St. George Illawarra Dragons vs. South Sydney Rabbitohs
5:50 a.m. ET Thursday, Jubilee Stadium, Sydney
Dragons + 4.5 (-125) Rabbitohs -4.5 (-110)
After a slow start last week against the Cronulla Sharks, the Dragons fought back in the second half and made a game of it. They showed some great signs with a handful of flashy tries in the high-scoring game. Still, their defense was too slow to click into gear, giving the Sharks too great a lead. This week they will have to break their trend against the Rabbitohs, to whom they have lost four in a row. South Sydney again struggled to get momentum on offense last week against the Raiders, scoring only two tries and being held scoreless for the last 50 minutes. Rabbitohs star Latrell Mitchell will return after a suspension, which should ease some scoring woes.
Tip: While adding Mitchell will not completely reinvent the Rabbitohs, I think it gives them enough to get a win (-200), though the spread is too close to call.
Wests Tigers vs. New Zealand Warriors
4 a.m. ET Friday, Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney
Tigers -14.5 (-110) Warriors + 14.5 (-125)
The Tigers started solidly against a great Eels side, up 12-4 after 20 minutes. But like many recent performances, they were unable to put together a full 80 minutes of quality football, allowing four unanswered tries. This week Tigers fans will be excited with the return of Alex Twal, a young player who can add spark. The Warriors were given no chance last week against the Roosters with the spread at + 24.5, the largest handicap this season. But they not only covered the spread, they almost secured an unlikely victory. The Warriors kept the No. 1-ranked team in scoring to its lowest offensive display since the COVID-19 break, conceding only 18. While this was a gutsy effort, the Warriors have lost four players for the season as they have opted out to return to New Zealand.
Tip: With the departure of several key Warriors and probable return of Twal, taking the Tigers -14.5 and Over 42.5.
Brisbane Broncos vs. Cronulla Sharks
5:55 a.m. ET Friday, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Broncos + 5.5 (-110) Sharks -5.5 (-125)
Last week Brisbane conceded 40 points for the second week in a row and third time this season. Some atrocious attempts on defense allowed the Storm to walk through for tries. Brisbane managed to make only 1,191 meters for the game compared with the Storm’s 1,949, a clear indicator most of the game was played in Broncos territory. With their poor goal-line defense, the Broncos had no chance. The Sharks will be happy with the win last week against the Dragons, but not so with the last 30 minutes. The Sharks seemed to have clocked off, scoring no points and conceding 10 in quick succession. Not only that, key playmaker Chad Townsend will miss at least two weeks with a hamstring injury. Nothing too concerning, as the Sharks have won five of the last six games and are 4-1 ATS in the last five.
Tip: I’m keen on the Sharks -5.5 parlayed with Over 44.5.
Sydney Roosters vs. Gold Coast Titans
1 a.m. ET Saturday, Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney
Roosters -22.5 (-110) Titans + 22.5 (-125)
The Roosters were very underwhelming last week against a Warriors team with only three wins in 11 games. While the Roosters are sitting fourth on the competition ladder, a closer look at their last four games shows signs they are contenders but not the runaway champions some people envision. The Roosters lost to the Storm and the Raiders and scraped through against the Warriors but pumped up their number in an easy win over the Cowboys. The Titans put on a solid display against the Panthers, going down 22-14. Defense kept the Titans in the game, but it’s hard to trust that defense on a weekly basis. They will line up against the Roosters with two key forwards back who can provide some meters moving forward.
Tip: The Roosters can put on a show, but I think they might be conserving gas for the final run. With that, taking the Titans + 22.5 and Under 47.5.
North Queensland Cowboys vs. Canberra Raiders
3:30 a.m. ET Saturday, QLD Country Bank Stadium, Townsville
Cowboys + 8.5 (-125) Raiders -8.5 (-110)
The Cowboys might be considered lucky to have lost by only 12 to Manly last week. Some average defense in the middle, saved by Manly missing two easy scoring opportunities, kept the final score within two tries. Defense has been their Achilles’ heel all year, ranking third worst in points conceded. The Raiders can’t seem to take a trick when it comes to injuries, losing another star player in last week’s win over South Sydney. While Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad will miss only two games, it forces even more adjustments in the lineup for a team with the longest injury list in the league. The Raiders should be happy, and not surprised, with the way they have been able to adapt to the changes, winning three of four.
Tip: Raiders -8.5.
Manly Sea Eagles vs. Penrith Panthers
5:35 a.m. ET Saturday, Lottoland, Sydney
Sea Eagles + 4.5 (-125) Panthers -4.5 (-110)
Manly has been solid the last two games, producing wins even without key fullback Tom Trbojevic. Last week against the Cowboys, the Eagles showed signs of needing some polish on offense, but they kept the Cowboys to only two tries. Manly will need to finish every opportunity it gets to compete against the top-of-the-ladder Panthers. The Panthers had a comfortable win last week over the Titans. Key playmaker Nathan Cleary was showing maturity beyond his years, controlling the game, despite it being closer than anticipated. That marked six wins in a row for the Panthers, who are the hottest team right now. The Panthers have won three of the last four against Manly, and I see that continuing.
Tip Panthers -4.5.
Canterbury Bulldogs vs. Parramatta Eels
Midnight ET Sunday, ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Bulldogs + 17.5 (-110) Eels -17.5 (-125)
Last round, the Bulldogs picked up a huge upset win over the Knights, winning 18-12 after entering as + 14.5 underdogs. They showed solid defense and incredible ball handling considering the cold and wet weather. While they were happy with the win, this week is significantly tougher against the third-place Eels. The Bulldogs will have a seven-day break between games, while the Eels come in from 10 days off.
The Eels have started somewhat slowly in the last two games, failing to score first both times. The additional rest will likely freshen the Eels, who figure to start ready. The Eels rank first in tackle breaks with an average of 36.7, while the Bulldogs concede the third most with 33.1. Look for this to cut open the Bulldogs.
Tips: Eels -17.5 Over 42.5.
Melbourne Storm vs. Newcastle Knights
2:05 a.m. ET Sunday, Sunshine Coast Stadium, Sunshine Coast
Storm -13.5 (-125) Knight + 13.5 (-110)
The Knights had a horrible game against the Bulldogs last week, falling as -14.5 favorites and losing two key players for the season due to injuries. The effort was so bad that coach Adam O’Brien apologized to fans, saying: “I’m embarrassed for the people who sat out in that rain for 80 minutes. It’s just not good enough.” Put simply, a similar effort will be disastrous. The Storm, meanwhile, made things look easy again last week, this time against the Broncos. The Storm scored 40+ points for the third time this season, and all three times, the opposition failed to score more than 10. While I do not expect another 40+ -point performance, the Knights are on the ropes and the Storm are unlikely to show mercy.
Tip: Keen on Storm -13.5 and Under 42.5.