NRL Round 22: Saturday Previews & Betting Tips
Two sides who have crashed and burned recently can salvage some pride when the Knights face the Cowboys in Newcastle. Can Canberra break their top four hoodoo away to mighty Melbourne? The Bunnies are hot favourites but need to be wary of an improving Bulldogs side with nothing to lose.
Newcastle Knights v North Queensland Cowboys – McDonald Jones Stadium – 3:00pm
It might have been a bumpy ride back home for the Knights last week – the wheels have truly fallen off their bus. Crashing to six straight defeats, Newcastle is now an afterthought in the finals chase and it’s been a stunning fall for a side tipped as a Premiership darkhorse.
Their 20-14 Parramatta loss continued their trend of being in the contest for 50-60 minutes but fading out in the final quarter. David Klemmer – easily the Knights’ best signing this year – finally snapped at where they find themselves and lashed out at Manu Ma’u. Klemmer is a legitimate enforcer but can count himself fortunate the left hook of Ma’u did not connect.
While some teammates caught up with Eels players after the siren, the NSW prop eventually stormed off the pitch and may have left punters wondering why other Knights players aren’t showing the same degree of anger at a shocking losing streak.
Coach Nathan Brown said afterwards there were reasons why Newcastle are habitually trailing off but wouldn’t disclose them publicly. This hardly inspires confidence of a turnaround but against a demoralised Cowboys they won’t get many better chances of getting a win. With Mitchell Pearce, a shadow of himself from mid-year, once again Kalyn Ponga is likely the man to give Newcastle hope and a clash with his old side could be the stage for Ponga to lead his side out of the abyss.
North Queensland found new misery this year in their last-minute 18-14 defeat to archrivals Brisbane. With the finals long gone the Cowboys were aiming to give home punters some rare reason to cheer but couldn’t close out an error-riddled match.
Josh McGuire’s third “facial” on an opponent in 2019 – David Fifita the victim this time – has finally resulted in a three-game suspension despite the bizarre claims from coach Paul Green over McGuire’s innocence. Despite a glut of handling errors, the Cowboys did well to even have the lead so late in the Broncos game – they were dominated in possession and territory.
Jason Taumalolo was the only starting NQ forward to hit triple run metres (169m) and their two tries consisted of young half Jake Clifford grubbing for himself and Shane Wright being handed a try through Gehamat Shibasaki’s knock on in-goal. It’s an increasingly bitter end to club legend Matt Scott’s final hurrah and the Premiership winner certainly deserves a better send-off than what he’s currently getting.
The Cowboys are already playing for 2020 and in their opponents this weekend they also meet a club terribly out of form and low in confidence. Off-field the future is bright for North Queensland with their eagerly-anticipated new stadium and young roster gaining experience but they can’t afford a losing mentality seeping into the club.
There might be more than a few “what if’s” being pondered with Kalyn Ponga facing his old club and with the Cowboys now going consecutive seasons without finals footy and a carousel of fullbacks since their brilliant rookie headed south.
• Both sides have a 1-7 record over the last two months.
• North Queensland has been competitive though, 6 of these defeats have come 1-12.
• Kalyn Ponga has 2 tries in his last 3 games and will be eager to show his former club what they’ve missed out on.
Best bet: Kalyn Ponga anytime try scorer - $2.25* (BetEasy)
Value bet: Knights 1-12 - $3* (Sportsbet)
Melbourne Storm v Canberra Raiders – AAMI Park – 5:30pm
Melbourne gave another reminder of their depth when their depleted side still proved too strong for the top four Bunnies 26-16. Such was the Storm’s injury toll in the number one jersey alone they had to get special NRL dispensation to allow Nicho Hynes to debut – they weren’t far off needing an SOS to Billy Slater. Yet it didn’t matter their spate of absentees, rookie-loaded bench or how desperate Souths were, the Storm remained as clinical in their execution as ever, even with injuries during the game such as Justin Olam’s smashed nose.
It helped having Cameron Munster in inspired form, the five-eighth earning the Oddschecker Player of the Week award with a stellar performance and showing the ability which has in in red hot Dally M contention. Brodie Croft rarely needs to overplay his hand given the calibre of Munster and Cameron Smith joining him in the spine but the young halfback was quietly efficient and outplayed veteran counterpart Adam Reynolds, his late try sealing the win. Not even Stephen Bradbury would fancy a Storm collapse before the finals and with the Minor Premiership theirs, the Storm now have the luxury of potentially resting or rotating their stars.
They still will have a significant say in who finishes fourth and faces them in Melbourne in week 1 of the finals with their Canberra game this Saturday followed in a fortnight by a tantalising showdown with Manly. It’s likely full speed ahead in the short term however for the Storm, who look on a mission to go one better than their 2018 Grand Final disappointment.
