After a massive night on Wednesday, NRL fixtures will return on Friday this week, to allow players to be available for their clubs if they are fit. Fans are further treated, with 3 out of 4 teams featuring this Friday night sitting inside the Top 8. Both games will take place at suburban grounds in Sydney, the first games played in Sydney in 7-days. Conditions will be cold, so hopefully the action is red-hot to cope with the weather.
Brookvale Oval, Friday 6.00pm (AEST)
The Sea Eagles enjoyed a week off last week following a disappointing 18-10 loss to the Knights on the road. Following a spirited 28-6 victory over the Eels the previous week, this was a game that the Sea Eagles were expected to win against a weaker opponent. Things didn’t go to plan for them though, after a strong start which saw them lead 10-nil after 27 minutes, they went scoreless from that point onwards.
With just 45% possession, they completed at 78%, made 373m less (2,053m v 1,680m), had just 2 line breaks and 10 errors. They were frustrated into a poor performance, while their attacking weapons were comfortably nullified. The Cowboys also benefit from a bye week, a much-needed break after their 29-28 victory over the Warriors at home. They were strong early, jumping to a 22-6 HT lead but they let their opponents back into the match.
The Warriors lead 28-22 with 15 minutes remaining. A 75th minute try and 79th minute field goal stole the game away from their opponents. It was a high-quality performance from them too; they completed at 80% with 53% possession, averaged 9.3m per carry (1,681m for the game) and had 520pcm. There are still some areas which need attention though, as they committed 15 errors and missed 30 tackles. Nevertheless, that result has them sitting inside the Top 8 and with the opportunity to remain there with another win here.
Head-to-Head = Sea Eagles 16 Cowboys 13
At Lottoland = Sea Eagles 61% Cowboys 60%
Last 10 Matches = Sea Eagles 4 Cowboys 6 – The average winning margin is 10.3 points for the Sea Eagles and 11.7 points for the Cowboys. The home team has won just 4 out of the past 10 matches.
This is a crucial game for both teams if they are to remain in contact with the Top 5 teams and neither will want to suffer a loss. Normally, the Cowboys struggle with trips down to Sydney, but coming to the northern beaches appears to be a journey they like. The outcome of this match will depend on who is available. The word following Origin that Tom Trobojevic is unlikely, whereas DCE and Jake Trbojevic should take their place in the team. If this is the case, expected the two sides to draw closer together in betting markets; Tommy Turbo has such a large impact on his team’s performance. Nevertheless, the Sea Eagles are also boosted by the return of Foran, who will offer stability in the halves, and Walker on the bench.
The Cowboys will be without Fedlt, who suffered a lower leg injury on Wednesday, but Holmes will take him place in the team. This game will also see the club debut of Tom Dearden at halfback; he wasn’t exactly a ‘world beater’ at the Broncos but he should add another dimension to their attach. Fact is that the Cowboys still average fewer points scored (20.1ppg v 18.9ppg) and more points conceded (20.3ppg v 25.6ppg) than the Sea Eagles. It would be an impressive effort to see them upset the Sea Eagles, but the game will be tight, bringing the line into contention.
Nestrata Jubilee Stadium, Friday 7.55pm (AEST)
The Sharks had a week off following their dominant 38-10 upset win over the Titans in Coffs Harbour. Heading into the game as outsiders, fans were worried as they conceded a try after just 3 minutes. Crossing for a try in the 8th minute, the Sharks scored 38-unanswered points to cruise to victory and within sight of the Top 8. Having struggled for momentum at different times this year, the Sharks lifted their execution for this game.
With 54% possession, they completed at 83%, averaged a season high 10.5m per carry, had 527pcm, 11 line breaks and just 8 errors. As good as they were with the ball, they still missed 49 tackles in defence, with better team bound to capitalise on mistakes in the future. The Panthers are that team, and they will be out to bounce back from their first loss of the season against the Tigers in Round 13. Missing 7 players to Origin, the replacements for the Panthers were out to prove their own talent. They were kept scoreless in the first half but came within 4-points with under 25 minutes remaining. A tight struggle ended up in a 26-6 score line; this was not an accurate reflection of how close the match was.
Statistically, the Panthers had their worst performance of the year. With 48% possession, they completed at 79%, made just 1,361m (lowest of the season), had just 3 line breaks, fewer post contact metres (544 v 477), made 12 errors and missed 30 tackles. Momentum is crucial in rugby league, and they will want to return to winning form as soon as possible. Hopefully for them, Origin doesn’t impact their players performance when they put on their club jersey.
Head-to-Head = Sharks 22 Draw 1 Panthers 17
At Netstrata Jubilee Stadium = Sharks 46% Panthers 62%
Last 10 Matches = Sharks 6 Panthers 4 – The average winning margin is 10.5 points for the Sharks and 28 points for the Panthers. The Panthers have won the past 4 meetings (all of their wins) by a combined margin of 112 points, including a 48 point, 26 point and 32 point victory.
It was just 5 weeks ago that the Panthers hammered the Sharks 48-nil. Another game which will largely depend on who takes the field following Origin. The Sharks are not impacted by this, with no players away on Origin duty. On the other hand, the Panthers have 7 players returning. Cleary is ruled out, while doubt over To’o and Luai remains. Yeo, Martin and Capewell are all expected to feature. The biggest inclusion will be Koroisau at hooker; he was NSW 18th man on Wednesday and thus, had to miss last week.
He will provide stability in the spine and possibly cover the loss of Cleary. Having one or two players missing from their line-up will hardly be enough for the Sharks to overturn the previous result, but it may bring them closer into the match. Given the point scoring power of the Panthers, they should be able to cover the line (5.5) and then some. To put this into perspective, the Sharks average 17.9ppg in attack and 21.5ppg in defence compared with the Panthers 28.6ppg in attack and 8.1ppg in defence. Even with key attacking players missing, they are still strong in defence and that will again be a cornerstone of their performance here.
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