NRL Round 21 Saturday Match Previews & Betting Tips

Spoon Bowl's here – Titans travel to face the Dragons in a match with major wooden spoon ramifications. Newcastle needs an immediate turnaround to keep their season alive against top-eight Parra. The Tigers are knocking on the top-eight door & can’t afford a slip-up against the Dogs.

James Baxter
 | 
Thu, 8 Aug, 12:00 AM

St George Illawarra Dragons v Gold Coast Titans – Netstrata Jubilee Stadium – 3:00pm

It was a drab Sunday at Kogarah for the Dragons, their 12-4 defeat to Parramatta their fifth straight defeat and only increasing punter frustration at coach Paul McGregor. It was a familiar tale for St George Illawarra, no matter the talent they fielded they simply couldn’t convert chances into points.

The Dragons had almost 50% more plays inside the Eels’ 20 yet only had a scrappy try to Mikaele Ravalawa to show for it. McGregor – through injuries and form – has chopped and change his backline throughout 2019 and still isn’t any closer to solving the attacking woes.

Cameron McInnes continues to play his heart out from dummy-half and must feel gutted one of his best personal seasons to date has come in such a miserable season for his side. Paul Vaughan may be best epitomised their season when the big prop showed great gusto to wrangle in Clint Gutherson yet give away a game-sealing penalty and dislocate a finger in doing so.

The Dragons are at least showing some effort even with their season gone but it’s damning for their roster when the Bulldogs – who have perhaps the weakest roster on paper this year – are now level with them and finishing the year stronger.

Gareth Widdop deserves a better finish to his NRL career and perhaps it’s a clash with rock bottom Gold Coast who potentially can overtake his side by year’s end to perhaps ease pressure on McGregor – at least for another week.

The good news for the Titans is there are only 28 days left until they farewell their wretched 2019 campaign. The bad news is those 28 days could feel an eternity based on their 58-6 capitulation to the Roosters.

2020 coach Justin Holbrook might have felt buyer’s remorse watching the implosion from Liverpool – Gold Coast was simply a rabble mercilessly thrashed by the Premiers. The loss is even more painful as the Titans have prided themselves in their history as an effort-first side.

Famously in 2013, the Titans were given 23.5 points headstart against the soon-to-be Premiers in Sydney and incredibly beat the Chooks outright. Lightning wasn’t striking twice this time around however, the Titans out-enthused from the kickoff and powerless to stop the Roosters’ outside backs treating the afternoon as finishing practice.

Interim coach Craig Hodges can’t take any positives from such an emphatic beating but he might just be thankful for a scheduling quirk giving his side something in their favour this week. The wooden spoon is headed for Robina unless the Titans can overcome a four competition point and significant points differential from two sides above them – Canterbury and this week’s opposition St George Illawarra.

The Titans last start wouldn’t have beaten an egg but the Dragons have five straight defeats and will face each other again in round 25. The Titans’ wooden spoon chances are on the line this week – a defeat and they deserve it.

A win however and the race is alive. You wouldn’t fancy the Titans against any opposition in their current implosion but playing a side also counting the days down until their end-of-season trip is probably the best hope Gold Coast could wish for.

 

Key stats:

• These sides each have the same 2-13 record across their last 15 starts.

• The Titans have the worse recent form however, their last 5 defeats have all been 13+ and conceding 20+ in 6 straight games.

• Mikaele Ravalawa has 6 tries in his last 7 starts.

 

Tip: Dragons

Best bet: Dragons -8.5 - $1.91* (Bet365)

Value bet: Mikaele Ravalawa anytime try scorer/Dragons - $2.47* (TAB)

Parramatta Eels v Newcastle Knights – Bankwest Stadium – 5:30pm

If winning ugly is a sign of a top eight side then Parramatta can start inking their stamp for a finals ticket. Their 12-4 victory over lowly St George Illawarra was just enough to keep them in sixth spot, crucially three points clear of the ninth-placed Broncos.

Coach Brad Arthur would have been pleased with his club’s improved defensive performance, withstanding the Dragons’ superior territory and goal-line chances.

Dylan Brown is very much a work in progress but the teenager has a bright NRL future and in a dour contest, he shined brightly with a brilliant individual try. The five-eighth needs to maintain this involvement with the Eels wary of becoming overly reliant on senior halfback Mitch Moses.

Lock Nathan Brown is also a crucial cog in the Eels machine and the one-time NSW darkhorse is truly finding his rhythm at the top level again after long stints on the sideline.

Brown’s ability to deftly ball-play adds much-needed attacking variety and given the Eels have serious size on the edges through Shaun Lane and Manu Ma’u, the Eels attack looks far more balanced with Brown’s return to fitness and form. While nothing is certain, Parra is looking good for the finals and will shift their aim towards maintaining their sixth position and the week one home field advantage coming with it.