Canberra could take plenty from their showing against the Roosters on Sunday – just not the two Premiership points. The Raiders went down 22-18, their late comeback falling short after allowing the Roosters to take control early in the second half. There’s no question Canberra will be better for their experience in a finals-like atmosphere against the reigning Premiers but coach Ricky Stuart would be well aware the Raiders are yet to defeat a top four side this year.
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad is a buy of the year candidate but unfortunately made two crucial errors under bombs – the first leading to a Latrell Mitchell try. Josh Hodgson tried all his tricks out of dummy-half, including a brilliant shuffle with ball in hand creating enough doubt in the Roosters’ defence to thread a grubber through to Elliot Whitehead to score. Nick Cotric was a welcome return after his controversial suspension and with Joe Leilua available for selection after his neck injury, Canberra will feel confident their backline can prosper right when they need to.
The Roosters defeat marked the second time they fell to the Bondi boys after conceding a lead and failing to catch up, and with their experience against Melbourne earlier in the season, Canberra need to start off strong. Otherwise, it might be a disappointing time in Melbourne and only create further doubts on whether as good as Canberra are in 2019, are they capable of being great?
• Including fifth-placed Manly, Canberra’s 2019 record against top five sides is 0-5.
• These sides met in round two when Melbourne won 22-10, the Storm’s fifth straight win against the Green Machine.
• Suliasi Vunivalu has 5 tries in his last 3 starts against Canberra, including a hat-trick earlier this year.
Best bet: Storm -6.5 - $1.90* (Unibet)
Value bet: Knights 1-12 - $3* (Sportsbet)
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Canterbury Bulldogs – ANZ Stadium – 7:30pm
The Bunnies were caught on the hop in Gosford, suffering a 26-16 defeat to further distance them from a coveted top-two spot. Both sides were undermanned yet it was Melbourne who coped better with their enforced changes, with Souths badly missing their inspirational forward leader Sam Burgess in particular.
Souths were able to get a controversial downgrade on a high tackle charge against their star Englishman to free him for action yet a quad injury sidelined Burgess and without his presence, the Bunnies couldn’t match it with the powerful Storm pack.
Braidon Burns was also a scratching yet curiously the player to make the match’s biggest attacking impact was a winger on the losing side - Campbell Graham scored a hat-trick to keep Souths in the contest. One of the tries came from a stupendous pass from Burns’ makeshift centre replacement Kyle Turner, showing the Bunnies Adam Reynolds meanwhile was in agony with back issues, the halfback receiving regular treatment to get him through the match with memories of his back fractures still fresh.
Cody Walker was solid in compensating for Reynolds’ restricted mobility but Souths need their Premiership-winning halfback at full fitness. With John Sutton announcing his imminent retirement the Bunnies will be desperate to get their season back on track with the wriggle room between their fourth spot and the chasing pack of Manly and Parramatta still just two competition points
It’s around this time of year when a side out of finals contention starts to piece together momentum and become a banana skin opponent against those with finals aspirations – this year we’ve got one of the more unlikely candidates.
Canterbury was the wooden spoon favourite pre-season and for a large part of 2019 was justifying that tag, yet the Dogs are starting to emerge as a side playing above their weight. Their 18-16 win over the Tigers is a significant obstacle for Wests to overcome if they’re to play finals, and the Bulldogs are now three wins clear of the rock bottom Titans.
Canterbury is hardly reinventing themselves in their recent improved form – they’re simply muscling up in defence and executing their attacking chances better than at any previous stage this year.
It’s an impressive effort with their marquee playmaker Kieran Foran on the sideline and ongoing speculation over coach Dean Pay’s long-term future. Pack veterans Josh Jackson and Aiden Tolman are doing the hard yakka while Jack Cogger is starting to thrive in the halves as the senior player alongside Lachlan Lewis.
Dallin Waetene-Zelezniak’s midseason transfer pushed Nick Meaney to the wing but the ex-Knight has now found his footing on the flank and had one of the best performances of his young NRL career last week.
With each recent win, the Dogs are building a platform for hitting 2020 running and considering how bleak their short-term chances looked this past off-season, the Bulldogs are showing they’re packing some bite to match their bark.
• Canterbury has a 0-7 record against top four sides this year.
• Souths have a 5-1 record over the Dogs recently, including being the first to 20 points in 4 of those wins.
• Campbell Graham now has 6 tries in his last 5 starts.
Best bet: First to 20 points - Rabbitohs - $1.60* (BetEasy)
Value bet: Campbell Graham anytime try scorer - $1.85* (TAB)