After a fantastic first week of NRL finals last weekend, the series continues this week with two massive semi finals kicking off on Friday night. We preview both the Cronulla Sharks vs the Penrith Panthers and the South Sydney Rabbitohs vs St George Dragons and provide our betting tips below.
The Cronulla Sharks head back to Allianz Stadium on Friday as they look to keep their season alive. They’ll be coming off a tough 21-12 loss against the Roosters here last week. Valentine Holmes was outstanding once again and should be right in contention for the Dally M. He had 323 run metres and broke 7 tackles. As usual, Gallen was the workhorse in defence as he laid 47 tackles. But to make matters worse in the loss, Wade Graham suffered an ACL injury and will miss the rest of the finals. Scott Sorensen comes into the starting lineup as the only change for the Sharks. Despite injury concerns, with the experience of Gallen and the like, this is looking like a very close final.
Penrith got the job done at ANZ Stadium with a fairly comfortable 27-12 victory over the Warriors. They were slow starters once again, going down 12-0 in the early stages. But the tide turned after the 20th minute with 3 quick tries putting the Panthers on top. Their defence kept the Warriors quiet in a second half shutout to setup this clash with the Sharks. As a result, they’ve named an unchanged lineup.
The key storyline in this matchup will be James Maloney and Matt Moylan up against their former sides. The pair swapped clubs in the offseason and will now meet in a do or die semi-final. The addition of Maloney has given the Panthers the finals experience they needed as he was impressive last week.
The odds are giving the Sharks favouritism which is probably mainly based on the history between these two sides. Since 2016, Cronulla holds a 5-0 head to head record, which includes 2 victories in 2018. Firstly, in Round 7 at Shark Park, the home side earned the 2 points with a 4 point win in a close finish. Then in Round 18, the Sharks travelled to Penrith and kept the Panthers attack quiet in a 24-12 victory. But I think the Panthers should be extra motivated to end this losing streak against them, especially in an elimination final. They have the forward pack to match the Sharks with the likes of Trent Merrin, Yeo and Campbell-Gillard. So I can see a close margin in this clash with the either team to win by under 10 points or less.
Games involving the Sharks in 2018 have a high chance of finishing under this margin, which also occurred last week. Overall this season, they hold an 18-7 record against the under 10 margin. Also, in their last 3 games against top 8 sides, the average winning margin is just 4.66 points. While for the Panthers, they also have a positive record against this bet. In 25 games this season, 14 have finished under 10 points at a percentage of 56%. When these two sides clash since 2012, the average margin falls just under 10 points at 9.45, which doesn’t include a finals game. So the finals factor should see an even closer margin in my opinion.
In the second semi-final, traditional rivals South Sydney meet St. George at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night. The winner will take on the Roosters next week.
The Rabbitohs come off a heartbreaking loss to the Storm in Melbourne thanks to the boot of Cameron Munster. They kicked off the scoring with a try to Dane Gagai and Greg Inglis scored a double in the middle stages. He will be sore for this clash after re-injuring his ribs after a collision with Vunivalu. They were looking like causing an upset before a late try to Blair and the field goal by Munster saw them go down 29-28. So they will head to ANZ, desperate to keep their season alive.
The Dragons were easily the most impressive side in the first week of the finals. They headed into the finals with poor form but it didn’t seem to matter. Having not won at Suncorp in years and the fact they had not won a final since the 2010 Grand Final victory, they absolutely trounced the Broncos. Tariq Sims was unstoppable near the try-line as he scored a first half hat-trick. With James Graham knocked out in the first half and de Belin succumbing to his sore ankle, the Dragons held on in the second half.
But the win has come at a massive cost with Gareth Widdop re-injuring his shoulder late in the game. It’s a cruel blow for the Dragons and their attack. Ben Hunt was super impressive against his former side but may struggle without Widdop on the park. So they will look to Kurt Mann for a spark at five-eighth.
This will be the third meeting of the year and both sides have earned a victory so far. At Jubilee Oval in Round 5, St George held on in a 16-12 result. The Rabbitohs countered in Round 10 at ANZ with a 24-10 win. Interestingly, this will be the first finals meeting between the pair since 1984! So the betting angle for this game should be another close final. The Rabbitohs are comfortable favourites in the betting but as the Dragons showed last week, they’ll love the underdog tag. Obviously, missing Widdop is a huge blow and the status of James Graham (concussion)/Jack de Belin (ankle). However, I still like their chances of keeping this under the 12.5 line.
In 4 of the last 5 meetings, they have covered the line against Souths. Their forward pack should be able to match the Burgess brothers and that should keep them right in this contest. While for Souths, since 2014 they’re just 3-10 against the line off the back of a loss and favourites in the betting. Their last 3 top 8 battles at ANZ have also fallen under this margin.
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