Ignoring the Panthers way out on top, the fight for spots in the top four and top eight in the NRL could hardly be closer, but somehow Round 19 saw things tighten up even more. A surprise loss for a top four team combined with a couple of big wins for sides just outside the eight over the weekend means just two games now separate second from seventh, while just one separates eighth from 11th. Let’s take a look at some of the most significant results from what was a big weekend of NRL action.
Friday Night: North Queensland Cowboys vs Cronulla Sharks
The past fortnight was always going to be a huge test for the Sharks, and they passed it with flying colours. After beating the Storm easily last weekend, they headed to Townsville for an equally tough challenge against Cowboys and once again defied the betting odds to record a 14-point win. Two tries to Jesse Ramien in the first 20 minutes gave them the upper-hand from the get-go, and though the home side was able to bounce back and get to within two points at half-time, a couple more second half tries saw the Sharks regain the ascendancy and ultimately record a 26-12 win. That saw them leap-frog the Storm into third place on the NRL ladder, and while the Cowboys maintained their hold on second spot, they are now only points differential ahead of the Sharks and just a solitary game ahead of the Eels back in sixth.
Next Match for North Queensland: Cowboys ($1.12) vs Tigers ($6.50)
The Cowboys need to bounce back to stay in the top two and even the top four, and they should be able to do so at home against the last-placed Tigers
Next Match for Cronulla: Panthers ($1.25) vs Sharks ($4.00)
The Sharks are in the midst of the toughest three-game stretch of games possible in the NRL, but after the way they’ve played the last two weeks they might be able to give even the Panthers a bit of a scare.
Saturday Afternoon: Sydney Roosters vs St. George Illawarra Dragons
After four consecutive losses, the Roosters entered this game against the similarly-placed Dragons in desperate need of a win to keep in touch with the top eight, and when they entered the half-time break down by two points, their season was hanging by a thread. They responded, however, with perhaps the best half of footy we’ve seen all year. A 42nd minute try by Connor Watson set the trend for the half, and though the Dragons responded with a try of their own a few minutes later, it was all the home side throughout the last 30 minutes of the game. The Roosters would go on to score six more tries from the 52nd minute onwards – Tedesco responsible for two of them – to open up a dominant lead. When the final whistle blew they’d put up a huge 54 points to win by 28, keeping their finals hopes alive in the process and putting a major dent in those of the Dragons.
Next Match for Sydney: Knights ($3.25) vs Roosters ($1.35)
With a tough run home the Roosters will need to keep their foot down if they want to play finals, but they will be expecting to begin the run home with a win against the Knights this weekend.
Next Match for St. George: Dragons ($2.25) vs Sea Eagles ($1.65)
The Dragons have another huge game against a side fighting for the same couple of spots at the bottom of the top eight this weekend, and if the betting apps are anything to go by it should be a close one.
Sunday Afternoon: Wests Tigers vs Penrith Panthers
A clash between the 16th-placed Tigers and the top-of-the-table Panthers would, any other weekend, likely have seen some seriously lopsided odds on Australian betting sites and an equally lopsided result, but with a number of Panthers’ stars having played State of Origin on Wednesday and top spot all but sewn up, their side did not have the same aura of inexorability that we’ve come to expect from the reigning Premiers. The Tigers took full advantage from the outset, kicking off the scoring through Junior Tupou in the tenth minute and entering half-time just a couple of points behind. A converted Ken Maumalo try in the 68th minute saw them snatch back the lead, and for a time they appeared destined for an unlikely victory. In an exciting finish which belied the two sides’ respective ladder positions, however, stand-in captain James Fisher-Harris crossed the line in the 73rd minute to tie the game, and when Sean O’Sullivan converted, the Panthers snatched a two-point lead which they wouldn’t relinquish.
Next Match for the Tigers: Cowboys ($1.12) vs Tigers ($6.50)
The Tigers have another clash against a top-two side this weekend, but they won’t have the advantage of facing a depleted side without too much to play for this time around; this will be a tough match for them.
Next Match for the Panthers: Panthers ($1.25) vs Sharks ($4.00)
The Panthers’ home deck hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for visitors this year so they will deservedly enter this one as favourites, but the Sharks have been terrific over the past fortnight and will make them work for their spoils.
Sunday Evening: Melbourne Storm vs Canberra Raiders
It had been seven years since the Storm had lost three consecutive games, and following back-to-back defeats they headed into this one with history and the betting apps on their side; unsurprising considering their 7-2 record at home. But after they scored an early try through Nick Meaney, the Raiders took the lead with a couple of their own in succession. A 58th minute Harry Grant saw the home side regain the ascendancy, but they couldn’t hold onto it for long, with James Schiller’s second just eight minutes later giving the visitors a 20-16 lead. A tense final 15 minutes ensued, but the Raiders defence held strong to give them a pivotal win which kept their finals hopes alive, and cast a major doubt over the top four hopes of the Storm. A Ryan Papenhuyzen injury added salt to the wound, with the Storm star likely to miss the rest of the season after he suffered a fractured knee cap early in the game.
Next Match for Melbourne: Rabbitohs ($2.35) vs Storm ($1.60)
The Storm badly need to win this one, but based on their past three weeks and with Papunhuyzen now out of the line-up, they are no certainties against the Rabbitohs.
Next Match for Canberra: Raiders ($1.28) vs Warriors ($3.75)
The Raiders’ rousing win has kept their finals hopes afloat, and they can edge even closer to the top eight with a winnable game against the Warriors to come this weekend.
Sunday Night: Canterbury Bulldogs vs South Sydney Rabbitohs
With a host of teams nipping at their heels trying to steal away a finals spot, the Rabbitohs had no choice but to get the job done against the Bulldogs, and with the Storm having lost earlier in the day there was even more incentive with a top four spot almost within reach. The Bulldogs, however, have been playing decent footy of late, and were never going to be a pushover. That proved true for much of the game, and in a see-sawing affair the home side was ahead 28-22 at the 70-minute mark. With their season on the line, however, the Bunnies reached into their bag of experience and pulled out what may be the most significant ten-minute period of their season to date. A converted try to Tevita Tatola tied the score with nine minutes to go, before Alex Johnston crossed the line twice in three minutes to give them a hugely important 36-28 victory.
Next Match for Canterbury: Bulldogs ($1.50) vs Titans ($2.60)
The Bulldogs have a great opportunity to record a win in a season in which they’ve been few and far between, and in a rare occurrence they will enter their game against the Titans as favourites with NRL betting sites.
Next Match for South Sydney: Rabbitohs ($2.35) vs Storm ($1.60)
The Storm will pose a tough match-up for the Bunnies this weekend, but they are vulnerable after three consecutive losses. If the Rabbitohs can pull their namesake out of a hat, they will move alongside the Storm at 11-7 and make a top-four finish a genuine possibility.