A round of upsets made punting an absolute nightmare last weekend. But as we push past the opening month of the season, trends are finally starting to appear – and that gives us a clearer gauge for tips as we set about overcoming a mixed start to the season.
The Punter Problems crew pored over statistics, crunched the numbers and analysed each match to formulate the best value bets for round five. Good luck and happy punting!
Written by Troy Whittaker.
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Canberra Raiders v Canterbury Bulldogs
This is a make-or-break game for the winless Raiders. If they can’t post victory at home tonight, Canberra will be very long odds to fight back and make the finals.
Embattled coach Ricky Stuart has dropped the axe on Josh Papalii and Blake Austin, sending the stars to reserve grade purgatory. Livewire fullback Jack Wighton retains his place despite an ongoing investigation into a nightclub incident.
The Bulldogs are desperate for consistency, winning just one of their first four. In-form fullback Moses Mbye will play after recovering from a head knock that forced him from the field against South Sydney on Good Friday.
Defence is a major issue for both sides. The Dogs are currently allowing 26 points per game this year; Canberra average 28. We’re anticipating some sloppy edge defence and think a fair few tries will be scored on the flanks. Take the friendly total on offer before it shifts any higher.
Tip: Over 41.5 points @ $1.83 (Unibet)
Cronulla Sharks v Sydney Roosters
The Sharks are fresh off consecutive wins and will look to establish themselves as a top-four side by knocking off competition favourites the Roosters.
It won’t be easy, however. The Roosters know they need to improve following a routing by the Warriors and have a habit of bouncing back strongly. When Sydney have been at their best this season, they’ve been elite – and that’s the side we expect to see on Friday.
If they are to beat Cronulla at home it will likely be in a tight affair. Dubbed the “Bermuda Triangle” of rugby league grounds, Shark Park constantly elicits paltry matches. The past three games at the venue have seen an average of just 33 points being scored.
The last match between the clubs in the Shire was a 16-14 win to Sydney. Considering the Sharks are notorious for their defence and only conceded a stingy eight points in the last two rounds, another low-scoring game looms.
Barring a last hour decision to play it safe, star recruits Josh Dugan and Matt Moylan are back from injury and add starch to the Sharks line-up in what’s sure to be an enthralling match.
Tip: Under 37.5 points @ $1.95 (Unibet)
St George Illawarra Dragons v South Sydney Rabbitohs
Undefeated after a month of NRL for the first time in their history, St George Illawarra will be extremely confident at home against traditional rivals South Sydney.
Though Dragons halves Gareth Widdop and Ben Hunt have created the highlights, it’s been the forwards who’ve battered opposing teams into submission. Lock Jack de Belin is in a rare vein of form and every member of the Saints pack is playing their role to a tee.
It sets the scene for a big battle up the middle on Friday night. South Sydney are first in the competition this year for all run metres (6,688), while St George Illawarra are right behind with 6,453.
Importantly, Souths lose influential prop Sam Burgess through suspension and will sorely miss his leadership and aggression. It’s a hard ask for the Rabbitohs to contain the rampant Dragons forwards in his absence.
Halfback Adam Reynolds returns from minor knee surgery for the cardinal and myrtle but might be short of a gallop given an injury-disrupted pre-season and opening few rounds.
The Dragons’ execution in attack has been potent – they lead the NRL in points, tries, tackle breaks, try assists and kick return metres – and we expect them to streak away to their fifth straight triumph in club legend Jason Nightingale’s 250th game.
Tip: St George Illawarra Dragons -9.5 @ $1.85 (Centrebet)
Wests Tigers v Melbourne Storm
Who would’ve thought the Tigers would be above Melbourne on the ladder come round five?
Through some inspired defence, Wests proved they won’t tolerate being also-rans in 2018 with three hard-fought victories.
Meanwhile, the Storm have struck road-bumps following the departure of Cooper Cronk. Their attack has spluttered in key moments, most noticeably against Cronulla last week where they couldn’t score a try despite having even possession and better field position.
Wests haven’t quite clicked with ball in hand either. The 30 points they scored against the wretched Parramatta defence on Easter Monday was more than they had notched in three weeks.
This is the second time these teams have met this season. Wests won a round two boil-over 10-8 and will be eager to show it wasn’t a fluke.
