NRL Tips Previews Sports Betting 2018 Round 1
NRL Tips Previews Sports Betting 2018 Round 1
MrG provides NRL Tips Previews Sports Betting content each week for our Reading The Play NRL subscribers.
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Rd 1 Game Handicaps
-2.5 Dragons vs Broncos
-3.5 Knights vs Sea Eagles
-7.5 Cowboys vs Sharks
+8.5 Tigers vs Roosters
-3.5 Rabbits vs Warriors
+7.5 Bulldogs vs Storm
+3.5 Panthers vs Eels
+1.5 Titans vs Raiders
NRL Round 1 Recommended Bet List
Bet 1 units Knights +1.5 $1.85 Tabsportsbet / $1.80 Ubet
Bet 1 units Tigers +10.5 $1.90 Tabsportsbet
Bet 2 units Eels $2.25 Tabsportsbet (vs Panthers) first advised 19/02 still happy to take current price BB
Bet 3 units Cowboys H2H (v Broncos) $1.93 William Hill / $1.83 Sportsbet / Crownbet
Early bet, but majority of outlets have markets available. I expect Cowboys will start warm favs much closer to $1.70 by game time.
BB – Indicates Best Bet
Market Odds Comparison – a quick link to assist with the available odds across many possible providers – nrl-odds-comparisons
Staking: The recommended units bet is indicated next to each bet in the above bet list. The base bet is 1 to 5 units (and is also a reflection of confidence, FAQ – Why do you talk and bet in units? > answers here).
Longer Term Recommended Bets
Premiership (8th March)
Bet 2.5 units Storm to win Premiership $6.00
Bet 2.5 units Cowboys to win Premiership $6.00
I have both teams rated with a clear gap above the rest of the competition. Both have quality, depth, key home ground advantage and at this early stage are forecast as top 4 sides, if not higher. I expect the the current price barring anything unforeseen should be the top of the market, I want to back both teams long term now at the current quote.
Individual Game Tips
Dragons, Knights, Cowboys, Roosters, Rabbits, Storm, Eels, Raiders
Note: FYI, with the introduction of Thursday night games it is now near impossible with the work and list of things that I chose to do to have all game previews written and finished until late in each week or early weekend. With the final team lists not announced until Tuesday afternoon, which I then re rate against (current performance, key ins and outs / final team lists and then look to handicap each up coming game then consider a range of form and match up factors towards final potential bets and written game previews. In short with team lists announced late Tuesday that then leaves two days to work through these tasks. I will focus the first preview notes at any game that has a recommended bet so that any key factors and reasoning is then known in advance, and then be working through each game there after in order of day and time (from Thursday onward).
Key Contest Stats
Kind thanks to Mark Hull a good friend and keen NRL follower who complies a weekly list of key stats and insights for each game. You can also follow Mark on Twitter here @
Dragons vs Broncos
HISTORY – Played 37, Dragons 14, Broncos 23 At Jubilee Oval – Played 2, Dragons 2, Broncos 0
The 2018 NRL season gets under way when the Dragons host the Broncos from Kogorah Oval in what will be Ben Hunt’s 1st outing for both the Red V and against his former club. Brisbane has certainly had the Dragons measure in recent years, winning 12 of the last 13 clashes dating back to 2010, but they are still looking for their 1 st win against the joint venture at Jubilee Oval, after recording 2 losses from 2 attempts previously. Brisbane has opened the scoring in the previous 11 encounters (10 tries and 1 penalty goal) and only once in the last 13 meetings have the Dragons led the Broncos at half time. In 4 of the last 5 encounters the total match points have failed to surpass 36. Dragons fans will accept nothing less than a Top 8 finish after missing the play offs for the last 2 seasons. The Dragons play 4 of their first 6 matches at home, but have a tougher run in the back end of the season and from Rounds 17 to 22 will play 4 of 6 on the road, all against sides from last year’s Top 8. They play just 4 games all season outside of NSW and surprisingly will feature in 6 prime time games in the first 8 Rounds. The Dragons have been a losing proposition ATS in recent seasons, producing a 22-26 result since 2016, while in total match points they are 27-21 Under over the same period. It’s more than likely the Dragons will continue to “take the 2” when on offer and no side has opened the scoring with a Penalty Goal more often than the Dragons since 2007 with 33. Jason Nightingale finished last year as the Dragons top try scorer with 16, followed by Gareth Widdop with 10, while a sneaky option as the team’s 1st try scorer is Paul Vaughan who equaled Nightingale in 2017 with 5. The Broncos will again and as always, carry the weight of expectation as a one team town. It’s a new look roster in 2018, with at least half a dozen players moving on from their top 17 list of last season, making them look thin up front, while the only “big name” signing was Jack Bird. Brisbane is on the 4th line of betting to win the Premiership, but is at least double the odds of the 3 sides in front of them. They have an average draw, with 12 games against last year’s Top 8 and are 1 of 4 sides to play both the Storm and Cowboys on 2 occasions. Brisbane finished 2017 with a 15-12 cover record, while they were 14-13 in total match points favouring the Over. They were tough to beat at home winning 10 of 13, but were a 50/50 proposition on the road. The Broncos are generally good out of the blocks and over the last decade they have won 7 of their season openers.
