With just four rounds to go in an incredibly tight season, Round 21 loomed as a significant one for many clubs. But while there was some movement in the top eight, results for the most part were as expected. There were a number of big winners over the course of the weekend, so with that in mind let’s take a look at how five of the most significant games of the round went down.
Thursday Night: Sydney Roosters vs Brisbane Broncos
Round 21 began with a huge game between two sides trying to entrench themselves in the top eight and, in the Broncos case, the top four, but from the outset it was the Roosters who had the upper hand. They scored jumped out to a 18-0 lead within the first 17 minutes of the game, and though the Broncos pegged back the deficit with a try through Corey Oates a couple of minutes later, an 18-4 lead to the home side at half-time was always going to be difficult to come back from. And so it proved. Nat Butcher made the job even tougher for the Broncos with a try just three minutes into the second half, and though the visitors were able to cross the line a couple more times throughout the course of the game, so too were the Roosters. Ultimately, the Roosters ended the game as 34-16 victors, maintaining their hold on eighth spot and moving to within just one game of the Broncos, and two games out of the top four
Next Match for Sydney: Roosters ($1.68) vs Cowboys ($2.20)
The Roosters have a tough game to come next week against the second-placed Cowboys, but it’s testament to their form – which has seen them win four games in a row – that they’ve been installed as favourites by the betting sites.
Next Match for Brisbane: Broncos ($1.14) vs Knights ($5.75)
The Broncos’ saw them fall to seventh place, but they are still just one game out of the top four and should keep their hopes of earning a double chance alive when they face the Knights at Suncorp Stadium next Saturday night.
Friday Evening: Melbourne Storm vs Gold Coast Titans
After four consecutive losses, the Storm badly needed a couple of wins to re-stake their claim on a top four spot, and after beating the Warriors the week prior they entered this clash with the Titans expected to make it two on the trot by the betting apps. And it didn’t take them long to assert their authority over the league’s bottom side. They scored the first three tries within 22 minutes of the game, opening up a commanding 16-0 lead in the process. The Titans quickly reminded them, however, that they didn’t have the luxury of taking the foot off the pedal, scoring two tries of their own in the space of three minutes to peg the margin back to six points. Cameron Munster responded with his second try of the game in the 32nd minute of what was an action-packed first half, giving the Storm a 22-10 lead at half-time. The Titans kept themselves in the game courtesy of a Brian Kelly try in the 43rd minute, but when Munster crossed the line for the third time in the 63rd minute, order was restored. With the game over, the Storm finished off strongly with a sixth try just before the whistle, ultimately running out 32-14 winners and keeping themselves in the top four in the process.
Next Match for Melbourne: Panthers ($1.52) vs Storm ($2.55)
Though they’re in the top four for now, the Storm are not yet assured a double chance, and with a tough game in Penrith to come they could easily drop out after this weekend.
Next Match for Gold Coast: Titans ($2.80) vs Sea Eagles ($1.45)
The Titans have little left to play for this season, though with the Sea Eagles having endured a tough couple of weeks maybe they can at least pose something of a challenge next Saturday evening.
Friday Night: Manly Sea Eagles vs Parramatta Eels
With their team returning to something resembling full strength, the Sea Eagles were given the slight edge by the betting apps against the Eels on their home turf, but this was never going to be an easy game for the home side. And the visitors made that clear from the outset, with Maiko Sivo starting the game like a man possessed with two tries inside the first eight minutes to give Parramatta an 8-0 lead. Manly fought back with a couple of tries and a penalty goal to take the lead, but a 33rd minute try to Tom Opacic meant the two sides were locked together at 14-14 at half-time. The second half, however, would belong to the visitors. The Sea Eagles opened the scoring in the 44th minute to take the lead, but the Eels went on a tear thereafter to score four tries in the space of 16 minutes and open up a 16-point lead. That was where the margin would stay, with the Eels running out 36-20 winners to keep themselves within touching distance of the top four, and potentially end Manly’s season.
Next Match for Manly: Titans ($2.80) vs Sea Eagles ($1.44)
The Sea Eagles probably need to win their last four games of the season if they want to play finals and even if that may not be enough – they can, however, at least keep themselves in the hunt against the Titans next weekend.
Next Match for Parramatta: Eels ($2.30) vs Rabbitohs ($1.63)
The Eels have another tough game next weekend, coming up against a Rabbitohs team playing its best footy of the season at exactly the right time of the year.
Saturday Evening: Canberra Raiders vs Penrith Panthers
Engaged in a battle in which their proverbial back is against the wall to snare eighth spot, the Raiders entered a tough game against the Panthers in desperate need of a win. And though the visitors were favourites according to the betting sites, Canberra was certainly given a chance. When Josh Papalii opened the scoring in the eighth minute to open up a 6-0 lead for the home side, it seemed like they were well and truly up for the challenge, but unfortunately things went awry after that. The Raiders would fail to score again for the remaining 70 minutes of the match, while Penrith managed four converted tries and a penalty goal to run out 26-6 winners. The Panthers have been winning like they’re shelling peas all season and remain three games clear atop the ladder with an 18-2 record. The Raiders, in contrast, fell to 10-10, and with the Roosters having won a couple of nights earlier they are now a game and points differential outside the top eight.
Next Match for Canberra: Raiders ($1.43) vs Dragons ($2.85)
The Raiders need to get back on the winners’ list ASAP if they want to keep their finals hopes alive, and though they are a good chance to do so this weekend, the Dragons will at least make them work for it.
Next Match for Penrith: Panthers ($1.52) vs Storm ($2.55)
The Panthers have a tough game coming up when they welcome the team they beat in last year’s Grand Final to PointsBet Stadium, but having lost just one game at home all year they’ll be confident they can repeat the result from last year’s decider.
Saturday Night: Cronulla Sharks vs St. George Illawarra Dragons
The Sharks had an 8-2 record at home heading into this game, so it’s little wonder that they were viewed as comfortable favourites by NRL betting sites. In what has been a feature of their game all season, however, the Dragons put up a hell of a fight. After Nicho Hynes opened the scoring just two minutes into the game, Jack De Belin levelled things up just a few minutes later with one of his own. But the home side put its foot down over the next half an hour, scoring twice more to open up a commanding 18-6 lead at half-time. Needing everything to go right in the second half to keep any sort of realistic finals hopes alive, the visitors came out all guns blazing after the break, and two consecutive tries got them to within two points with 25 minutes remaining. A Wade Graham try in the 65th minute extended that margin to eight points, but when Zac Lomax scored a penalty goal in the 77th minute, the Dragons got that margin back to within one score. But try as they might, they couldn’t score that elusive last try to tie the scores, and went down 24-18. The loss moves them two games and a lot of points differential outside the top eight with just four games to go, while the Sharks’ prospects of a top four finish are beginning to look very positive.
Next Match for Cronulla: Tigers ($4.00) vs Sharks ($1.25)
The Sharks potentially only need one more win to lock in a top four spot – though two would make it far more safe – and they can most likely get it this weekend against the Tigers.
Next Match for St. George: Raiders ($1.43) vs Dragons ($2.85)
The Dragons’ finals hopes are now all but dusted, and they might have a tough time against a team with a lot more on the line in the Raiders next Sunday afternoon.