NRL Round 24: Saturday Match Previews & Betting Tips
The pressure is on Newcastle to beat the lowly Titans while bitter rivals Manly and Melbourne clash in a must-see top-four showdown and Penrith, whose season hangs by a thread, are forced to face the red-hot Roosters.
Newcastle Knights v Gold Coast Titans – McDonald Jones Stadium – 3:00pm
There have been heavier defeats and more painful eliminations but Newcastle’s unravelling the past week – culminating in a 46-4-hiding by Wests – is one of the lowest points in the Novocastrians’ proud history.
For so long Newcastle has prided itself as an effort club. In their lengthy rebuilding under Nathan Brown, the Knights knew they were outmatched more often than not on the field but would rely on their effort to keep them in contests they had no right to.
This year though was meant to be their return to finals footy and the dawn of a bold new era. Instead, each Wests try was a dagger to the heart of a broken club. It was a Campbelltown disaster with no redeeming qualities and one of the worst performances by a club playing for its season in recent memory.
Ordinarily, Newcastle would be considered locks to brush aside the last-placed Titans but the manner of their surrender – combined with Gold Coast’s hustle in Melbourne to compete for a majority of their match – means an upset isn’t out of the equation.
Newcastle repeatedly made assurances in announcing Brown’s departure their side hadn’t given up and would continue fighting for their mentor, but their actions in a shocking capitulation spoke far louder than their words. With Brown now finally out the door, there can’t be any excuses for their senior players to hide behind anymore. In front of their passionate punters, the eliminated Knights would be wise to aim up Saturday – it could become a toxic atmosphere at McDonald Jones Stadium if they don’t.
Gold Coast entered their Melbourne encounter without a friend in the world and exceeded external expectations with a competitive outing. The Wooden Spooners matched it with the Minor Premiers in the first half, even taking a shock lead into halftime before being run down by Melbourne’s superior quality. It’s another loss in the club’s record losing streak but compared to their recent outings, this effort was one of their better.
Moeaki Fotuaika has been the Titans’ brightest ray of hope in their bleak 2019 and the young prop matched it with Melbourne’s highly credentialled big men to top his club’s run metres and being the only starting Gold Coast forward to not miss a tackle. Gold Coast’s experiment of Nathan Peats as a middle forward continued and it was Peats’ quick thinking as a receiver to bomb for Jesse Arthurs which created their only try on the day.
AJ Brimson was relegated to a bench utility with Tyrone Peachey retaining his five-eighth role but unfortunately, it was to little effect. Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of their game though was Phillip Sami doing the seemingly impossible with a superb chase of Josh Addo-Carr inside the final minute. Sami covered an incredible amount of ground diagonally to run down the Foxx and prevent a final try.
Considering how meek some of their efforts have been in 2019, Sami’s desperation could be the inspirational catalyst to lift the Titans to a drought-breaking win before 2019 finally ends.
• Combined, these sides have a recent record of 1-13.
• Gold Coast’s 16 point defeat last week was their smallest losing margin since round 14.
• Newcastle’s only 2 wins since round 14 have come at home – each 13+, while Gold Coast only have 1 win in NSW all year.
• Titans’ winger Philip Sami has scored in every match against Newcastle in his career (4 in 3 overall).
Best bet: Knights -8.5 - $1.68* (Unibet)
Value bet: Philip Sami anytime try scorer - $2.90* (TAB)
Manly Sea Eagles v Melbourne Storm – Lottoland – 5:30pm
Twelve months ago Manly was being torn apart by infighting, narrowly avoiding a wooden spoon and helmed by a coach who was eyeing the exit door – even if the furniture at Brookvale Oval wasn’t up to his standards. Yet here we are now with a Sea Eagles side playing with swagger, winning a crucial away trip against a fellow top-four contender and Addin Fonua-Blake telling Raiders' punters to start crying after full-time.
It’s quite the turnaround but despite Des Hasler’s revolution, they’re needing to continue doing things in 2019 the hard way. In one sense the equation for Manly to maintain a top-four spot is entirely simple – win their final two games and they’re in. The flip side is those two games involve two of their great rivals who each are finals-bound – Melbourne and Parramatta.
It’s such an intriguing showdown this Saturday with the Storm. Their last clash was one for the ages in a golden point thriller and arguably the turning point for Manly moving from overachievers to genuine Premiership contenders. A repeat result and they’d achieve one of the rarest accolades in NRL – a regular season double over Melbourne.
Manly’s depth is being tested however with Joel Thompson their latest injury casualty, but whenever the Sea Eagles can field their big three of the Turbo brothers and Daly Cherry-Evans, it’s a tough ask to stop them during their remarkable 2019 season.