Looks a trick / even game for multiple reasons, and a game where we might know much more having watched how they go around. Broncos have key players returning from longer term injuries in McCullough and Boyd, will be missing Bird, we are yet to see them step out with their key changes in the front row / middle and or with the changed halves set up and Milford calling the shots. They have also come through an unusual pre season lead in with no full team trial hit out, most unusual for Bennett who would normally have a major last trial or club challenge game, so a fair bit of unknown and trust as to what this combination all looks like. Bennett traditionally makes no secret that 80% of his focus on starting the season is all about defence, especially with a bit of a list make over such as they have had so I’m expecting a team in 2nd to 3rd gear focused on simple attack play and major defensive focus.
Dragons have been seen in two formal trials and they have Graham and Hunt as key ins to their line up. Their starting forwards have looked good, some questions remain on their bench depth, Hunt has looked rusty and still finding his way but I have liked the look of them being prepared to play their 7 and 6 together anywhere across the park. All up they have looked a bit slow out of the blocks and in need of these games / trials, this match up (Broncos) should start to tell us a lot more.
Broncos have a very good record into week 1 of the season with a long standing winning record, but this looks a different approach, they have also lost their last 2 at Kogarah and overall have not fared well at the ground. Dragons have been 50% when first up in round 1, should be well advantaged at home, but are also somewhat unknown. Key game for Hunt against his old long term club first up.
Slight lean to Dragons playing at home.
Knights vs Sea Eagles
HISTORY – Played 48, Knights 18, Sea Eagles 31 At McDonald Jones Stadium – Played 21, Knights 12, Sea Eagles 9
The return of Friday Night Football sees the Manly Sea Eagles travel to Newcastle for only the 2nd time in 6 seasons when they take on the Knights. Manly has recorded 7 consecutive victories over the Knights, as well as winning 9 of the last 10 clashes, but they have only won 3 of their past 12 matches played at McDonald Jones Stadium and a new look Knights outfit will be looking to ensure that trend continues. Things can only get better for the Knights after 3 consecutive spoons’ and a huge recruitment drive should see them avoid collecting a 4th . The Knights do face a tough draw and as was the case in 2017, no side will play more matches against the Top 8 sides from the previous year (14) and they will play all of them twice with the exception of Brisbane and North Queensland. They are sure to receive plenty of home ground support and 5 of their 6 wins over the last 2 seasons have been at home, while they have also won 5 of their last 6 when kicking off a season at home. Newcastle finished 2017 with a 12-12 record ATS to rank equal 9th, while for the 1st time since 2013, they finished as an Unders side in total match points, with a 14-10 result. For the 2nd straight year, Nathan Ross was the Knights leading try scorer with 10, but finished in a drought, failing to cross in his last 8 outings. Not a lot has changed for the Sea Eagles in 2018 and after very little recruitment, they will line up with a similar look to the 2017 squad. They have a “middle of the road” draw, with 12 matches against the Top 8 from last year but will play only 1 of those matches in the opening 6 Rounds, which will be against arch rivals Parramatta. They face a tough middle period and will be on the road for 7 of 8 weeks through Rounds 9 to 16, including 2 home games played at “interstate” venues, while they will be looking for a much improved result at Brookvale Oval in 2018, after winning just 9 of 20 over the previous 2 seasons. Manly ranked 12th ATS last year, producing an 11-14 result and covered in only 3 of 15 as a starting favourite, with a 1 and 5 record as a road favourite, while small road faves are 26-37 in the opening 6 Rounds since 2014. For the 3rd season from their last 4, the Sea Eagles finished as an Unders side in total match points, producing a 13-12 result, while 5 of their last 6 clashes with the Knights have also finished Unders. Former Knight Akuila Uate was Manly’s top try scorer with 14 and was their 1 st try scorer on 3 occasions, while Tom Trbojevic and Dylan Walker finished equal 2nd with 12.
