent memory in what was a must-win game.
Coach Steve Kearney copped the meme treatment for his halftime spray – highlighted by booting a towel at Peta Hiku – but given their surrender, it seemed the coach was the only Warrior not rendered speechless at the performance. Of course, the Warriors are still a mathematical top eight chance and it’d be almost vintage for them to respond to their disastrous loss with an inspiring win but there's zero reason to trust this side based on last week.
Let’s get it out of the way – Des Hasler has to be coach of the year. While Melbourne might be cruising to the minor premiership, Hasler has taken largely a team Trent Barrett was leading to the club’s first wooden spoon and instead has them as a Premiership candidate.
The Sea Eagles backed up their hugely impressive 11-10 win in Melbourne by smacking the Knights 30-6 at Lottoland, with their second-half blitz continuing their top-four hunt. Daly Cherry-Evans was the star with three try assists, although rookie of the year contender Reuben Garrick might have been a Superman lookalike with his freakish effort to successfully ground a kick he had no right in staying in play for.
Addin Fonua-Blake smashed out 170 run metres to be the best Manly forward on ground, while Brad Parker – who as a maligned depth player under Barrett – has emerged as one of the most improved NRL players and helped create a try as well.
Parker’s improvement sums up Hasler’s work this year – Manly are making the most of every resource they have. Their goalline defence is enthusiastic, marshalled expertly by Tom Trbojevic and given their key players like DCE and the Turbo boys have plenty of big-game experience, Hasler’s side isn’t crumbling under pressure this time of year – they’re actually thriving.
Their Warriors match is a must-win opportunity, given the top four play each other on Sunday. A Manly win across the ditch could see them break into the top four at a perfect time of year. With the Warriors vulnerable, this could be a great chance for Manly to continue their momentum and boost their for and against.
• Manly own the Warriors – they’ve won 17 of the last 20 matches, including their 46-12 demolition in round 3.
• Tom Trbojevic is now 10-0 in all his 2019 matches, plus has 7 tries in 6 matches against the Warriors.
• Manly’s last 5 wins have been by an average of 15 points, the Warriors’ last 5 defeats have been by an average of 13 points.
Tip: Sea Eagles
Best bet: Tom Trbojevic anytime try scorer - $2.30* (TAB)
Value bet: Sea Eagles 13+ - $2.65* (Bet365)
Cronulla Sharks v Penrith Panthers – Panthers Stadium – 7:55pm
Penrith suffered a blow to reaching the finals in their shock 16-8 upset loss to Canterbury. The Panthers never looked close against the wooden spoon candidates, failing to capitalise in attack even while Dogs prop Aiden Tolman copped ten in the bin for a professional foul on Reagan Campbell-Gillard – possibly the first time in league history one prop has been sent for interfering in another prop’s hopes of scoring.
Penrith was simply off the boil and their decision to take the penalty goal immediately upon Tolman’s dismissal summed up the Panthers being in their shell at the worst time of year. Jarome Luai’s eye injury deprived the Panthers of attacking spark but there can be little excuses for the Panthers’ struggles.
Nathan Cleary failed to impose himself and while rookie back Brent Naden scored their sole try, he was also a constant target in defence and made the most handling errors for his side. Isaah Yeo was a workhorse and clearly loving life back in the pack but following consecutive losses, there are now growing concerns about whether Penrith has the consistency to make September.
Losing James Maloney to suspension after a trip on Jeremy Marshall-King is a significant hurdle for them to overcome this week. The only minor consolation from their defeat was the struggles of many teams around them on the ladder – Penrith remain in the eight but should they stumble again this week they won’t be so fortunate.
Cronulla soared back into form with their 39-24 ambush over Souths last Saturday. After a dreadful losing run and an unconvincing win over North Queensland, the Sharks gave their finals chances a badly-needed push in stunning the Bunnies.
It’s no co-incidence Cronulla looked a different side with the returns of Wade Graham and Matt Moylan. Graham laid on three tries and has the veteran leadership needed for a side to reach September. Given the halves combination of Shaun Johnson and Chad Townsend hasn’t regularly fired, Graham’s creativity transformed the Sharks and blew the top four Souths off the park.
Moylan meanwhile had some jitters – perhaps caused by a Sam Burgess swinging arm – but showed his class with a beautiful try assist and offers some attacking unpredictability from the back. Paul Gallen defies his age even with his career almost finished, continuing his strong form with 196 run metres and another tireless night in defence.
The Sharks’ finals equation is simple – just keep winning. Their Panthers showdown could well be an elimination final preview – or it could be the week Cronulla look back on as what cost them a September finish. Having more first-choice players available than any time prior this season is a massive boost for coach John Morris. Can his side capitalise while their irons are hot?
• These sides met in round 6 with Cronulla winning 24-20 – the Sharks’ seventh straight head-to-head win with the last 4 coming by 1-12.
• Bronson Xerri has 9 tries in his last 10 games.
Best bet: Bronson Xerri anytime try scorer - $2.30* (TAB)
Value bet: Sharks 1-12 - $3* (Sportsbet)