Parramatta Eels vs. Wests Tigers, 5:50 a.m. ET Thursday, Bankwest Stadium, Sydney
Eels -8.5 (-110) Tigers + 8.5 (-125)
The Eels were confident over the last few weeks but had a slight reality check in their upset loss to underdog Manly last week. The Eels fell behind early and were unable to make up for the poor start. It was a sloppy game, with 15 errors by the Eels and 28 missed tackles, yet only a 22-18 loss. Beforehand, the Eels sat atop the ladder with just one loss. I’m willing to excuse the Eels’ performance as an off night, and I would be surprised to see them play this poorly again anytime soon.
The Tigers absolutely thumped the Broncos last weekend 48-0. Scoring has not been an issue for the Tigers, who rank third in attack at 24.5 points per game. They will be happy with last week’s defensive result, holding the Broncos without a point.
This game sets up as a tough battle between teams from western Sydney. Initial support has been shown for the Tigers, as the lines in Australia have moved to 7.5. The Eels have shown consistent form against the Tigers, winning seven of the last nine against them.
Tip: The Eels to win a close, defense-oriented game.
North Queensland Cowboys vs. Manly Sea Eagles, 4 a.m. ET Friday, Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville
Cowboys + 2.5 (-114) Eagles -2.5 (-121)
News broke early this week that Cowboys coach Paul Green had stepped down after seven seasons with the club. The pressure had been on Green for some time. Despite winning the competition in 2015 and finishing as runners-up in 2017, the Cowboys’ win rate had been only 34% in 2018-20. This season the Cowboys are 3-7 and were competitive against the competition-leading Panthers last week, losing 22-10.
Manly was impressive last week against the Eels, especially considering its injury list. The Sea Eagles showed great spirit in downing the elite Eels. Manly will also be confident playing up north at the Cowboys’ home ground, having won their last two matches at the ground.
It's generally unknown how a team will perform after losing its coach. Do players feel deflated, or will they try to impress the new coach? It will be a dangerous game for bettors, as these teams are inconsistent.
Tip: Given a turbulent week for the Cowboys, I will back Manly -2.5.
Brisbane Broncos vs. Melbourne Storm, 5:55 a.m. ET Friday, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Broncos + 20.5 (-125) Storm -20.5 (-110)
The Broncos’ season continues to go off the rails. Last week against the Tigers, Brisbane failed to score for the second time this season while conceding 48 points. Defense was nonexistent — little to no effort going into tackles, no communication and seemingly completely out of sync, resulting in some gaping holes in the defensive line.
The Storm, meanwhile, walked over the Titans, scoring 42 points. While scoring seven tries is always a good result, the Storm will be even happier with their defensive efforts in conceding only six points. That must be a scary thought for the Broncos, who clearly are struggling to put points on the board. Even more concerning for the Broncos, the Storm have room to improve their ball handling after they recorded 13 errors with the ball against the Titans. I find it hard to put any faith into the Broncos until some serious changes are made by players and coaches.
Tip: The Storm won’t be showing any mercy against the Broncos and should cover the line.
New Zealand Warriors vs. Sydney Roosters, 1 a.m. ET Saturday, Central Coast Stadium
Warriors + 26.5 (-125) Roosters -26.5 (-110)
On paper, this should be a one-sided affair as the Roosters, who rank first in points per game, go up against the 15th-ranked Warriors.
Last week the Warriors were blown away early against the Sharks, down 18-0 before 20 minutes had expired. It has been tough for the New Zealand-based players, who have been forced to live in Australia away from friends and family due to COVID-19 restrictions. They have been respectable, but the fatigue is starting to show, going 1-4 in the last five games.
The Roosters were surprise losers last week against an injury-depleted Raiders squad. They were primed for a comfortable victory, starting at 12.5-point favorites, but the Raiders adjusted their style to counter the Roosters. While the Warriors don’t have the skill to adjust to this style, other teams will have taken notice.
While 26.5 is a massive handicap, it makes sense.