Interesting match up here with the major make over of the Newcastle Knights, and then set them at home first up in front of a big vocal home crowd against an old arch rival in the Eagles. 8 of their starting 13 are all new buys including 9, 7, 6 and 1 and the majority of the 8 all know there way around as 1st grade players.
Which there were some positive signs in their last trial against the Eels, the majority of it from the 15 minute mark onward was crap, multiple cheap errors and they were belted physically through the middle. Possibly a good thing that this was in a final formal trial, maybe some complacency, and we expect the Eels will be a top of the table contender this yr so a touch up here not unexpected, but it would have given Nathan Brown plenty to work on. Pearce was good at 7, Griffin good at 9, huge improvement with their kicking game.
Eagles looked ok in a good trial vs Roosters, the key question here is how they aim up under pressure at #6 this week. While they have named a strong forward line up they are still without two key players in Lussick and Walker and do look somewhat vulnerable down both edges with Kelly and Wright questionable defenders.
The Knights have a good long term record at home vs the Eagles winning 9 of the last 12, and I understand will have a 3 day camp lead up to this game including a heavy influence of high profile old boys (in camp). While some questions over how the Eagles work at #6 just as many questions as to how the Knights combine and work first up. I’m happy to take the risk and be with them at home
Cowboys vs Sharks
HISTORY – Played 44, Cowboys 17, Sharks 27 At 1300SMILES Stadium – Played 19, Cowboys 7, Sharks 12
Competition heavy weights the Cowboys get their season underway in a home game against the Sharks in what’s sure to be a sellout crowd, to see milestone man Johnathan Thurston take the field for his 300th club game. The 2 sides have made a habit of meeting on big occasions, after crossing paths in the Finals for the last 3 seasons. The Sharks have had the better of it recently, winning 4 on the trot, before the Cowboys caused a major boil over in last year’s Elimination Final. Only 1 of the previous 10 clashes have been decided by a margin of 13+, with a single score separating the 2 sides in 4 of the last 6 match ups, while 4 of the last 6 have failed to breach total points of 34. The Cowboys are 1 of the favourites to take out their 2nd Premiership in the eyes of both the bookies and the punters. They have a reasonable draw & while their opening month is a tough one, facing 4 of last years’ Finals contenders, they will play a Top 8 side just 4 times in 4 months from Rds 5 through 20. North Qld will be a prime time staple, featuring in 11 Thurs/Friday games & 8 games at 7:30 on a Saturday night. Since 2014, the Cowboys have won 39 of 51 at home (76%) & will again prove to be one of the toughest road trips in the comp. They finished 2017 as the Number 1 cover side in the NRL, covering in 18 of 27 (67%), but have failed to cover in their opening home game for the last 4 seasons. The Cowboys were notoriously slow out of the blocks last season, conceding the opening try in 12 of their last 14 games & only once all season did they secure a half time lead at home. In total match points they were 18-10 in favour of the Unders, including an 11-1 Under record at home. North Qld has won their opening game to a campaign in 4 of the last 5 seasons. Kyle Feldt & Coen Hess shared top billing as the Cowboys leading try scorers in 2017 with 12 each & Feldt has scored 4 tries in his last 4 games against the Sharks. Cronulla will have a very different look about them in 2018, with 5 of their Top 17 players moving on from last year, while they have signed big name players in Dugan & Moylan. They have one of the more difficult draws, playing 7 games against the Top 4 sides from 2017 & are 1 of 4 sides who will play the Storm & Cowboys twice, including back to back matches in Rounds 22 and 23. The Sharks have been slow starters, winning only 1 of their last 8 season openers, while they have also won only 1 of their last 6 matches played in Queensland. Cronulla finished 2017 as the 2nd worst cover side in the NRL, producing a 9-16 result (36%), while they were 17-8 Under in total match points. They were one of the better performing sides on the road though, winning 10 of their 12 away games. Sosaia Feki was Cronulla’s leading try scorer with 13, while Sharks half Chad Townsend has scored 5 tries in his last 6 games against the Cowboys.