We see this game going down to the wire in yet another low-scoring scrap.
Tip: Under 38.5 points @ $1.90 (Unibet)
New Zealand Warriors v North Queensland Cowboys
Very few people predicted the Tigers’ success – but no one aside from the most one-eyed supporters saw New Zealand’s resurgence coming.
Like St George Illawarra, the Warriors are four from four for the first time ever. They’ve traveled all around Australia in the opening month and will relish a home game in front of an excited supporter base.
On the other hand, the Cowboys – widely backed as premiership contenders in the pre-season – have slumped to the NRL doldrums with three consecutive losses. It’s not quite panic stations yet for North Queensland, but they need to start building momentum soon.
Paul Green is an astute coach and knows exactly how to get his side up for a game like this, while stalwarts Jonathan Thurston and Matt Scott have seen it all before. After their heroics in 2017, the Cowboys are simply too good to not win football games more often than they lose.
North Queensland won their last four matches against the Warriors, and while their renaissance might not begin this week, we believe they can at least cover a 4.5 start as an alternate line for those looking to boost their multi’s.
Tip: North Queensland Cowboys +4.5 @ $1.51 (Sportsbet)
Newcastle Knights v Brisbane Broncos
It’s been an up-and-down few weeks for both the Knights and Broncos.
Newcastle stormed out of the blocks with wins in rounds one and two, then were soundly beaten in their next matches by a combined total of 48 points.
Brisbane opened their season with a heavy loss but found form with a pair of victories. However, they were lacklustre in defeat to the Titans last start.
The defection of long-time halfback Ben Hunt is haunting the Broncos, as Kodi Nikorima and Anthony Milford still show no signs of game management when push comes to shove. Up against the Knights who boast a composed Mitchell Pearce, direction from the young halves will be imperative.
This will be a hotly contested game, but the Knights have the edge with a devoted home crowd. They showed signs of improvement against the Dragons on Sunday, particularly in defence where they held St George Illawarra scoreless in the last 28 minutes despite a wave of possession against them.
It should be noted that every single team defeated by the Dragons has gone on to win the following week. We’re banking that Newcastle can become the fifth side to do it.
Tip: Newcastle Knights @ $1.92 (Sportsbet)
Gold Coast Titans v Manly Sea Eagles
The Titans and Sea Eagles scored comprehensive wins in round four, and this match will be highly entertaining if they can generate similar displays.
Both teams are 2-2 and have been equally brilliant and disappointing. Defence will be a defining factor to this outcome: Manly have conceded 69 points and the Titans a whopping 119.
Manly won’t have exhilarating fullback Tom Trbojevic due to an ankle complaint, but they gain rep centre Dylan Walker who plays his first game of the year.
Even without Tommy Turbo, Manly boast too much firepower for a Titans side that lacks consistency.
The Titans have missed a staggering 149 tackles; easily the most in the competition.
If they don’t wrap up the ball, the Sea Eagles will gain easy yardage in second-phase play (Manly forward Martin Taupau leads the NRL for offloads with 17) and run in a flurry of points.
Tip: Manly Sea Eagles @ $1.70 (Centrebet)
Parramatta Eels v Penrith Panthers
They played out a cracker in round one, and the Western Sydney derby is on again to close out round five.
For the first half of that season-opening encounter in Penrith, the Eels looked every bit the top-four side experts said they’d be.
But over the next 280 minutes of football they’ve resembled the hopeless 2013 Parramatta team that finished a very distant last, leaking 116 points and scoring 24 to remain without victory.
Breaking the duck egg gets no simpler for the Eels on Sunday as they host a Penrith team that turned on a scintillating show to stun the Cowboys in their own backyard last Thursday. Nathan Cleary might be watching on from the sidelines, but James Maloney showed he’s capable of baring playmaking responsibility on his own.
The Eels demonstrated that they do, in fact, have a pulse with a three-try blitz in the final 18 minutes of their Easter Monday loss to the Tigers.
However, with crucial players still injured and a worrying lack of resolve in defence, we think Parramatta’s woes extend to five straight defeats this weekend.
Tip: Penrith Panthers -3.5 @ $1.85 (Centrebet)
For more in-depth analysis and focus pieces throughout the weekend, make sure you’re following @punter_problems on twitter for all the weekend’s top plays.
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