If Newcastle could field a side of Kalyn Ponga and David Klemmer clones, they’d be looking at a first Premiership since 2001.

Unfortunately for coach Nathan Brown he still needs to field 15 other players and despite the representative duo throwing the kitchen sink at opposition, Newcastle has now lost five straight and are a long way off top-eight contention.

Their 30-6 defeat to Manly told a familiar tale in their losing run, Newcastle being competitive in the first half before rapidly falling away in the second half to concede a glut of tries. Halfback Mitchell Pearce is on significant coin and expected to be the playmaking fulcrum to return Newcastle to finals footy but instead, his form has significantly tailed off post-Origin. While he got the better of Daly Cherry-Evans in Origin 3, DCE had the last laugh with a brilliant performance while Pearce made more errors (2) than try assists (1).

Ponga and Klemmer are entitled to feel let down their strong individual performances aren’t carrying over to their teammates. The biggest worry for Brown would be he’s already gone to the first two options a coach has to revitalise a flagging side – he’s given a public blast and revamped his selection, both to no avail. With Jesse Ramien free to leave the Hunter ASAP and Ponga allegedly looking for a hefty pay rise, Newcastle is in real danger of going from a top-four contender to missing out on the finals entirely all within two months.

 

Key stats:

• Newcastle is in freefall with their defence the biggest culprit – they’ve conceded an average of 30 points in their last 5 matches.

• Meanwhile, Parra has won 5 wins from their last 6 and have scored an average of 25 points in that streak.

• Maika Sivo now has 15 tries in his last 16 games, including a try when he faced Newcastle in round 7.

 

Tip: Eels

Best bet: Maika Sivo anytime try scorer - $2* (TAB)

Value bet: Race to 30 points – Eels - $3.45* (Sportsbet)

Canterbury Bulldogs v Wests Tigers – ANZ Stadium – 7:30pm

The Bulldogs have their tails up after their 16-8 ambush of Penrith a significant step closer to avoiding the wooden spoon.

Dallin Waetene-Zelezniak enjoyed his revenge game over the club who granted him a mid-season release and provided the attacking spark the Dogs had in mind when signing him.

Given Kieran Foran’s absence, DWZ was by far the Dogs’ most experienced spine member and the New Zealand skipper embraced increased involvement.

Canterbury got the win the hard way, with inferior possession, territory and attacking chances, yet their maligned defence stood tall over a top-eight contender.

Big men Aiden Tolman and Dylan Napa had strong games, Tolman’s sin bin-enforced absence only seeing the Panthers add a penalty goal.

Having only six Premiership wins is hardly cause for much celebration but Canterbury is at least improving as the season grows closer to ending.

When compared to the imploding Dragons – who the Dogs are now level with – and the abysmal Titans, Canterbury are comparatively punching above their weight.

Winger Reimis Smith is a genuine try-scorer and with ex-fullback Nick Meaney improving with each outing on the other wing, there are plenty of reasons why Canterbury can add to their win tally before 2019 finishes.

The Tigers continued their September push with a crucial 28-4 win at Leichhardt over the Cowboys, all but ending North Queensland’s finals hopes.

Luke Brooks is yet to play finals footy but the halfback is looking the goods following a commanding game.

With veterans Benji Marshall and the soon-to-be-retired Robbie Farah playing well, Brooks stood up and became the dominant playmaker with three try assists.

Esan Marsters hasn’t quite lived up to the standards he set in his breakout 2018 season but his two-try game was one of his best this year, the first try showing what a weapon the Kiwi can be.

Taking a Luke Brooks bomb short of the try line, Marsters then bulldozed his way past the Cowboys defence to carry three players over the line to give the Tigers the early lead. Ryan Matterson has shifted from an edge to the middle, the lock looking at home with his size and playmaking ability, earning a standing ovation from the Leichhardt punters after a deserved early mark.

Subtle selection tweaks like Matterson to the middle, Moses Mbye to centre and Corey Thompson to fullback are signs of the Tigers’ evolution under coach Michael Maguire.

Wests have traditionally been known for their point-scoring ability but it’s their improved defence – as displayed last week – which is the biggest sign yet NRL’s longest finals drought could finally end in 2019.

 

Key stats:

• The Tigers have won 3 of their last 4 second halves over the Dogs.

• Canterbury only has a 2-5 record at ANZ in 2019.

• Reimis Smith has 4 tries in 4 matches and scored when these sides met in round 3.

 

Tip: Tigers

Best bet: Tigers second half - $1.68* (Unibet)

Value bet: Reimis Smith anytime try scorer - $2.10* (Sportsbet)

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