300th game for Thurston, a milestone game I’m sure that will be treated as a key game. Cows are without Coote and Linnett but have suitable depth, get Thurston and Scott back from injury layoffs and have key purchase McLean added to their list. They also come through a quality game / trial vs Storm 10 days ago in Brisbane which showed both sides in good form. The Cowboys have won 3 of their last 4 Rd 1 games and I though what we saw first up against the Storm looked like they are in good shape and ready to start.
Sharks have a good recent record vs Cowboys, had a very good away record last yr, and are one of teh few teams with a good longer term record in Townsville. They get Moylan and Dugan in and field a strong line up. A key watch here will be the use of Moylan, how he fits in, type of role he takes at 6, the influence of Holmes from the back and Dugan on an edge. The Sharks looked very good in their opening 20 minutes vs the Tigers in a recent trial, but the Tigers were also very poor.
Looks an excellent contest, two potential top 6 sides matching up to start the season. I can’t but be with the Cowboys at home, but the Sharks best can really stretch this, excellent clash.
Tigers vs Roosters
HISTORY – Played 30, Tigers 8, Roosters 22 At ANZ Stadium – Played 5, Tigers 2, Roosters 3
Super Saturday kicks off with the Tigers hosting the Roosters from ANZ Stadium. The Roosters have recorded 10 straight victories against the Tigers as well as 14 of the last 15 in what has to be 1 of the more dominant records in the modern era, with 9 of their last 10 victories all being by 13+ and an average winning margin of more than 24 points. There have been plenty of points on offer in recent meetings (mainly from the Roosters), with 9 of the last 10 totaling 40 or more and the Roosters posting scores of 30 plus in all but 1 of those games. It’s been a big off season for the Tigers, with the number of players either signing or leaving reaching double digits, including some well-known names, none bigger than Tedesco. The Tigers have a very tough start and will play their 1st 6 games against sides from last years’ Top 8, including playing the defending Premiers twice, both in distant away legs (home game taken to NZ), while they play just 6 games at their suburban home grounds. They will also play 11 of their 1st 14 games against Finalists from 2017, more than half of which will be on the road. The Tigers were a 50/50 proposition ATS last year to rank 9th but had a good cover record when playing away from home, covering in 8 of 12. In total match points they were in heavy favour of the Unders, producing a 17-7 result, including 5 of their last 6 matches played at ANZ Stadium. It’s worth noting that ANZ Stadium has proved to be of little assistance for home teams in the opening Rounds, with the home team losing 10 of their last 12 matches at the ground in the opening 5 Rounds and covering in only 1 of the last 8. The Roosters have been blessed with arguably the easiest draw in the comp, with just 9 games against last years’ Top 8, which is 2 fewer than any other side and only 1 of those is in the 1st 8 weeks, ensuring they will be front runners from the get go. They will be based in Sydney for 17 of their 24 matches and they don’t play a solitary match with a 5 day turn around. They have improved their roster with 2 big name signings in Cronk and Tedesco and after a Top 4 finish in 2017, they look set to do the same in 2018. Despite winning 18 of 26 games last year, the Roosters were poor ATS, covering in only 11 matches (42%) to rank 13th. They covered in 4 of 6 as a road fave, winning 5 of those and have had only 1 non cover in their last 10 against the Tigers. In total match points they finished 15- 11 Under with an average of 38.6 PPG, which was the 4th lowest average. They are tough to beat at home and have won 13 of their last 15 at Allianz Stadium, while they also have a good record at ANZ Stadium, winning 10 of their last 12. Latrell Mitchell was the Roosters leading try scorer with 14, including 4 as 1st try scorer of the match.