Tip: The Roosters will likely drop 40 points in attack and cover. They have shown they will run up high scores against struggling teams, scoring 40-plus against the Cowboys, the Bulldogs and Broncos.
Cronulla Sharks vs. St George Illawarra Dragons, 3:30 a.m. ET Saturday, Jubilee Stadium, Sydney
Sharks -2.5 (-110) Dragons + 2.5 (-125)
The Sharks and Dragons play for the second time this season in one of the biggest rivalries in the NRL.
Last week the Sharks bounced back into the winner’s circle with a convincing win over the Warriors, scoring 40 points or more for the third time in four games. Key playmaker Shaun Johnson had one of his best games and is really finding his form.
The Dragons managed to win last week, albeit in unconvincing fashion. A last-minute try was the only thing separating the Dragons from the last-place Bulldogs. The Bulldogs scored 22 points despite averaging a league-worst 11.6. The Dragons will need to improve in this area as the Sharks will look to pile on the points, with their average of 25.6 the second best in the league. If they’re unable to stop the scoring, the Dragons, who managed only 18.4 points per game, will struggle to keep up with the offensive power. While the Dragons have been 5-1 against the spread in the last six games, I can’t see their offense keeping up with the Sharks.
Tip: I’m liking the mighty Sharks in a high-scoring affair against the bitter rival Dragons, taking the Sharks -2.5 and the Over.
Canberra Raiders vs. South Sydney Rabbitohs, 5:35 a.m. ET Saturday, GIO Stadium, Canberra
Raiders -6.5 (-110) Rabbitohs + 6.5 (-125)
Despite a long list of injured stars, the Raiders recorded their most impressive victory of the season against the Roosters last week. The players called up in replacement executed soundly. They were efficient with the ball, with only seven errors, compared to the Roosters’ 14. Most impressive was star forward Josh Papalii, who scored a critical try and ran for over 200 meters.
The Rabbitohs will need to stop Papalii and the rest of the big forward pack if they are to win this game. The Rabbitohs were average on offense last week against the Knights, which is why they sit in the middle of the table at eighth in points per game.
The weather is expected to be cold and wet in Canberra, so handling will be critical. The Rabbitohs are third worst in handling errors.
Tip: The Raiders to cover the -6.5 spread. Also keen on the Under.
Newcastle Knights vs. Canterbury Bulldogs, midnight ET Sunday, McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
Knights -14.5 (-110) Bulldogs + 14.5 (-125)
The Knights would have been happy to get the win last week but showed they are off being a top-four side in the league. Young stars Kalyn Ponga and Bradman Best were impressive, and veteran Mitchell Pearce steered the ship in a tight 20-18 victory over the Rabbitohs. Coming into this week’s match against the Bulldogs, the Knights also boast a lean injury list, making them one of the healthiest teams in the competition.
The Bulldogs showed some rare attacking flare last week against the Dragons, scoring at least 20 points for only the second time all season. They were minutes from sending the game into extra time, but a Dragons late try meant the Bulldogs still have only one win.
Tip: The Knights have not been overly impressive this season but should walk away with at least a 12-point win. Staying away from the spread, but considering the Bulldogs’ scoring woes, expect the Under to collect the cash.
Gold Coast Titans vs. Penrith Panthers, 2:05 a.m. ET Sunday, Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast
Titans + 16.5 (-125) Panthers -16.5 (-110)
The Titans were taught a lesson last week as they were dismantled easily by the Storm. The Storm were kept scoreless for the first 20 minutes, but the Titans were no match after that, conceding 42 points and scoring only six. This was the third time this season the Titans had allowed 40 points in defense and 10 or less points in attack.
The Panthers are roaring right now with a five-game winning streak, with three of those wins against teams in the top eight. They sit on top of the competition ladder at 8-1-1. Although not their biggest victory last week, they got the job done and allowed only 10 points. The Panthers will be without Apisai Koroisau, who has been instrumental in their great run.
Tip: With some key injuries to the Panthers, the spread is a real coin toss. A back-door cover by the Titans would not shock me. I do expect the Under to hit, given the Titans’ scoring problems and the rain expected for the game.