NRL ROUND 21
Panthers v Bulldogs
The Bulldogs looked good in the opening stages of the Broncos game last week with plenty of enthusiasm on defence and some crisp attack but that all fell apart once the Broncos took control of the game, running out easy winners the end. They’re bolstered here with the return of captain James Graham and with pressure on the club (particularly Hasler) they’re a dangerous prospect for a Panthers side who are without Moylan.
Whilst the Panthers have been winning of late they’re not doing so in convincing fashion, with two run-away tries last week helping them get across the line against the Titans. This week in the face of what will be a fired up Bulldogs defensive line they’ll need to be on point with their attack which puts huge pressure on young Tyrone May at five-eighth.
The bookies have given the Bulldogs a fairly handy start here which we’ll have a piece of. Sure the Dogs have been fairly average this season but they’ve shown many times they’re capable of pulling out a big game and that’s what I expect from them here as they’re packing plenty of firepower and don't lack pride. Pick - 2 units on Bulldogs +6.5 point start
Warriors v Sharks
Despite losing to the Cowboys in Townsville on Saturday night it was actually one of the Warriors more hearty performances of the season as their defence looked hungry and their attack relatively crisp. That said, it’s a bit sad to be patting a side on the back following a loss especially when that side had the pre-season hype around it that the Warriors did and it just goes to show how far they have sunk this season as finishing in the top-eight is yet again a pipedream.
The Sharks go into this without the influential James Maloney in the halves which is a big blow but can be papered-over against a side like the Warriors who have an inability to capitalise on such absences (case in point being Moylan two weeks ago).
It’s relatively straightforward here, you’ve got the reigning premiers who are vying for a top four finish taking on the Warriors who are trying to avoid a bottom four finish. The Sharks have a forward pack that will trouble the Warriors and they’ll chew through some serious metres which is three-quarters of the game won as there’s enough talent in their backs to capitalise on the momentum up front. Meanwhile the Warriors attack has mostly been ineffective when confronted by a well organised defence such as the Sharks boast and they’ll struggle to make double digits here.
We’ll take the Sharks to win and cover the line as the Warriors continue to sink. Pick – 4 units on Sharks -4.5 or better point start (BEST BET)
Knights v Dragons
There is a lot to like about the Newcastle Knights, if the points table was decided by effort alone then they’d be near the top but they just lack experience and a couple of game-breakers which is why instead they’re languishing down the bottom. The fact the Knights are giving 100% each game does mean they’re in the contest most weeks, sure they wilted late against the Roosters last week but that was against a side sitting second on the table and I don’t expect the score line to be so one-sided here.
The Dragons were a side under some degree of pressure last week as pundits spoke of them being a candidate to miss the top eight come seasons end, they responded in kind though and demolished the Sea Eagles which was achieved through a tough forward display and more finishing magic from Widdup.
I like the generous start on offer to the Knights here as they’ll once again roll up their sleeves and put in a hearty performance in front of the Newcastle faithful. You can be assured the Knights defence will be committed and they have some wily backs in Ross, Sio, Gagai and Kenny-Dowall who know their way to the try-line. Pick – 3 units on Knights +9.5 or better point start
Roosters v Cowboys
This will be the game where the absence of Thurston will be felt hard by the Cowboys against a well organised Roosters defence that looked as watertight as ever last week in holding the Knights to just one try.
The Cowboys have been clinical in winning four on the trot but all of those wins have been against sides outside the top-eight and this will be a big step up, especially with it being played in Sydney.
The Roosters just have a bit more x-factor in them and at home I can see them running out relatively comfortable winners here, covering the narrow line in the process. Pick – 3 units on Roosters -4.5 or better point start