Panthers aim for rugby club-record 10th in row

By Luke Slater  () 

With only six more rounds of the Australian National Rugby League before the playoffs begin, teams are looking to secure playoff spots, build momentum and avoid finishing last on the ladder. According to bookmakers’ spreads, only two games are potentially close this round, but I see a few tight contests.

Parramatta Eels vs. Melbourne Storm

5:50 a.m. ET Thursday, Bankwest Stadium, Parramatta

Eels -4.0 (-110) Storm + 4.0 (-110) Over/Under 36.5

The Eels have slowly regressed from being competition favorites. Last week they put up a poor performance against the 11th-place Dragons, losing 14-12. In the last five games, the Eels are 1-4-0 ATS. The main concern is their offense. In the last six games, the Eels are averaging only 15 points per game. Comparatively, the Gold Coast Titans are 13th best in attack, averaging 14.4.

Meanwhile, the Storm continue to trend upward, securing a solid 24-6 victory over the current competition favorites, the Sydney Roosters. The only downside is the Storm’s list of injuries, with five starters unable to play. Even so, the Storm have won eight in a row.

Tip: The Eels have become complacent, maybe believing the hype from their fans. Storm + 4.0 and Storm moneyline (+ 135) for me.

Penrith Panthers vs. Cronulla Sharks

4 a.m. ET Friday, Panthers Stadium, Penrith

Panthers -8.5 (-110) Sharks + 8.5 (-110) Over/Under 43.5

The Panthers continue to have one of the best seasons in club history. Their ninth straight win over the Warriors last week set a club record. It was not the Panthers’ most convincing win, but the Warriors have been solid of late. They will also be confident against the Sharks, having won 56-24 the last time they met.

The Sharks continue to beat teams outside the top eight. They walked away 30-18 winners

against the 13th-place Titans. The Sharks, however, conceded nine line breaks in that game. The Panthers, ranked first in line breaks per game at 4.9, will look to capitalize on this patchy defense. Also, the Over has hit 11 of the last 12 games for the Sharks, who boast a great attack but leak too many points on defense to be competitive against the best teams.

Tip: Over 43.5.

Brisbane Broncos vs. Saint George Illawarra Dragons

5:55 a.m. ET Friday, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Broncos + 9.5 (-110) Dragons -9.5 (-115) Over/Under 43.5

Last week the Broncos led the Raiders 8-6 at the half. But true to form, they fell apart in the second half, losing 36-8. That made five losses in a row for the Broncos, who risk six losses in a row for the second time this season. The Broncos are 1-8-0 ATS in their last nine games. The betting market continues to show faith in the Broncos, while smart money will continue to fade them.

The Dragons officially sacked Paul McGregor, their coach of six years. The players managed to

give McGregor a farewell gift with a win over Parramatta, but it was too little, too late. The Dragons have averaged 15 points in their last two games after four games of at least 24 points. They are 1-4-0 ATS in their last five games, but I see this turning around against the Broncos.

Tip: Dragons -9.5.

Gold Coast Titans vs. Canberra Raiders

1 a.m. ET Saturday, Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast

Titans + 11.5 (-110) Raiders -11.5 (-115) Over/Under 44.5

The Titans have improved after their poor start. Last week’s game against the Sharks was close

until the Sharks took control to win 30-18. Before that, the Titans had been 3-0-0 ATS in the previous three games. However, the loss to the Sharks also brought some injuries. Three key players will likely miss this week’s game.

The Raiders took care of the Broncos last week despite a slow start. They scored 30 unanswered points in the second half and won 36-8. This was the Raiders’ highest total and largest margin of victory for the season. They have won four of their last five games and continue to adapt without several injured players.

Tip: Raiders -11.5 and Under 44.5.

Wests Tigers vs. Sydney Roosters

3:30 a.m. ET Saturday, Leichhardt Oval, Sydney

Tigers + 10.5 (-145) Roosters + 10.5 (+ 110) Over/Under 42.5

The Tigers’ last-minute field goal against the Bulldogs helped them secure their first win in three games, though it was a very unconvincing win. The Tigers are 0-4-0 ATS in the last four games, highlighting their unimpressive season. They will welcome back a couple of players from injuries, but they are just not a team I have confidence in.

The Roosters lost to the Storm for the second time this season, going down 24-6. The Roosters’ attack was really missing, unable to score until the last quarter. The Roosters do have a few injuries, which is preventing them from being their best.

Tip: I see the Roosters winning by 10 to 12 points, so staying clear of the spread but will

take the Under 42.5.

South Sydney Rabbitohs vs. Manly Sea Eagles

5:35 a.m. ET Saturday, ANZ Stadium, Sydney

Rabbitohs -7.5 (-115) Sea Eagles + 7.5 (-110) Over/Under 43.5

The Rabbitohs walked away from North Queensland with a hard-fought win over the Cowboys. Adam Reynolds was the difference in the 31-30 victory. That made it three straight wins for the  Rabbitohs, who had lost their way slightly before this victory.

Manly will feel unlucky not to have beaten the Knights last week. Losing 26-24, the Eagles also lost key players to injuries and will have to adjust an already depleted lineup. Manly has been

patchy in its last few games but will feel like it can win this game.

Tip: Tough to have faith in either side but predicting high scoring. Over 43.5.

Canterbury Bulldogs vs. New Zealand Warriors

Midnight Saturday, ANZ Stadium, Sydney

Bulldogs + 3.5 (-110) Warriors -3.5 (-115) Over/Under 43.5

The Bulldogs will be much happier with their efforts last week against the Tigers compared with the poor showing against the Storm the week before. The Bulldogs started slowly, then pulled ahead of the Tigers, only to lose in the last minute. In the last five games, the Bulldogs are 4-1-0 ATS, a much better record than earlier in the season.

The Warriors put up a strong effort against the competition-leading Panthers last week, losing 18-12. They will be happy with their defense, holding down a Panthers team that was averaging 25 points per game and 29 in the last three matches. The Warriors have won two of their last three and are 4-0-0 ATS in their last four.

Tip: Warriors moneyline (-160) and Under 43.5.

Newcastle Knights vs. North Queensland Cowboys

2:05 a.m. ET Sunday, McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle

Knights -8.5 (-110) Cowboys + 8.5 (-115) Over/Under 44.5

Two weeks ago, the Knights recorded their biggest margin of victory this season, winning 44-4 over the Tigers. I was convinced the Knights were finally hitting their full potential. Last week they had a scrappy 26-24 win over injury-riddled Manly and showed no form from the week before. It is hard to put faith in the inconsistent Knights after seeing glimpses of their potential.

The Cowboys almost upset the Rabbitohs last week. A last-minute field goal made it 31-30 in favor of the Rabbitohs. The game was played in North Queensland, where the Cowboys perform much better in attack and defense. This week they head to Newcastle, where they are 1-5 on the road.

Tip: Expecting the Knights to take care of the Cowboys and cover -8.5.


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