By Troy Whittaker (@troywhittaker98)
The entire state of NSW might still be on a high from a famous Origin series win, but it’s back to reality as the regular NRL season resumes.
Round 16 is already one game deep, with a lethargic Dragons side clicking into gear late to break the Eels’ hearts last night – scoring two tries in the final six minutes.
We’ve decided to switch it up from our usual full round preview this week. Instead, Punter Problems has settled on three outstanding bets of the round, complete with comprehensive write-ups.
By doing this, we hope to pick winners more consistently and maximise your profits.
Good luck and happy punting!
Cronulla Sharks o/76.5% completion rate v Warriors @ $1.88 (Sportsbet)
Statistics markets have been great for us of late and we’ve got a strong lean on another play here.
Cronulla holds an average completion rate of 76% thus far this season. Controlling possession and working through their sets was a major factor in the Sharks’ six-match winning streak earlier in 2018.
Two matches ago, the Sharks completed at 84% against the Tigers and won comfortably. Last start, they only managed 69% against the Broncos and subsequently lost.
There’s a clear correlation between Cronulla’s completion rate and its chance of snaring victory. That fact won’t be forgotten by Shane Flanagan, who will surely instruct his team to hold onto the ball at all costs tonight.
Flanagan has spoken openly about the Sharks’ desire to finish in the top four, and beating the currently fourth-placed Warriors will go a long way to doing so.
The weather forecast in Auckland tonight shows no signs of rain, further aiding ball handling. This match has a finals feel about it, and we’re expecting high completion rates to reflect that.
Penrith Panthers halftime/fulltime v Manly Sea Eagles @ $1.72 (Bet365)
The latest twist in the Sea Eagles saga came this week when maligned playmaker Jackson Hastings was finally cut loose from the club.
Lock Marty Taupau has also been in the headlines. He was stuck in the U.S after his flight was delayed following the Denver Test. Sea Eagles coach Trent Barrett admitted his star forward is unlikely to play on Saturday.
These off-field distractions will only hinder the 14th-placed Silvertails, especially against the red-hot Panthers.
Given Manly was demolished 32-8 by the Dragons last start, you’d expect a similar shellacking here at the hands of the Panthers.
All of Penrith’s Origin trio will be ready to play after a six-day break. Even if Anthony Griffin decides to rest one or two, the Panthers have far too much brilliance across the park for Manly to cause an upset.
The ‘Mountain Men’ haven’t lost to Manly since 2011 and we see no reason why that streak won’t continue. Expect Penrith to lead from the outset and cruise to victory.
Brisbane Broncos –3.5 points v Canberra Raiders @ $1.87 (Ladbrokes)
Just when the Raiders looked to be firming as finals contenders, their most dangerous player has been stood down.
Fullback Jack Wighton won’t play against the Broncos after he pleaded guilty to assault charges this week in relation to a pre-season incident. Wighton is a huge loss for the Raiders – he leads the team for try assists (11), line break assists (15) and average run metres (132 per game).
Despite a thumping win over the floundering Tigers last start, Canberra hasn’t been convincing over the past month. The ‘Green Machine’ was defeated by a sub-par Dragons outfit, pipped the struggling Sea Eagles by a lone point, and somehow gave up a comfortable lead to lose to Penrith by a last-ditch Nathan Cleary field-goal.
In comparison, the Broncos have impressed lately. They’re coming off a solid win over the Sharks, and before that they beat the Roosters and Eels. Brisbane did lose to Melbourne in round 14, but even then showed promise in a great first-half effort.
Five-eighth Anthony Milford was electric against the Sharks in what coach Wayne Bennett described as one of his better recent performances. Milford will be out to impress on Saturday after relinquishing his Origin spot. Powerhouse winger Corey Oates continues to defy belief and gets better each week – he too is primed for a big game.
At home at Suncorp in front of a parochial crowd, the Broncos should prove too good. Tellingly, the Raiders have played five of the current top eight teams so far in 2018 – losing each time by an average of 7.4 points.
We’re confident of Brisbane winning this one by at least a try.