A very interesting game with multiple team and combination changes across both teams. The Roosters get Tedesco at fullback, clearly a talent and key in but they are expected to be without Keary and have had some doubt over Cronk, expected to now play but one would question if anywhere near 100%. The Tigers have a major make over of their playing list with number changes across the majority of key positions, so this is a big watch as to how they come up and what they offer.
With Keary a likely out and Cronk possibly not 100% that raises some questions over the Roosters 9, 7, 6 combination, general smoothness of play direction and execution. They have talent to burn in their back 5, and at their best are capable up front, but they have to be some risk first up with such issues under game pressure.
I am a big rap for Cleary as a coach and he now gets a full off season with his new list and the opportunity to put his own stamp on them. Their first 20 minutes trial form against the Sharks was terrible, but they did have some makeshift combinations treating it as a trial, and two weeks later off a lot of training work I do expect them to give this game a push. Cleary also has a very good long term record in motivating and getting his players heads right for key games, and I am pretty confident they will be ready to go here and give a good account of themselves.
While I expect the Roosters end up winning I think the line at +10.5 looks very generous for a game that is Round 1 and has a long list of player change. History also tells us that home underdogs with a plus start of 4.5 or more perform very well covering the line cross the opening 4 rounds of a new season (76%), so +10.5 should take a long way into this game and I want to have a small interest at this position.
Rabbits vs Warriors
Played in Perth
HISTORY – Played 31, Rabbitohs 13, Warriors 18 At OPTUS Stadium – First Meeting
Optus Stadium in Perth will see the Rabbitohs hosting the Warriors in what will be the 1st NRL fixture played at the new ground and the 1st game of a double header. The Rabbitohs have recorded a club record 6 consecutive victories over the Warriors, who are yet to taste success in what is the games longest road trip, with the New Zealand based outfit making the trip to the West 9 times over the last 20 years without recording a single victory. In 7 of the last 8 clashes the winning margin has been by 13+, while high scoring affairs have been common place when the 2 sides have met in recent years, with 9 of the last 11 meetings topping 43 at an average of 51. The 1st try of the match has been scored by the 8th minute in the previous 8 encounters, with the Warriors scoring the 1st try in 3 of the last 4. Alex Johnson has scored 5 tries in his 3 appearances against the Warriors, including a hat trick in the only meeting between the 2 sides last season. The Rabbitohs have made just the 1 big name signing in Dane Gagai, while Greg Inglis makes a welcome return after playing just 1 game last season. They have a middle of the road draw and will play 12 matches against the Top 8 of 2017, including the Cowboys, Broncos, Roosters and Eels all twice. Souths will again take home games away from ANZ Stadium, with a Round 16 clash against the Cowboys in Cairns coupled with their opening game of the season in Perth. They finished 2017 ranked equal 5th ATS, with a 13-11 result, while they have covered in 4 of their last 5 matches played in Perth. In total match points they were split 12-12, but ended their season with 5 of their last 6 going Over, while they gave up the opening points in 12 of their final 14 matches. Souths are 1 of 3 clubs with a new Head Coach and have signed rookie Anthony Seibold after a 6 year stint with Michael McGuire. Perennial under achievers the Warriors have again spent plenty of cash in the off season and it would appear they have paid overs for many of them, none more so than Adam Blair. They finished 2017 with 9 consecutive losses and recorded just the 1 victory on Aussie soil. They have one of the toughest draws in the comp in 2018, playing 13 games against last years’ Top 8, including the Storm, Cowboys, Broncos and Roosters all twice and will play 6 of those 13 games during an 8 week period from Rounds 4 to 11, while they play 6 straight from Rounds 14 to 19, including 4 on the road. The Warriors finished 2017 as the worst cover side in the NRL, covering in just 8 of their 24 matches, including 3 covers from 11 matches outside of New Zealand. They were 13-11 Over in total match points and ranked 14th in defence, conceding an average of 24 PPG.
