The Australian National Rugby League finals begin this weekend with first-round matchups.
Penrith Panthers vs. Sydney Roosters
5:50 a.m. ET Friday, Penrith
Panthers -1.5 (-115) Roosters + 1.5 (-105)
The Panthers come into the first week of the NRL finals on a 15-game winning streak, finishing on top of the competition ladder. It has been an incredible season for the club, and if the Panthers continue this performance, they have every chance to play the Grand Final on Oct. 25. They have beaten the other three teams in the top four yet are second favorite to win (+ 250) behind the Melbourne Storm. The Panthers have rewarded bettors this season, going 14-6 ATS, the best in the league.
The Roosters produced one of the more shocking scores last week against the Rabbitohs, going down 60-8. No team has conceded 50 points in a game and won the competition in the same season. It’s hard to believe a team can come back from a 52-point loss to then compete with the minor premiers.
Tip: Confident on Panthers -1.5.
Canberra Raiders vs. Cronulla Sharks
3:40 a.m. ET Saturday, Canberra
Raiders -13.5 (-110) Sharks + 13.5 (-110)
These teams will play each other in back-to-back weeks, this time facing off in an elimination match. The Raiders piled on 38 points against a poor Sharks outfit last weekend. Both sides welcome back a host of players who were rested last week, although I am not convinced this will aid a Sharks side that has not beaten a top-eight side all season. Defense has been the key issue, as the Sharks have conceded the most points of the top eight sides this season and are ranked 11th overall.
Anything can happen in the elimination finals, but I cannot see the Sharks surviving this one.
Tip: Over 42.5.
Melbourne Storm vs. Parramatta Eels
5:50 a.m. ET Saturday, Brisbane
Storm -12.5 (-120) Eels + 12.5 (-110)
The Storm rested six starters last week in hopes of presenting a fresh side for the first week of the finals, so the 30-22 loss to the Dragons can be excused. The Storm finished the season with 16 wins and four losses, but one of those losses was to Parramatta. However, the Storm boast the best finals records among the top eight sides with 30 wins, 19 losses and a 61% win rate. This season the Storm went 13-7 ATS, second best among all teams. In contrast, the Eels were 7-13 ATS, tying for worst.
After the Eels’ 14-0 win over the Storm in late August, Parramatta failed to beat another top-eight side, losing to the Rabbitohs 38-0 and the Panthers 20-2. Despite finishing third, the Eels’ results have been patchy at best. Last week they had to come from behind to beat a depleted Tigers side that finished 11th.
Tip: Storm -12.5 and Over 39.5.
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs. Newcastle Knights
1:05 a.m. ET Sunday, Sydney
Rabbitohs -8.5 (-105) Knights + 8.5 (-115)
Last week the Rabbitohs put on the best attacking display of any team this season, defeating the Roosters 60-8. Although the Roosters were slightly below full strength, the Rabbitohs sent the message they are not simply making up the numbers in this finals season. They also have a 38-0 win over Parramatta under their belts and are probably the league’s best chance to make the Grand Final among teams not in the top four.
The Knights had a chance to secure a home-ground advantage for Week 1 of the finals with a win over the ninth-place Titans. But the Knights not only failed to cover the -4.0 spread, they were embarrassed 36-6. The Knights can look back to mid-July for their 20-18 win over the Rabbitohs. However, both sides have changed dramatically since then.
Tip: Over 43.5, Rabbitohs -8.5.