It’s the final Friday night double-header this week and what a way to finish. All four teams are inside the Top 8 heading into this round and more movement could be possible with impending results. The Sharks and Storm kick things off with a simple equation for the boys from the shire; win and you’re in the Finals, lose and you may be out. The Storm also have an opportunity to wrap up the Minor Premiership. The second game is a battle of western Sydney, played north of the boarder. The Eels are rejuvenated but so too are the Panthers. Both games are expected to be thrilling contests.
Cbus Super Stadium, Friday 6.00pm (AEST)
The Sharks put themselves in the driver’s seat heading towards the Finals with a 24-16 victory over the Broncos. In a result which could easily have gone the other way with a lack of execution, the Sharks did enough to limit their opponents’ opportunities and grinded their way towards victory. Things were even for most of the match including possession (50/50), completion rate (76% v 75%) and average metres (9.1m v 9m). Even conceding more line breaks didn’t bother them as they took their chances and defended their line strongly. The Storm would’ve benefitted from such execution as their 19-game winning streak came to a halt as they were defeated 22-10 by the Eels. In one of the upsets of the year, the Storm appeared void of answers for what the Eels threw at them over 80 minutes. The performance perhaps also unearthed a plan to defeat the Storm ahead of the Finals. That aside, the Storm were also off their game. They completed at just 69%, made 12 errors, averaged 8.4m per carry and missed 34 tackles. Even making 7 line breaks but only scoring twice showed how they were underperforming. There is a chance that they could surrender the Minor Premiership with a loss here too; at the very least, they will want to restore some confidence to their team ahead of next week.
Head-to-Head = Sharks 15 Storm 26
At Cbus Super Stadium = Sharks 45% Storm 73%
Last 10 Matches = Sharks 5 Storm 5 – The average winning margin is 5.2 points for the Sharks and 14.6 points for the Storm. The Storm have won 4 out of the past 5 matches, including their Round 8 clash 401-4.
There is plenty to play for in this game. Despite resting 6 players (Addo-Carr, the Bromwich brothers, Munster, Kaufusi and Welch), the Storm still field a very strong team. If they lose, they could surrender the Minor Premiership and after dominating for majority of the season, it would be shame to such a result. The Sharks have been improved in recent weeks but there are still concerning issues. Allowing the Broncos to score 16-points last week is one thing. The fact that they have only defeated one team above them on the ladder this year (Round 14 19-18 v Panthers who were missing their Origin players) indicates where they are at as a side.
They average fewer points in attack (21.9ppg) than they concede in defence (22.9ppg) is an indication of where they are at as a team. Once you also factor in the Storms average winning margin of 25.2ppg, the decision on deciding upon a winner becomes clearer. There will be passages of this game which are tight; the Sharks have proven recently that they can score points, they just need to focus on limiting their opponents. If they can draw the Storm into a grinding contest, slowing down the ruck and pressure their play makers, they may just have a chance of winning. A lot must fall their way if this is to happen though.
Back to Pap = Ryan Papenhuyzen to score a try @ $2.10 – He looks to be getting back to his best form and there was no greater sign than his support play last week. Papenhuyzen was quick to get to a few breaks by the Storm and you can expect the same here.
Cbus Super Stadium, Friday 8.05pm (AEST)
The Eels produced the upset of the week (and perhaps the season) with a 22-10 victory over the Storm. Resembling only the colours from previous weeks, the Eels produced a near perfect game to disrupt the momentum of their opponents. It was a performance which was built on ball control too, with a 90% completion rate leading the way and well supported by a strong kicking game. Elsewhere, they matched the Storm in metres per carry (8.4m) and made fewer errors (12 v 11) and missed tackles (34 v 29). It was a much-needed result moving forward too but the task of winning this week doesn’t get any easier.
The Panthers were measured in their 30-16 victory over the Tigers. A tight first half saw them lead 12-6 at HT but they clicked into gear in the second half, posting a strong lead. Only 2 late tries to the Tigers narrowed the score but the result was never in danger. It also wasn’t their best performance; they completed at just 63% and making 17 total errors (double the Tigers). If they had controlled the ball, it would’ve been a larger margin of victory. They were averaging 10.3m per carry, made 7 line breaks and 662 post contact metres. Even with poor execution, they were still dominant when needed.
Head-to-Head = Eels 21 Panthers 22
At Cbus Super Stadium = Eels 40% Panthers 60%
Last 10 Matches = Eels 3 Panthers 7 – The average winning margin is 6.7 points for the Eels and 7.9 points for the Panthers. The Panthers have won 4 out of the past 5 matches, including their Round 16 13-12 victory.
The Eels have decided to rest 7 players for this game and a further two (injury and suspension) mean that 9 players from their starting side last week will be missing. They have basically named a reserve grade team in this game. It doesn’t do their chances any favours when their opponents are at full-strength. The Panthers will have the knowledge of the result of the Minor Premiership prior to KO too, but it will do little to impact the result in this contest. If the Eels named their best team, they would still struggle to halt the Panthers.
While they have not been at their best in recent weeks, there were signs last week that the combinations are regaining confidence after a few weeks away from one another. The week off for their key players is bound to have a positive effect on their fatigue levels moving forward. Perhaps it is good for their confidence that they are not featuring in this game because the result here appears as though it is going to go against the recent history of matches between the two side and be a comfortable victory for the Panthers.
Lining up for a try = To’o/Momirovski/Kikau to score a try @ $5 – With a high score expected from the Panthers, you can expect their stars to be lining up to cross the line. Each of these players have strong attacking attributes which give them a great chance of scoring.
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