With this game played in Perth I’m expecting a pretty loose, attacking orientated game, open, plenty of ball shift and points.
The Rabbits look at full strength and full tilt into this. Reynolds will play 7 although he could be a bit underdone, Cook plays 9 and their back 7 stroke starting 13 looks as strong as they can offer, and a good looking side. Their trial form showed a make over and change to their attack play and patterns, with a preparedness now on play 3 and 4 to have multiple players in motion and look to shift the ball and run. Their back 6 are the right mould for this, they also have a couple of key forwards off whom they can play this and it looks a positive move that is likely to shake up a few defences that they will face.
I’m heavily against the Warriors this season to begin with so we shall wait and see what they offer here. Their travel record longer term is appalling, just 1 win in Oz on the road last yr and they get the longest road game there is into Perth to start with. Green should be a positive inclusion at 6, he reads a game very well and offers great direction, should also be a key positive influence on Johnson. What do they do in attack? Last year under Kearney is was all safety first high % play that had nothing in it, lets watch and see what they offer here, their trials were again riddled with handling errors. Defensively they have been consistently weak for a number of seasons, and a watch on what is on offer.
I expect the Rabbits should win, but it’s a round 1 game in Perth, way too hard to trust for anything other than a straight up tip.
Bulldogs vs Storm
Played in Perth
HISTORY – Played 38, Bulldogs 21, Storm 17 At Perth Stadium – First meeting
The 2nd game of the double header from OPTUS Stadium sees the Bulldogs hosting the defending Premiers Melbourne. The Storm ended a 4 year losing streak against the Bulldogs when they met in the corresponding match 12 months ago, while Melbourne has not been beaten in their opening game of a season for 13 years. It’s also worth noting that the side defending the Premiership has opened their title defence of the new season with a victory in 7 of the last 10 years. The Bulldogs have been a thorn in Melbourne’s side for a number of years, having won 6 of the previous 7 clashes, while they have also won 6 of the last 8 clashes as the home team. Recent meetings have been low scoring affairs, with the last 5 finishing Unders at an average of 22.8 PPG, while the 1st points of the match have been scored by the 8th minute in 6 of the previous 7 clashes. The Bulldogs are another who has a new Coach in 2018, with hard head Dean Pay taking over from Des Hasler whose position had become untenable. They have also made some big name signings, none bigger than the overrated Woods and Foran for Graham and Reynolds, a strange decision given the 2 guys who have left would bleed blue. Canterbury has one of the more difficult draws and will play 13 matches against last Year’s Top 8, 9 of which come in the opening 11 Rounds, including opening their account against the Storm and Roosters, while they will play just 3 true home games in the opening 12 weeks. If last year is anything to go by, it could be over very quickly for Canterbury, given they won only 2 of 13 matches against a Top 8 opponent last year. The Dogs ranked equal 5th ATS in 2017, covering in 13 of their 24 matches, but they do have a good record against the Storm, covering in 6 of their last 7. They were the Number 1 Unders side in the NRL last year, producing a 17-7 result, with an average of less than 34 PPG. It would appear the Storm will again be a bench mark team and should have an opportunity as good as any over the last 20 years to go back to back. They have a favourable draw and could well be 10 & 2 after 12 Rounds. They play 12 games against the Top 8 of 2017, meeting the Cowboys, Broncos, Sharks and Sea Eagles all twice, while they also have 2 matches against 5 sides that didn’t play Finals last year, including the Titans, Warriors & Tigers who are all favoured to finish bottom 4. Their 2 key signings have been Ryan Hoffman and Sam Kasiano, the latter is almost unrecognizable after a preseason under Bellamy and should be set to have a big year. Melbourne topped the charts in almost every statistic in winning the title, but the cornerstone of their results is their defence and for the last 3 seasons they have conceded an average of 13.68 PPG, a staggering number.
Bulldogs new coach and new makeover, and other than enthusiasm and attitude it’s been impossible to pick what they are doing or how they likely to play, so big watch. Mbye moves to fullback, Foran key purchase in at 7 and to combine with lesser known Frawley at 6, Woods another key purchase starts in the front row. On paper they look short of the top 6 sides, some of their backrow options and bench in particular and we are yet to see how the 7 and 6 aim up, but the coach has a good pedigree and all of the noises over the last 6 weeks out of the place have been nothing but positive. I’m very interested to see what they offer here and how they attempt to play (patterns and combinations).
