NRL Round 25: Friday Night Previews & Betting Tips
A finals preview out west – Parra & Manly both suffered cruel defeats last week and will be desperate to enter the playoffs with momentum. Melbourne is the Minor Premiers and looks to enter the finals on a roll against the fast-finishing North QLD.
Parramatta Eels v Manly Sea Eagles – Bankwest Stadium – 6pm
Parramatta’s top four chances were ended in a controversial 17-16 golden point loss to Brisbane at Suncorp. It was an inconsistent performance from the Eels, who had to claw their way back from a 16-6 deficit to take the game into extra time.
The Eels’ slow start was costly, their inability to build on try-scoring machine Maika Sivo’s opening try saw them succumb to relentless middle pressure from Bronco powerhouse Payne Haas and forcing the Eels to play catch-up footy. Not even Andrew McCullough’s sin bin was enough for the Eels to capitalise on, instead, relying on one of the year’s most spectacular groundings from returning winger Blake Ferguson and a barge-over from Kane Evans inside the final 15 minutes to keep the contest alive.
There were positives from the loss, however – Ferguson’s belated return from infection reunites potentially the most explosive wing pairing in the finals alongside Sivo, a big call considering the likes of Melbourne’s celebrated Josh Addo-Carr and Suliasi Vunivalu combination. While Parra’s partnership doesn’t have the runs on the board in comparison, their value to the side is immeasurable and it’s hardly a surprise they each bagged a try upon their reunion.
Evans was a big-money signing from the Roosters two years ago but it’s only now the big man is starting to live up to expectations, looking confident as a forward leader and steadily increasing his involvement. Ruling out a draw between the Tigers and Sharks, Parra’s finals campaign will open with either a home clash against Brisbane or the Tigers/Sharks winner. There’s a 22 point differential separating the Eels in sixth from their opponents Manly in fifth this week – so a win by 11+ will be enough to finish fifth to set up an all Sydney clash. Anything less though and it’ll be a fascinating rematch with the Broncos, and given last week’s result, Parra won’t be too upset at an opportunity for swift revenge.
It’s hard to think of a more damaging single game for a club in 2019 than what Manly went through last Saturday. Everything was on their side facing Melbourne – a gutsy win against Canberra a boost to their top-four chances, confidence knowing they’re one of the few sides to defeat the Storm this year and a packed out Lottoland – yet on one miserable night, the feelgood factor left the Peninsula. Going down 36-6 was only the start of their woes, with the Sea Eagles now needing results to go their way to re-enter the top four and they’ll need to do so without their best player.
Tom Trbojevic has been on fire this year when fit, but cruelly the brilliant fullback’s year is done after suffering a pectoral injury early on. Manly have self-belief they can bounce back without Tommy Turbo yet there’s no question it’s a very tough task seeing the Sea Eagles firing on all cylinders in the finals without him.
On the night Manly had no answers to another Cameron Smith masterclass and even when Will Chambers copped a questionable sin bin late in the second half, the only impact shown was the attempted punch from a soon-to-be arrested Manly punter in the tunnel. The atmosphere became whisper-quiet when Trbojevic left the match and the concern becomes whether the momentum Manly has built in their impressive 2019 campaign follows likewise, with a loss to Parramatta ensuring an elimination final first up for the Sea Eagles.
• Losing Tom Trbojevic is a significant burden for Manly. With him this year they’re 10-1 (excluding last week’s Storm defeat), without him they’re 4-7.
• The Eels have won 7 of their last 9 over Manly, while the last time the Sea Eagles beat Parra away was 2013.
• The Eels’ average win margin at Bankwest in their last 5 has been 12 points.
• Maika Sivo has 5 tries in his last 7 games.
Best bet: Maika Sivo anytime try scorer - $1.65* (BetEasy)
Value bet: Eels 13+ - $3.30* (BetEasy)
Melbourne Storm v North Queensland Cowboys – AAMI Park – 7:55pm
Melbourne clinched another Minor Premiership in style, empathically dispatching Manly 36-6 at Lottoland in a warning to the rest of the competition. The Storm is regarded as NRL’s most methodical side in building pressure to eventually lead to points and this was in full effect in a soaked top-four encounter. Time after time Melbourne forced drop-outs on the back of a pinpoint kicking game while also happily kicking early when coming out of their own half and backing their defence to pound Manly into submission.
Cameron Smith was in his element and such was his domination the veteran hooker started darting out of the ruck, at one stage going close to scoring himself via a wily dummy. The most interesting facet of the Storm’s past fortnight has been the handling of their fullback and halfback roles.
Their most-used structure has been Jahrome Hughes at fullback, Brodie Croft at halfback and Ryan Papenhuyzen being an impact sub. Instead, however, Craig Bellamy has dropped Croft, pushed Hughes to first receiver and Papenhuyzen selected in his preferred custodian role. While Hughes is very much a work in progress at seven, when you have such a dominant hooker in Smith it allows Hughes to take a step back and think “run first” instead of having to steer the ship like a traditional half does.
There’s also no question the Storm look their most threatening this year with the pace of Papenhuyzen coming from the back, and it's another sign Bellamy isn’t prepared to die wondering to go one better than last year’s runner-up finish. The temptation to rest players in a dead rubber is understandably tempting with Cameron Munster taking the week off following a shoulder complaint, for example.
Based on their recent playmaking reshuffle, positions are very much up for grabs and whoever ends up taking the field Friday night will have the pressure on to show Bellamy why they deserve the nod come finals. It’s this mentality which could prevent any complacency sinking in – not like Smith would ever be prepared to cop such a thing from his teammates though.
2019 has been rough for the Cowboys but they’re at least finishing on a high with consecutive wins after outlasting Canterbury 15-8 in the final game at 1300SMILES Stadium. The match was not easy on the eye with handling errors and stilted attack from both sides yet considering Canterbury was still a mathematical finals chance, it was an admirable North Queensland effort.
With their other win also coming over a side with playoff chances (Penrith), the Cowboys are showing there’s still fight in them unlike perhaps other teams around them on the ladder who seem to have Bali trips on their minds. Jason Taumalolo is still a monster and has another big outing with over 160 run metres – any potential impact with Melbourne’s monster Nelson Asofa-Solomona might leave AAMI Park’s foundations cracking.
Jake Granville toiled hard and the veteran hooker is providing an intriguing side story with plenty of young dummy-half talent on the Cowboys’ books for 2020 – including Reece Robson from the Dragons. Granville is essentially auditioning for the starting role next season and a big performance against the best to ever play the position would leave a positive impression on coach Paul Green to ponder over the off-season.
There’ll be no expectations on the Cowboys to do well on Friday night but with Melbourne assured first place, the Cowboys could feel like chancing their arm and if Taumalolo has one of his trademark unstoppable nights, they might push the Storm more than what could otherwise be expected.
• Melbourne has 9 straight wins over North Queensland, including their 18-12 win in round 5.
• The Cowboys have a 1-4 recent away record, and haven’t scored 20 points away since round 11. 5 of the Storm’s last 6 wins have been 13+.
• Ryan Papenhuyzen has scored every time he’s started as a fullback (4 tries in 4 games).
Best bet: Race to 20 points – Storm - $1.40* (Sportsbet)
Value bet: Storm 13+/Ryan Papenhuyzen anytime try scorer - $3.70* (Sportsbet)