Round 22 saw a number of pivotal matches take place across the NRL, and tightened up what was already a heavily congested top eight even further. A pair of losses to top sides kept the race for the top four very interesting, while a little further down, the Raiders continued to press their claim for a top eight spot – though they desperately need someone above them to slip up. Take a look at how some of the most significant games over the course of the weekend went down below.
Thursday Night: Penrith Panthers vs Melbourne Storm
The second match of the year between the Panthers and the Storm saw the home side head in as relatively comfortable favourites with the betting sites; unsurprising given the respective forms of these two teams. From the outset, however, it was clear that the Storm had come ready to play. They put the first score on the board through Nick Meaney in the 17th minute before Brandon Smith helped them to a 12-0 lead just a couple of minutes later, and with David Nofoaluma helping himself to the Storm’s third try in the 30th minute, the visitors headed into the break with a commanding 16-0 lead. And that was the way the scores would remain. The Storm were able to lock in defensively and maintain their 16-point lead throughout the last 40 minutes, an impressive feat against a team that, heading into this game, had scored more points this year than any other in the league. The result won’t phase the Panthers too much – they’ll maintain a comfortable lead atop the ladder regardless – but for the Storm, the victory is a pivotal one as they look to keep a hold on their spot in the top four over the remaining couple of weeks of the season.
Next Match for Penrith: Rabbitohs ($1.53) vs Panthers ($2.50)
The Panthers have another tough match coming up this Thursday when they head to Accor Stadium to take on the in-form Rabbitohs; a rare occasion in which they’ll enter the game as underdogs.
Next Match for Melbourne: Broncos ($2.55) vs Storm (1.52)
The Storm also face a relatively tough matchup, heading to Suncorp Stadium for what is always a difficult task against the Broncos.
Friday Night: Parramatta Eels vs South Sydney Rabbitohs
With both of these sides jostling for similar spots on the ladder and entering the game in very good form, there was no shortage of anticipation surrounding Friday night’s clash between the Eels and Rabbitohs. It didn’t take long, however, for the Rabbitohs to snuff out that excitement. They got on the board through a Cody Walker try in just the fourth minute before Izaac Thompson gave them a 10-0 lead eight minutes later, and they didn’t look back. Alex Johnston scored a pair on either side of the half-time break before Cody Walker finished the job with ten minutes to go, giving the Bunnies a dominant 26-0 victory. Their performance was as impressive as their opponent’s was dismal; the Eels have put in a handful of shockers this year but appeared to be gathering momentum as the finals neared. This result, however, will once again bring into question their ability to consistently bring the level of effort required to perform against the best sides on the biggest stage.
Next Match for Parramatta: Eels ($1.35) vs Bulldogs ($3.20)
It’s hard to trust the Eels after a performance like they just put in, but they will nonetheless head in expected to win according to the betting apps against the Bulldogs.
Next Match for South Sydney: Rabbitohs ($1.53) vs Panthers ($2.50)
The Bunnies will come up against the runaway ladder-leaders on Thursday night, but testament to their hot form they will head in as favourites to win the game.
Saturday Afternoon: Sydney Roosters vs North Queensland Cowboys
Despite the Cowboys’ superior ladder position, the Roosters’ hot form meant they headed into this game as slight favourites with NRL betting sites, and with their first try coming just three minutes into the game it was easy to see why. They went into the half-time break with a 14-6 lead, and after a tense first ten minutes or so of the second half, Sam Verrills scored and Sam Walker converted to give them a 14-point break. The Cowboys, however, wouldn’t go away. Reece Robson responded just a few minutes later to bring the deficit back to single figures and keep them in with a chance, and with 20 minutes to go the game was still in the balance. In the 64th minute, however, a Jared Waerea-Hargreaves saw the fat lady make an appearance, and when Sam Verrills scored again three minutes later she started to sing. A late try to the Cowboys made the margin look a little more respectable and they maintained their hold on second spot despite the loss, but for the Roosters the win was a pivotal one as they attempt to hold onto eighth spot.
Next Match for Sydney: Roosters ($1.06) vs Wests Tigers ($9.00)
The Roosters’ finals spot is looking increasingly secure with each week they continue to win, and they should be able to just about shore it up when they face the bottom of the table Tigers this weekend.
Next Match for North Queensland: Cowboys ($1.08) vs Warriors ($8.00)
The Cowboys’ hold on a top-two spot is a little more fragile after their loss to the Roosters, but they should be able to strengthen it with a win against the Warriors on Friday evening.
Saturday Night: Brisbane Broncos vs Newcastle Knights
After two consecutive losses, the Broncos entered Saturday night’s matchup against the Knights desperately needing a win in order to keep their increasingly slim top four hopes alive, and shore up their spot in the top eight. . And despite their poor form, the betting apps were backing them in to do just that against a Knights team which, despite beating the Tigers a fortnight ago, appears to have just about packed it in for the season. In the first half, the disparity in both ability and motivation was clear, with the Broncos jumping out to an 18-0 lead at the main break which they would never relinquish. It did, however, get a little closer than they would have liked, with the Knights scoring consecutive tries in the first 25 minutes of the second half to cut the margin to just eight points. The home side, however, responded over the last ten minutes of the game, with Selwyn Cobbo scoring his second and third tries of the game within a five-minute period to give the Broncos a 28-10 win. They now sit a game and points differential out of the top four, but importantly are now all-but assured a spot in the finals.
Next Match for Brisbane: Broncos ($2.55) vs Storm ($1.52)
The Broncos have a tough game next week, but with their opponent in the Storm the team sitting one win ahead of them in fourth, a win here will get them right back in the hunt for the top four.
Next Match for Newcastle: Knights ($2.80) vs Raiders ($1.44)
The Knights will play their penultimate home game of the season next weekend against the Raiders, who are fighting for a spot in the top eight.
Sunday Afternoon: Canberra Raiders vs St. George Illawarra Dragons
With the Dragons’ season all but over and the Raiders still fighting desperately for a spot in the finals, there was a lot more on the line for the home side in Sunday’s first game. True to their form throughout the season, however, the Dragons were as competitive as ever. Things didn’t start well for them, with Hudson Young scoring a try in the first minute, but they quickly levelled things up with a try of their own through Talatau Amone in the sixth minute. That was his first of two tries in the first half, the second coming in the 19th minute to give the Dragons a 12-6 lead, but that six-point deficit had swung around to the Raiders favour by half-time courtesy of two more tries to the home side to give them an 18-12 lead at the break. Another try early in the second half gave the Raiders a 12-point buffer, and when they still held that with 15 minutes to go the game appeared done and dusted. Amone, however, had other ideas, scoring his third try of the game in the 67th minute to give the Dragons a fighting chance. And try as they might, the Raiders couldn’t keep the visitors at bay, with Tautau Moga crossing the line in the 75th minute to put them within two points. Unfortunately, Zac Lomax missed the conversion, and the two points that a successful attempt would have yielded ended up being the final margin. That officially put a line through the Dragons season, while keeping the Raiders finals hopes alive.
Next Match for Canberra: Knights ($2.80) vs Raiders ($1.44)
With Sydney continuing to win week on week, the Raiders can’t afford to slip up if they want to keep their finals chances alive, and according to the betting sites they should be able to do just that against the Knights this weekend.
Next Match for St. George Illawarra: Dragons ($1.55) vs Titans ($2.45)
Though they have little to play for now, the Dragons will still be expecting to get the job done when they welcome the Dragons to Wollongong next Sunday.