We know what we are getting with the Storm. Slater is an out but they clearly have lots of depth and quality, and looked good and up and running in their strong trial against the Cowboys. They are very well drilled, everyone knows their role, patterns of play and what to do where and when. Bellamy – Storm have won their opening Rd1 game of the season for the last 13 years straight, that’s how well prepared they always are.
Tip Storm, I expect they will probably cover the long line by full time but at a neutral ground against a new coach / team I’m happy to just watch and see what plays out.
Panthers vs Eels
HISTORY – Played 94, Panthers 37, Eels 56, Drawn 1 At Panthers Stadium – Played 46, Panthers 22, Eels 23, Drawn 1
Sunday football gets underway with a Western Sydney Derby when the Eels travel to the foot of the mountain to take on the Panthers. There has been little between the 2 sides in recent years, with both clubs recording 5 wins apiece from the last 10 encounters. The last 5 matchups have been decided by a single score, with the last 4 encounters all finishing Unders and an average of 30.5. Parramatta has opened the scoring in 4 of the last 5, while the Panthers have scored the last try of the match in 5 of the last 6. Corey Norman grabbed a double in the only clash last season. The Panthers have been making headlines for all the wrong reasons and it would appear that they will have a new Coach sooner rather than later. There has being ongoing noise about player unrest and they have already lost Martin (midseason), Moylan & Cartright, while Peachey will also be leaving after 2018. They have signed James Maloney from Cronulla in a deal where they came out well and truly in front after swapping him for Moylan. The Panthers have a favourable draw and play 11 matches against last years’ Top 8, with the Eels the only side from the Top 4 that they play twice, while they also play the Bulldogs, Titan, Warriors, Raiders & Knights on 2 occasions, all of who missed the play offs last year. The Panthers ranked 8th ATS in 2017 with a 13-12 record, but finished with a flurry, covering in 9 of their last 11. They struggled against the better sides, losing and failing to cover in 7 of 9 against the Top 8. In total match points they were 15-11 Under, with an average of 39 PPG. Nathan Cleary was their leading try scorer with 11, while Tyrone Peachey scored 5 of his 7 tries as the Panthers last try scorer. Parramatta will be looking to build on what was their best season in years after a Top 4 finish. They have a very good draw, with only the Roosters playing fewer matches against a Top 8 opponent from last year and the only teams they play twice from the Top 8 are the Cowboys, Panthers, Sharks and Sea Eagles. They have bolstered their already strong forward line up with Kane Evans, while the prodigal son Jarryd Hayne returns home in a move that will undoubtable cause issues. The Eels finished 2017 with an ATS record that ranked 7th, covering in 14 of their 26 matches, while they have won and covered in 4 of their last 5 season openers and in 4 of their last 5 against the Panthers. They were in heavy favour of the Unders, with a 17-9 result, including an 11-4 Under result at ANZ Stadium. Parramatta scored the opening try of the match on 16 occasions during the regular season (equal most with Brisbane), with Clint Gutherson accounting for 5 of those, while they have big shoes to fill when replacing their top try scorer in Radradra.
Obviously a big watch on the Panthers here first up. They are now without Moylan, Cartwright and Latu from last season while they have the key in of Maloney at #6. Despite all the bullshit to the opposite Gould has been very heavily involved in the week to week coaching and video sessions of this team for months, and yes he did given Griffin a spray at half time in their recent trial and then gave the players a massive dressing down post match. The longer term problem for the players if all of this is not resolved is who do they answer to, who is the master / coach with the right message, as all of this muddled confusion will lead to mis communication, mis management and an unfocused team.
Now I do expect that the dramas of that last trial may well have given them a short term kick up the backside and that they look to start well here, but they are up against a very good opponent who will be out to physically belt them, so can they sustain attitude, effort and execution against such under 80 minutes of pressure. I don’t expect so. I also think their left edge where Maloney defends (and likely to have Peachy next to him) will take a real peppering and be a major spot target for the Eels (with success).