The painters at AAMI Park might have needed to work overtime once Craig Bellamy was done with his half-time team talk last week, with the Storm somehow trailing to rock bottom Gold Coast following their infamous collapse at the same ground Canberra. Once the paint was done peeling off the dressing room walls, Melbourne stepped up and eventually eased home 24-8 to all but guarantee another Minor Premiership.
Incumbent halfback Brodie Croft was rested with Jahrome Hughes shifting from fullback to half and impact-sub Ryan Papenhuyzen enjoying his time in his favoured number one role. The move was designed to give Croft a spell and see how Melbourne functioned with their “plan b” spine and the results weren’t exactly wowing. Individually Hughes and Papenhuyzen were fine but at home against the Wooden Spooners, they likely felt they had left points out on the field.
One man who knew for sure he didn’t live up to expectations was Cameron Munster. The brilliant five-eighth unfortunately had a first-half shocker with a string of errors and ill-discipline seeing him a lucky man to avoid a sin bin for repeated backchat to the officials. It was an interesting glimpse into Munster’s development as a senior playmaker – he’s still got some maturing to go to match his undeniable talent. Kenny Bromwich is Melbourne’s unsung hero and had another strong game in his best campaign, scoring one try while creating another with a deft pass.
Barring a ridiculous collapse, the top spot is Melbourne’s and with it the possibility for further selection tweaks, like with Croft’s gameday resting or Cameron Smith getting reduced minutes. Be sure to keep an eye out for the Storm’s late mail in this one.
• Melbourne’s 4 defeats this year have been 4 points or under – including their 11-10 loss when they last faced the Sea Eagles.
• Manly meanwhile has won 4 straight at home.
• Suliasi Vunivalu has 8 tries in 5 games against the Sea Eagles.
Tip: Sea Eagles
Best bet: Suliasi Vunivalu anytime try scorer - $2.00* (TAB)
Value bet: Sea Eagles 1-12 - $3.40* (Sportsbet)
Sydney Roosters v Penrith Panthers – SCG – 7:30pm
The Roosters ensured second spot is theirs to lose in their comfortable 34-12 defeat of the Dragons last week. Had they continued their white-hot start at Kogarah, a different adjective to “comfortable” would be appropriate but after building a 34-0 lead, the Chooks leaked the game’s final two tries to leave Trent Robinson with something to work on this week.
Given they were missing Jake Friend, Boyd Corner and Latrell Mitchell, the execution of the Premiers’ attack particularly in the opening half was downright frightening. With James Tedesco, Luke Keary and Cooper Cronk firing, the Roosters were unstoppable and with Cronk dusting off his goalkicking boots to perfection, it was like the Roosters could do no wrong against their downtrodden opposition. Their lack of intensity second half combined with a rise in errors though looked more like their early-season selves – who were imperious in first halves but increasingly vulnerable second halves – rather than their steamrolling recent selves.
It’s hard though to overlook just how damn slick the Tricolours were though in the opening stages and with so much firepower to come back, the question is how seriously will the Roosters push themselves this next fortnight? Their main focus will be on hosting their week one qualifying final and they may well choose to spring some late selection reshuffles, but they remain dangerous enough to blow any opposition away in one brutal half.
Penrith may have played themselves out of finals footy with a shock 24-10 loss to North Queensland leaving their post-season chances becoming even slimmer. A first half filled with errors and penalties ensured the Panthers were on the back foot from the onset.
Remarkably it appeared Penrith would enter the break within a single score of the Cowboys despite being well off their best but when Jordan Kahu came up with a magic ball from a John Asiata kick to find Murray Taulagi to score in the final play before the break, it stretched the margin to eight points and from there things went downhill.
Completing a terrible 65% of their sets, Penrith never finds their footing and with only two forwards barely registering 100 run metres they couldn’t find a match for the power of Jason Taumalolo through the middle. James Maloney is rapidly running out of time to prevent his side’s season from an early exit before he moves to France and the NSW five-eighth had a night to forget in Townsville with three errors and little attacking threat.
It’s a remarkable fall from grace for the Panthers who looked like they had a foot inside the finals just weeks ago. While Penrith is a single Premiership point away from eighth-placed Brisbane entering round 24, they find themselves in tenth position with comfortably the worst points differential of any side in the top ten. A win this week gives them a shot at a great escape next week but it’s going to be quite the turnaround needed based on recent form.
• The Roosters have 7 straight wins at the SCG, scoring an average of over 40.5 points in that timeframe.
• Penrith’s last away win came in round 15 and they’ve lost 4 of their last 5 games.
• Superstar fullback James Tedesco has 6 tries in his last 6 games.
Best bet: James Tedesco anytime try scorer - $1.85* (TAB)
Value bet: Race to 30 points -Roosters - $2.54* (Sportsbet)