A hugely entertaining run to the finals continued in Round 20 of the NRL, with a number of huge results which will help to shape the top four and the top eight. A couple of big upsets headlined the round’s action, while elsewhere a thrilling finish in a season-defining clash was one of the most entertaining of the season. This is how the biggest games of the week went down.
Thursday Night: Manly Sea Eagles vs Sydney Roosters
The first game of Round 20 was a season-defining one between two sides fighting for a spot in the top eight, but it was marred by off-field circumstances which ultimately saw seven of the Sea Eagles starting side withdraw from the game. After the betting sites initially had this pegged as a relatively close game, those absences meant that the Roosters headed in as heavy favourites, and from early in the game it was clear that those odds were justified. The depleted Sea Eagles line-up couldn’t match it with the Roosters, who scored three tries in the first 28 minutes and headed into half-time with an 18-6 lead. The scoring dried up in the second half, with a penalty goal to Sam Walker in the 45th minute the only change on the scoreboard until Alfred Smalley gave the home side a consolation try with a couple of minutes to go. The 20-10 win saw the Roosters maintain their hold on eighth spot, while the Sea Eagles dropped to a game and points differential outside of the top eight with just five games to go.
Next Match for Manly: Sea Eagles ($1.80) vs Eels ($2.00)
The Sea Eagles are now in desperate need of a win, but face a tough opponent next weekend in the sixth-placed Eels.
Next Match for Sydney: Roosters ($1.74) vs Broncos ($2.10)
The Roosters are in the eighth for now, but with a number of teams nipping at their heels they need to keep winning. The Broncos, however, won’t make that easy for them next Thursday night.
Friday Night: Parramatta Eels vs Penrith Panthers
At their best, the Eels have been an incredibly dangerous side this season, but on the other side of the coin they have also demonstrated a tendency for dispirited performances which has made them hard to trust. Against the best team in the league on Friday night, they couldn’t afford to be even a step off, and a Panthers try in just the sixth minute was certainly not an ideal start. Thereafter, however, things turned around in incredible fashion. The home side scored through Isaiah Papali’i in the tenth minute and then again four minutes later, before Penrith superstar Nathan Cleary was sent off for a dangerous tackle with the Eels leading 12-4. And Parramatta wasted no time capitalising on their numerical advantage; they went on to score again in the 18th, 26th and 34th minute, heading into the half-time break with a 30-4 lead and an extra man on the field following an extraordinary display against a team that had lost just one game to that point all year. The Panthers were able to put the brakes on Parramatta’s offence in the second half to limit them to just one try, but it was too little too late as the home side went on to record a 34-10 win and deliver Penrith their second loss of the year.
Next Match for Parramatta: Sea Eagles ($1.80) vs Eels ($2.00)
The Eels’ stirring win keeps them right in the hunt for the top four and they could move inside it with another win next weekend, though the Sea Eagles, too, will be desperate for a win and are a tough beat on their home turf.
Next Match for Penrith: Raiders ($2.05) vs Panthers ($1.77)
Disappointing though it was, the Panthers won’t be too concerned about last weekend’s loss given how far ahead of the chasing pack they are, though the fact that they have been installed as only slight favourites suggests that NRL betting sites did lose at least a small amount of faith in them following the result.
Saturday Evening: Cronulla Sharks vs South Sydney Rabbitohs
With both of these sides mired in the battle for top four spots, this shaped up as one of the games of the round, and didn’t it deliver. In a see-sawing affair, the visitors scored the first try through Alex Johnston in the 11th minute, but Connor Tracey responded for the Sharks just a few minutes later to wrestle back the lead after they’d scored an early penalty goal to get on the board. After a Rabbitohs penalty goal of their own, Ronaldo Mulitalo scored in the 36th minute to give the home side a 14-8 advantage at the main break, but that was snuffed out almost immediately in the second half by Latrell Mitchell, who converted his own try to level things up at 14 apiece. The scores remained locked together for nearly half an hour before Andrew Fifita gave the Sharks a pivotal and potentially game-winning try in the 67th minute, but there was another twist to come. With just three minutes remaining and their top four hopes on the line, Tevita Tatola scored for the Bunnies, and when Latrell Mitchell slotted his third conversion of the match we were headed for extra time. Each side had their opportunities to score the golden point and record a famous victory, but after the Rabbitohs had missed two and Cronulla one, the cool head of Nicho Hynes prevailed in the 86th minute to give the Sharks a massive win and maintain their hold on a top four spot.
Next Match for Cronulla: Sharks ($1.34) vs Dragons ($3.30)
Another win next weekend will have the Sharks looking very hard to dislodge from the top four, and they are favourites with the betting apps to record it at home against the Dragons.
Next Match for South Sydney: Rabbitohs ($1.11) vs Warriors ($6.50)
Last weekend’s heartbreaking loss means the Rabbitohs are only inside the top eight by a solitary game, but equally they are just a game from the top four, and with a matchup against the struggling Warriors they should be able to keep their hopes of a double chance alive with a win next Saturday.
Saturday Night: Brisbane Broncos vs Wests Tigers
The Broncos’ brilliant last few months saw them sitting inside the top four and with a great opportunity to solidify their spot there against the bottom-placed Tigers last weekend. They unsurprisingly entered the game as heavy favourites with the betting sites, but things didn’t go quite to plan in the first half. Two tries of their own were offset by two to the Tigers, and at half-time the game was delicately poised at 12 points apiece. The Broncos would still have been expecting to run over the top of their inferior opponents in the second half, but instead the Tigers scored two tries by the 50th minute to open up a 24-12 lead. The Broncos kept themselves in with a chance courtesy of a Jordan Riki try in the 57th minute, but when Adam Doueihi scored a try and then a conversion with just a few minutes to go, it was all over. The 32-18 loss for the Broncos may well prove to be a costly one as they hunt a top four spot, and it was made worse by the fact that Patrick Carrigan will likely miss some time courtesy of a hip drop tackle which broke the leg of Tiger Jackson Hastings.
Next Match for Brisbane: Roosters ($1.74) vs Broncos ($2.10)
The Broncos will now have their work cut out to make the top four, but a win against the in-form Roosters will certainly help; at the SCG, however, they will need to be at their best.
Next Match for Wests Tigers: Tigers ($1.55) vs Knights ($2.45)
It’s been a grim year for the Tigers, but they have a great opportunity to record a rare second consecutive victory when they host the Knights next Sunday.
Sunday Afternoon: St. George Illawarra Dragons vs North Queensland Cowboys
The Dragons were always going to have their work cut out winning this one in their uphill battle to make the finals, but though they went in as underdogs with the betting apps they were still given a chance by many. And at half time, they were well and truly in the hunt, trailing by just two points in a tight and tense affair. The longer the game went on, however, the more things began to unravel. The Cowboys jumped out to a 16-8 lead courtesy of a Griffin Neame try in the 55th minute, and didn’t look back. In an eight-minute surge, Jeremiah Nanai crossed the line twice and Scott Drinkwater once to open up a 34-8 margin, giving the Cowboys an important win which gives them a two-game buffer inside the top four, while keeping the Dragons back in 11th place – a game and a significant points differential outside of the top eight.
Next Match for St. George Illawarra: Sharks ($1.34) vs Dragons ($3.30)
The Dragons can’t afford to lose too many more games if they want to play finals, but this weekend might just prove to be the dagger in their top eight hopes as they head to Cronulla for a very tough matchup.
Next Match for North Queensland: Bulldogs ($2.65) vs Cowboys ($1.48)
The Cowboys should be winning this game, but the Bulldogs are no longer the easy beats they were in the first half of the season and could pose some sort of a challenge.