The NRL finals kick off at AAMI Park with the Melbourne Storm hosting the South Sydney Rabbitohs from 7:40pm. We take a look at all four games over the weekend and give our betting tips for each below!
Melbourne ended the season with a 22-16 loss to the Panthers at this venue. The loss cost them top spot but they had already sealed a home final. So Craig Bellamy opted to rest players as they prepare to defend their 2017 title. This week, the big guns return to the side. Billy Slater is back at fullback in potentially his last NRL game in Melbourne. On the wing, Vunivalu returns from a hamstring injury and should be a handful for the Rabbitohs defence. In the halves, Munster is back and Jahrome Hughes has been named at halfback. Interestingly, Melbourne haven’t played with a steady halfback this season but it hasn’t seemed to worry the Storm’s attack too much.
After three losses on the trot, South Sydney trounced the Tigers 51-10 to hit the finals with winning form. They’ll also head to Melbourne with confidence after beating the Storm 30-20 in Round 21 at ANZ Stadium. Obviously, this will be a tougher task in Melbourne at AAMI Park. They’ve not won a game here in their history and hold a 0-7 record. Which also includes a 24-6 defeat in the last finals game they played here in 2012. In team news for this clash, the Rabbitohs will be unchanged.
The key in this game should be the battle at hooker as Cameron Smith takes on Damien Cook. Cook has been super impressive this season and also dominated the Storm in the Rabbitohs victory over them earlier in the year. But the major difference should be home field advantage for Melbourne. They’re 7-4 here this season and 3-0 after a loss. So in a close affair, the Storm should be able to hold off the Rabbitohs. However, the betting angle should see a low scoring contest in a battle of defence. At this venue since 2010, meetings between these two sides are 6-1 against the under total. Coming into this game, Melbourne’s attack isn’t at their 100% best. They’ve scored 20 or under in their last 5 overall games. They also lost to the Sharks 17-14 at AAMI Park a few weeks ago and this should be a similar type of game. Taking out the Rabbitohs 51 points last week, they were held under 20 points in 3 straight games, including 2 against top 8 sides. So look for the Storm’s defence to keep them quiet in attack to keep this under the 39.5 point total offered at Sportsbet.
Super Saturday begins in Sydney at ANZ Stadium with the Panthers up against the Warriors at 5:30pm. The winner moves onto the Semi-finals and it will be season over for the losing side.
Penrith locked in a home final with a huge upset in Melbourne last week. Obviously, the Storm were resting players but the win should see the Panthers regain winning confidence for this crucial final. They were well beaten by the Warriors in NZ previously 36-16 and that should make them keen for revenge this Saturday. The key storyline of the season was the sacking of Anthony Griffin and the Panthers middle of the season suffered as a result. So they’ll need the finals experience of James Maloney to keep the Panthers season alive because their form coming into the finals isn’t overly impressive. They recorded a number of comeback victories against bottom 8 sides such as Manly, Canberra and the Gold Coast. The loss to the Warriors a few weeks ago exposed their defence and that’s where they’ll need to improve to win this. In team news, Harawire-Naera returns to bench after concussion as the only major change to their lineup.
The Warriors had a better then expected season as they finished 7th on the ladder after a terrible ending to the 2017 season. The major difference in 2018 was they ended the season with a 4-1 record and had a winning record in Australia. Which includes wins over fellow top 8 sides in the Rabbitohs, Roosters, Dragons and Broncos. Although, they didn’t have a great time in their last game in Sydney against the Panthers (lost 36-4). The recent 36-16 at Mt Smart should give them momentum this time. They’ll also be boosted by the return of Blake Green in the halves. He’s been another reason why the Warriors have improved in 2018. There is some injury concerns for Simon Mannering and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck but both have been named so far.
This is another game with tough head to head odds to bet on so I’m looking for points in this clash. Which should see the 13+ either team bet salute. This bet won in Round 24 between the two sides and is 5-1 when these two sides clash since 2016. Overall, the Warriors last 3 games are 3-0 against this bet. In 2018, games involving the Panthers are 15-9 for both sides scoring 13+.
The night of NRL action concludes at Allianz Stadium with the Roosters and Sharks battling for the week off at 7:40pm.
Sydney ended the season atop the ladder after a 44-10 thrashing of the Eels and that gave the points difference they needed over the 2nd placed Storm. After a few losses before the finals against the Broncos and Raiders, they should have picked up some confidence even though the Eels were playing for pride. At this venue, they have won 7 of 11 this season but did struggle against top 8 sides with a 2-4 record. An interesting storyline will be the finals experience of Cooper Cronk and how that impacts the Roosters after they lost their final here against the underdog Cowboys. For this clash, they’ve named a similar team to last week with just Victor Radley coming into the starting lineup at lock.
Cronulla is hitting the finals in peak form with 4 straight wins and I believe they’re a real danger for the Premiership. They finished the season with the 3rd best defensive record and their attack has scored 28 or more in 4 of their last 5 overall games. They also don’t mind playing at this venue with an 8-4 record since 2010. There’s also extra motivation after losing to the Roosters in Round 5 by 18 points at Shark Park. In terms of their squad, they look settled with a strong forward park as always. Valentine Holmes is the man at the back and Ricky Leutele returns to the centres.
In the end, I think this will be one of the closest finals of the week. These two sides can aim up in defence and that should see a very small margin between the two sides. For example, the Roosters finished the regular season as the best defensive team by points allowed. The Sharks are top 3 for the same category and that should see them contain the likes of Latrell Mitchell on the edges and the experience of Cronk. So I like either team to win this final by 10 or less points at Sportsbet.
The NRL finals finish in Brisbane as the Broncos host the Dragons at Suncorp Stadium. This is the only day final of the week and the action begins at 4pm.
Brisbane earned a crucial home final with a 48-16 thrashing of the Sea Eagles at this venue last week. They head into the finals with 3 straight victories, which includes wins over the Roosters (away) and Rabbitohs (home). They’re always a tough opponent at Suncorp and as such, they’re 9-4 here this season. So they should be confident of out-scoring the Dragons in a home final. A big boost to their squad will be the return of McCullough at hooker. Alex Glenn is back in the second row as well. There is a bit of concern for Tevita Pangai Jnr after a slight hamstring issue last week.
St George were looking like comfortably finishing top 4 after a strong start to 2018 but have fallen away badly in the latter half of this season. Coming into this final, they’ve lost 4 of their last 6 and have lost 2 of those 4 by 36 or more points! Which both came against bottom 8 sides (Bulldogs, Eels). So the trip to Brisbane will not be an easy task. However, in great news the return of their skipper Gareth Widdop is a huge boost. There’s also a chance Nightingale and Aitken make the final 17.
In terms of the head to head, the two sides met in Round 1 and the Dragons made a statement with a 34-12 victory. The win also ended a 4 game losing streak against Brisbane. However, when they meet at Suncorp, the home side holds a dominant 10-0 record since 2009. However, the line of 11.5 points is still pretty high and in day conditions, this should be one of the more high scoring finals of the week. In 2018, the Broncos hold a 9-4 record against the over and their attack should have success against the Dragons lacking defence at the moment. Meanwhile, the Dragons still finished the season as the 5th best scoring team and the return of Widdop should help their attack make this a high scoring affair, so we'll back the over 42 point total at Sportsbet.
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