Brad Arthur is old school. He likes to play big, tough physical through the middle and edge, and then play another 3 or 4 of them off the bench with a goal to belt you, belt you, belt you again and then keep rotating the troops so as to just keep belting you all game long. Opponents need to be able to match it with them and also play with some smarts of moving them around and playing in behind them, but I’m not sure this Panthers side has that in them all game long. The big physical approach is to then give his two halves some room to play, and pick off opportunities to ball shift and hit down an edge.
Playing at home in front of a big crowd should help the Panthers start well, but I’m against them being able to sustain it under major pressure all game long. The Eels look a good side quite capable on their day of mixing it with anyone, and I’m sure Arthur will have them well drilled and pumped up for this. I like the Eels.
Titans vs Raiders
HISTORY – Played 20, Titans 11, Raiders 9 At Robina Stadium – Played 10, Titans 6, Raiders 4
The final match of the opening Round sees the Titans hosting the Raiders from Robina Stadium. The Raiders will be looking to make it 3 consecutive victories over the Gold Coast outfit for the very 1st time after winning the last 2 encounters at Robina Stadium. Recent meetings have been high scoring affairs, with 9 of the last 12 clashes having totaled 40 or more, including the last 6 straight. Points have also come early, with the 1st try being scored by the 8th minute in 8 of the previous 9 encounters. A Raiders try has been the 1st scoring play in 5 of the last 6 match ups, while the Titans have opened the scoring in the 2nd half in 8 of the previous 9. Try scoring machine Jordan Rapana scored a hat trick in the Round 6 clash last year. The Titans finished 2017 in 15th spot and many are tipping more of the same in 2018. They have one of the toughest draws and will play 14 matches against last years’ Top 8 (most in the comp), including playing Top 4 favourites the Storm, Cowboys, Roosters and Broncos all twice, while their last 5 Rounds are all against a Top 8 opponent, including playing last year’s Grand Finalists in their final 2 games. They have had a huge turnover of their playing roster as well as hiring a new Coach in Garth Brennan. It will be a season of rebuilding for the Titans with plenty of emphasis on defence, after conceding an average of 24 PPG for the last 3 seasons. They ranked 14th ATS, covering in only 10 of their 24 matches, with a 4-8 cover record at home. In total match points they were in heavy favour of the Overs, which was off the back of their poor defensive record and produced a 15-9 result. They were generally slow out of the blocks and conceded the opening points in 17 matches. Anthony Don was their leading try scorer with 12 and 4 of those were as the Titans 1st try scorer. The Raiders were undoubtedly the biggest disappointments of 2017 finishing outside of the Top 8 after going to a Preliminary Final in 2016. There has been minimal change to their roster, but they will be ruing the decision to let Kurt Baptiste go after losing Josh Hodgson for the majority of the season with an ACL injury. They have a favourable draw and should get off to a positive start, with 4 of their 1st 5 matches against sides predicted to finish well down the ladder, while the Cowboys are the only side from last years’ Top 4 that they play twice. Canberra had the 2nd best cover percentage in 2017 at 58% (14-10) and they have also covered in 4 of their last 6 against the Titans. For the 6th consecutive season the Raiders were an Overs side in total match points, producing a 13-11 result and only once in the last 10 years has their opening match of a season totaled less than 42. For the 2nd year in a row, Jordan Rapana was the Raiders leading try scorer and he was both the Raiders 1st and last try scorer 6 times.
And finally a game where we again have a new coach, some key player changes to their list at home up against a Raiders team who we have seen little of but are looking to start the new season with a fresh strong start.
What I have seen so far of the Titans in both trials has been hard to like, but first up at home they should now be ready to go. New coach and many new staff at the club so I’ve no idea what’s on offer or how they want to play, they also have multiple new faces in their line up and so also a watch on how this unfolds.
The Raiders are said to be very fit off a new off season training focus, but the major question mark is who plays #9, how this works and how their 9, 7 and 6 combinations work. Anywhere near their best this is a strong list and they should well have advantage of combination. I’d be very surprised if they don’t aim up here and win.
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