After just one game in Sydney last week, Friday night action delivers 2 matches, making it 3 consecutive games in the city to start the round. The first match has the competition leading Panthers looking to extend their undefeated run to the season against the struggling Sharks. Then it is a short trip to Parramatta for the Eels to host the injury-plagued Roosters. 3 out of the 4 teams are inside the Top 4 so you can expect some high-quality rugby league tonight.
BlueBet Stadium, Friday 6.00pm (AEST)
The Panthers continued their undefeated start to the season, accounting for Manly at their adopted ‘home’ in Bathurst. Always in control of the eventual 28-16 victory, they set up the result with a strong first half that had them ahead 16-6 at the break. With 52% possession, they only completed at 71% and committed 11 errors. There were plenty of positives though; they averaged 9.8m per carry, made 716 post contact metres, 35 tackle breaks and missed just 28 tackles. When the game is there for the taking, they are a team which have several stars desperate to affect the result. The Sharks would kill for such execution in their team. Hopes were high after they were leading the Storm 8-6 at HT, with many thinking an upset could be on the cards. Those thoughts were quickly dashed as their opponents lifted in intensity, scoring 7 second half tries to defeat them 40-14. Completing at just 66% with 12 errors was the root of their issues, continually halting their momentum. Along with this, they ran for 378m less than the Storm, had half the amount of line breaks (10 v 5) and missed 38 tackles. There is no doubt that the shift in the coaching ranks had negatively impacted this team and their performances have suffered in recent weeks. This week only increases in difficulty and it will take a mighty effort for them to upset the competition leaders.
Head-to-Head = Panthers 16 Draw 1 Sharks 22
At BlueBet Stadium = Panthers 57% Sharks 53%
Last 10 matches = Panthers 3 Sharks 7 – The average winning margin is 21.3 points to the Panthers and 9.6 points to the Sharks. While favouring the Sharks, the Panthers have won the past 3 matches and the home side has won 6/10 matches, with the Panthers recording 2/5 home wins during this period.
The Sharks are desperate to break their 4-game losing streak and if their effort in the first half last week is anything to go by, they should be competitive in any match they play. Then again, the impact that the dealings of 2021 have had a negative effect on this squad and when a game gets tough, they appear to have lost their competitive edge. Perhaps in a game against a team closer to them on the ladder would yield a different result but this is the undefeated Panthers we are talking about. Coming up against such a team may force the visitors to ‘switch on’ to match their opponents for as long as possible but maintaining this for 80 minutes appears unlikely. While scoring points for the Panthers has been a noticeable asset (26.5ppg v 20ppg for the Sharks), their defence is the best in the competition. They have conceded 48 points less than the next best team with an average of 7.5ppg compared with the Sharks 22.3ppg. Averaging more line breaks (5.6 – 5th v 3.6 – 11th), total run metres (1,900.4m – 1st v 1,670.7m – 7th) and slightly more post contact metres (623pcm – 3rd v 603.8pcm – 4th) points to a dominant display for the home side. If the Sharks are not careful, the Panthers can run up a tally on their opponents. With their confidence rarely wavering, expect a comfortable win for them. For value, their strong defensive record should not only allow them to cover the line (-18.5 @ $1.95) but get result comfortably (and at some price!).
Bankwest Stadium, Friday 7.55pm (AEST)
The Eels had no issues in their 32-10 victory over the Bulldogs last week. They were never troubled as they rolled to a commanding win, having to earn points at different stages and overcoming defensive pressure built by the Bulldogs. They could certainly improve upon their 71% and 14 errors but were good in other areas; they averaged 9.9m per carry, had 694 post contact metres, 7 line breaks, had 38 tackle breaks and missed just 20 tackles. They have put 3-consecutive victories together in impressive fashion since they suffered their only loss this year to the Dragons. The Roosters kicked off last week once the Eels game had finished and experienced similar success, defeating the Knights 38-4 in commanding fashion. The difference in class was evident from the opening exchanges and the Roosters never let their opponents build momentum. Unfortunately, the biggest talking point after the game was the number of injuries which were suffered by the Roosters. That aside, they can take plenty away from an 83% completion rate, an average of 9.3m per carry (336m more than the Knights), 609 post contact metres, 30 tackle breaks and just 21 missed tackles. There is no doubt that they are up with the top teams of the competition but with further players missing from the team, the task of maintaining consistency becomes very difficult.
Head-to-Head = Eels 12 Draw 1 Roosters 22
At Bankwest Stadium = Eels 62% Roosters 65%
Last 10 matches = Eels 2 Roosters 8 – The average winning margin is 3 points to the Eels and 28.3 points to the Roosters. The Roosters have a strangle hold over the Eels; interestingly, they’ve played twice at Bankwest for one win each.
The Roosters find themselves as outsiders due to their worsening injury toll, but you can never completely overlook them. If you were to put that aside, the performance of the Roosters last week was clinical. Sure, they were up against a weaker opponent, but the manner of the victory was impressive to say the least. The Eels are a team that is full of confidence and will relish the opportunity to face off in a Top 4 clash. With Tedesco named, the assurance of the visitors is also increased. The Eels have only faced one Top 8 team this year and that was a strong 16-12 win against the Storm in Round 2, at this ground. When they must lift, they can. The fact that this has been their toughest test in recent weeks suggests that they could be caught short early on in this contest. If this does happen, the Roosters will look to take advantage. The Eels should win this game but do not be surprised if this is a very close game which isn’t decided until the closing minutes. On the players available for both teams, the Eels should have what it takes to prevail at the final whistle.
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