It is a very special round in the NRL this week with the Beanies for Brain Cancer raising some much-needed funds for a worthy cause. Fans are spoilt with two intriguing fixtures taking place which will undoubtedly impact all 4 teams moving towards the end of the season. The first is a battle for the remaining places in the Top 8 in Townsville, as the Cowboys look to atone for the loss of the Maroons against the Sharks. The second is a preview of what is to come during Finals time with the Panthers hosting the Roosters.
North Queensland Cowboys v Cronulla Sharks
Queensland Country Bank, Friday 6.00pm (AEST)
The Cowboys were outsiders against the Sea Eagles and were given a boost prior to KO with the withdrawal of Tom Trbojevic. Two tries inside 10 minutes for the visitors and their hopes of an upset appeared likely. Unfortunately, that is where their scoring stopped until a 72nd minute try; during this time, the Sea Eagles 8-unanswered tries to power their way to a 50-18 victory. Unlike previous weeks, the Cowboys were made to pay for their errors. With just 42% possession, they completed at 61%, made fewer metres and post contact metres, had 5 line breaks, missed 52 tackles and committed 13 errors.
While they have held onto a Top 8 spot, a lot of work still must be done for this team to contend each week. The Sharks grabbed another upset victory to have a 3-2 record in their past 5 games. This time, they proved themselves capable against an understrength Panthers team. With confidence high after a strong victory over the Titans, the Sharks started well and led 18-nil at the break. All they needed in the second half was a 78th minute field goal to Shaun Johnson to win 19-18, with the Panthers fighting their way back into the match. It was the highest level of execution the Sharks have displayed this year; with 48% possession, they completed at 95%, averaged 9.5m per carry and committed just 5 errors. They can still improve in other areas too; they had fewer post contact metres, only 4 line break and missed 33 tackles. Still, this puts them back in contention for spot in the Top 8 just after the halfway point of the season.
Head-to-Head = Cowboys 17 Sharks 30
At Queensland Country Bank Stadium = Cowboys 47% Sharks 100%
Last 10 Matches = Cowboys 2 Sharks 8 – The average winning margin is 3.5 points for the Cowboys and 14.8 points for the Sharks. The Sharks have won the past 6 matches and you need to go back to Round 1 2018 for the Cowboys last win.
It is confusing to see the Cowboys listed as favourites ($1.70) for this game. They were poor last week, have won just 2 of their past 4 and must perform off the back of a road trip to Sydney. The shift home may work in their favour; despite having a poor start at their new stadium, the Cowboys have won the past 5 matches here to lift their overall winning record. In comparison, the Sharks have won 3 of their past 4 matches and regardless of their opponents, have demonstrated a considerable amount of fight. When comparing the two sides, you also must look at the points difference. The Cowboys have a shocking -119 difference compared to the Sharks -46.
While it is still a negative, the Sharks lose by an average margin of 16-points compared to the Cowboys 22.1 points, while when winning, the Sharks average a margin of 16.4 points compared to the Cowboys 6-points. The return of Dunn and Fedlt boosts the Cowboys. For the Sharks, they will be without captain Wade Graham but welcome back Talakai (suspension) to the lineup. The Sharks look set to cause an upset but rather than make a call, invest on this game being a close match and enjoy everything that this contest has to offer.
Either Team by Under 8.5
Penrith Panthers v Sydney Roosters
BlueBet Stadium, Friday 7.55pm (AEST)
The Panthers are desperate for this game to start as a chance is provided for them to halt their 2-game losing streak. Their second consecutive loss while missing key Origin players came at the hands of the Sharks last week, as the home side was allowed to dictate majority of the match. Eventually losing to a 78th minute field goal, the Panthers also only have themselves to blame as the importance of their halves was again realised. With superior possession (52%) and a high completion rate (87%), they were kept scoreless in the first half. They also had fewer line breaks (4 v 3) and averaged less metres per carry than their opponents (9.5m v 9.2m). They will welcome back a host of talented individuals who will undoubtedly have a large impact on the outcome of this game.
The Roosters will likely carry fatigue into this game on the back of a 6-day turnaround and a nail biting 35-34 victory. It should’ve been a comfortable victory, at one stage leading 30-4 with just 30 minutes remaining. Yet, as has been the case for some decisions this year, a sin bin turned the match around with the Titans scoring 3 tries inside 10 minutes. The home team jumped ahead with just 7 minutes remaining and almost stole victory. The Roosters class prevailed though and did so with their backs to the wall. With just 43% possession, completed at 79%, averaged fewer metres (1,907m v 1,434m) and post contact metres (567pcm v 505pcm) and 10 errors. Alarmingly, they missed 62 tackles across the match and can ill-afford a similar performance against a strong team like the Panthers that will pile points on very quickly in similar circumstances.
Head-to-Head = Panthers 20 Roosters 20
At BlueBet Stadium = Panthers 58% Roosters 47%
Last 10 Matches = Panthers 5 Roosters 5 – The average winning margin is 8 points for the Panthers and 14.4 points for the Roosters. Home ground advantage means everything in the past 10 fixtures, with a 70% record in favour of the hosts.
The Roosters couldn’t have played the Panthers at a worse time. The competition leaders are desperate to break a 2-game losing streak which saw them surrender the competition lead at the conclusion of last round. Despite losing Kikau, the Panthers are boosted by the return of To’o, Cleary, Luai, Yeo and Capewell after they were rested following Origin last week. The Roosters are expected to welcome back Tedesco but there is plenty of doubt around whether he will feature. They will likely prioritise his longevity this season over a victory. They also have concern around Walker, further impacting their chances. If both were to be passed fit, the contest would be close but ultimately, you cannot go past the Panthers.
This is the same team which was undefeated prior to the representative period and the same players which were successful for them thus far also got the job done at Origin level. This game should be no different as their combinations play with confidence and exploit the weaknesses of their opponents. Also, you cannot overlook the toll which last week would have played on the Roosters. Their defence has been questionable at times and was vulnerable against the Titans. Having a draining performance on the road ahead of a short turnaround doesn’t provide them with the best preparation. This game will be close early but ultimately, the Panthers strong defence (9.5ppg conceded) should set up a comfortable victory.