NRL Round 24: Sunday Match Previews & Betting Tips
Cronulla is on a roll and could secure a finals spot if they defeat Canberra in the Shire while it’s do-or-die for the Tigers who must win to keep their season alive against the Dragons at the SCG to finish the penultimate round.
Cronulla Sharks v Canberra Raiders – Pointsbet Stadium – 2pm
Cronulla made a big stride towards finals with a 42-16 belting of Warriors boosting confidence and their for-and-against at the perfect time of year. It was a dominant performance from the Sharkies who showed no mercy to the Kiwis playing only for pride.
Shaun Johnson enjoyed a revenge game against his old side with a controlling performance and a flawless 7/7 goalkicking performance, a far cry from his notorious goalkicking woes mid-year. Veteran props Aaron Woods, Andrew Fifita and Matt Prior had field days in combining for 428 metres, getting strong support from both ends of the age spectrum in veteran Paul Gallen and youngster Braden Hamlin-Uele in the middle.
The Sharks boast plenty of strike power in their backs and showed it to full effect with Josh Morris, Josh Dugan and Bronson Xerri all scoring and looking their most menacing in recent weeks. Cronulla did lose Sosaia Feki and Jack Williams to injury mid-game but maintained their energy throughout and with sides directly below them not exactly setting the world on fire, a playoff spot is theirs to lose. If they can beat the dangerous Raiders then they’d have certainly earned their finals ticket.
Canberra might feel like they let one get away from them last week, their 18-14 loss at home to Manly to all but end their dreams of a top-two berth. Ill-discipline was costly for the Green Machine, Joey Leilua’s brain snap in kneeing Reuben Garrick after the Manly winger sprinted away for a crucial try resulting in a rare eight-point try and a suspension for the temperamental centre. There was controversy however with the Bunker failing to detect Jack Gosiewski being offside from a kick in the build-up but to coach Ricky Stuart’s credit, he had no complaints post-game and instead focused on the unnecessary foul play from his senior player.
It seems nail-biters and Canberra go hand-in-hand and despite the narrow loss, there was still plenty to take away from a match which was a semi-final in everything except name. Jarrod Croker had an outstanding game with two tries and scoring all of his side’s points while pulling off a trysaver of the year contender at the other end. Corey Horsburgh had a fine performance off the bench to pick up the intensity throughout Canberra’s middle rotation and Josh Papalii was one of the best on ground even in a beaten side.
Canberra’s top four chances remain strong despite the loss – win their last two games and they’ll finish third. A slip up though and suddenly Canberra runs the risk of a dreaded elimination final week one. The best scenario for Raiders punters is the side learned plenty from their Manly loss and parlay that into this weekend. The worst scenario however is a Cronulla side fighting for their own finals lives take advantage of any dropped heads and ambush the Green Machine to potentially set up a rematch come finals time. It’s going to be fascinating viewing Sunday arvo.
• Cronulla has won 4 straight games at home, winning the second half every time.
• Canberra’s 1-2 record across their last 3 rounds is their worst form since their 0-3 record from Rounds 9-11.
• Cronulla has won 4 of these sides’ last 6 head-to-heads. Bronson Xerri now has 5 tries in his last 5 games.
Best bet: Sharks second half - $2.23* (Unibet)
Value bet: Bronson Xerri anytime try scorer - $2.40* (TAB)
St George Illawarra v Wests Tigers – SCG – 4:05pm
How things can change in a single week. The Tigers looked like they waved the white flag to ending NRL’s longest finals drought when they crumbled to Manly – yet one short round later and suddenly Wests are back in with a fighting chance. Their 46-4 thumping of Newcastle might have left punters wondering where this has been for so long. David Nofoaluma led the way with a hat-trick but the night belonged to evergreen veteran Benji Marshall, who had a masterclass in setting up five tries. Marshall’s kicking game was precise, his ball-skills shredded Newcastle and the confidence he brings out of those around him is infectious. It’s easy to see why the Kiwi is likely to play on for another year when he’s able to play at such a level in the definition of a must-win game. With all the talk of who would become the Tigers’ latest hooker after injuries to Robbie Farah and Jacob Liddle, Ryan Matterson was the surprise candidate to start in the role, possibly becoming the world’s tallest dummy-half. Unfortunately, a head knock saw him leave the game early – returning after passing his HIA – and meant Josh Reynolds finally got a return to NRL level. In two weeks we’ve seen exactly why the Tigers are where they’re currently at, with one awful loss followed by one brilliant win. Inconsistency isn’t enough to make the finals and the Tigers need to win their final two games to stand a hope. So the question becomes simple – which Tigers will show up in their latest must-win game?
The Dragons felt the wrath of a Roosters blitz early on in Kogarah, at one stage trailing 34-0 early in the second half and looking like conceding a cricket score. If there’s anything to take out of another miserable match in their painful 2019 however, St George Illawarra didn’t throw in the towel and scored the game’s final two tries to help keep heads from sinking even further. There wasn’t much wrong with what the Dragons dished up in the first half – there’s not much a team so low in confidence can do when the reigning Premiers suddenly click into action and pull off attacks no other side in the competition can do. Ben Hunt was a notable absentee through injury which opened the door for an anticipated debut of Tristan Sailor, and the rookie fullback repaid the hype with the best performance in a well-beaten side. Sailor’s energy was a perfect addition to an attack needing all the spark it could muster and when he sliced through the Roosters’ line to score, it was a well-deserved reward and likely the first of many tries Wendell’s young lad will register at the top level. Tyson Frizell toiled through the middle for another gruelling shift but it’s a far cry from when he was at his best last year as a rampaging edge forward. With two games left in Gareth Widdop’s career, the Dragons will be desperate to give their skipper at least another victory song and if they can show the heart from last week, they’re every chance of frustrating the Tigers who will have all of the pressure squarely upon them.
• The Dragons now have a 1-7 record recently – only scoring over 20 points against the woeful Titans in that stretch - while the Tigers have 3 wins in their last 5 starts, easily surpassing 20 points each time.
• Luke Brooks has 3 tries from his last 4 games against the Dragons, plus scored in his memorable NRL debut against them at this same ground in 2013.
Best bet: Race to 20 points – Tigers - $2.26* (Sportsbet)Value bet: Luke Brooks anytime try scorer - $4.50* (Sportsbet)