Just two unbeaten records remain intact heading into NRL Round 4 with Melbourne Storm and South Sydney Rabbitohs looking to continue their starts to the season.
Storm are at home to Canterbury Bulldogs on Sunday, while 24 hours earlier the Rabbitohs are on the road when they face Manly Sea Eagles on Saturday.
We preview each of the games below:
Sydney Roosters v Brisbane Broncos
Thursday, April 4
Reigning premiers the Sydney Roosters look to continue their winning momentum when they come up against a Brisbane Broncos side determined to make amends for their lacklustre performance last week. After a tough opening round defeat to bitter rivals South Sydney, the Roosters have been solid, beating Manly away in terrible conditions before inflicting the first loss of Parramatta’s season last week, toppling the Eels by a 32-18 scoreline. It ended up being a come-from-behind win for the Roosters after the Eels moved ahead mid-way through the second half, but some inspirational play from James Tedesco and Siosiua Taukeiaho propelled the defending premiers back into the contest. Cooper Cronk is set to return from a hamstring injury for this encounter, with Luke Keary moving back to five-eighth and Latrell Mitchell to the centres. Jake Friend is out injured with a shoulder problem – he’s replaced at No. 9 by Victor Radley, while Lindsay Collins is the new name on the bench. Meanwhile, the Broncos turned up flat against the previously-winless Dragons at Suncorp last week, and although they tried to mount a late fightback, that attempt proved futile as Corey Norman fired a last-minute field goal to hand the Dragons a 25-24 victory. It was a momentum killer for Brisbane, who had one week earlier posted a big win over rivals North Queensland. The tough opening month of the 2019 season keeps coming for the Broncos, who after an opening round loss to Melbourne, now face the Roosters as they stare down the barrel of a 1-3 start. James Roberts is out with an achilles injury and is replaced in the centres by Kotoni Staggs, while Matt Lodge returns from suspension, pushing Shaun Fensom out of the side. Brisbane have actually won their last two meetings with the Roosters, but I think the Tri-Colours will snap that run on Thursday. With Cronk returning and playing at the SCG, they should have too much overall class to hold out an inconsistent Broncos side.
Prediction: Roosters by 1-12 ($3.00 TopBetta)
New Zealand Warriors v Gold Coast Titans
Friday, April 5
Two teams that desperately need a win clash on Friday night as the Warriors play host to bottom-placed Titans at Mt Smart Stadium. Gold Coast are the only team without a victory after three rounds, but they will fancy themselves against a Warriors side that has been thrashed the last two weeks and following their own encouraging performance against the undefeated Rabbitohs last week. The Titans pushed Souths all the way on Sunday night as they went down 28-20, and with two key inclusions back in their side for Friday, they are well-positioned to claim their first win of the campaign. Ash Taylor and Tyrone Roberts both return in the halves for Gold Coast, which sees AJ Brimson return to the bench and Ryley Jacks omitted from the side. Meanwhile, the Warriors are all of a sudden searching for answers after two terrible showings over the last fortnight. The Warriors started the season with a bang as they put 40 points past the Bulldogs in the opening round, but since then they’ve lost by a collective 80 points to the Tigers and Sea Eagles – two teams that aren’t exactly world beaters. Stephen Kearney has made multiple changes from their limp 46-16 loss to Manly, dropping five-eighth Adam Keighran and elevating Chanel Harris-Tevita to the starting side. Issac Luke is out injured and replaced by Karl Lawton, while Liligiifo Sao is the new face on the bench. The Warriors have won seven of their last eight meetings with the Titans, but Gold Coast did prevail in their last clash in Round 20 last year, 36-12. Going by their respective displays last week, I think the Titans can claim their first win of the season. One thing about Gold Coast is that they always give 100 per cent, and sometimes the same can’t be said about the Warriors. The Titans have a solid forward pack and their main halves back – I think they can come away with the upset.
Prediction: Titans win ($2.44 TopBetta)
Penrith Panthers v Wests Tigers
Friday, April 5
This clash between the Panthers and Tigers takes on extra meaning on Friday night as Ivan Cleary comes up against his former club as coach for the first time. So far, it hasn’t been a successful transition for the Panthers. Touted as premiership favourites at the start of the season, Penrith have lost two of their three matches and look anything but a clicking unit. Of course, there’s no shame in losing to a clinical Melbourne outfit as they did in Bathurst last week, but it was the manner in which they were defeated, failing to score a try and leaking 30 points, most of which came in the second half as the Panthers switched off. Time is on Penrith’s side and they will remember their slow start from last season before rampaging into the finals, but they’d rather not rely on a mid-season surge this time around. Can they get back on track against the Tigers? Michael Maguire’s team were flying high near the top of the table coming into Round 3 last week, but they were brought crashing back down to earth as they were comprehensively outplayed by Canterbury – the team most are backing for the wooden spoon. The Tigers simply didn’t turn up last week and they were made to pay the price as they lost their first game of the season by a 22-8 scoreline. To make matters worse, resurgent veteran Benji Marshall suffered a hamstring injury and will miss this clash, but that does open the door for Josh Reynolds to get a chance at rejoining the team alongside Luke Brooks in the halves. Penrith have won the last four meetings between the teams, but this clash looms as a toss-up. Both sides were flat last week and will be determined for an immediate response. The Tigers for me were more of a disappointment considering the team they were playing – if the Panthers can improve their dismal completion rate from last week (58 per cent), they should be able to grind out a win at home.
Prediction: Panthers by 13+ ($3.30 TopBetta)
Manly Sea Eagles v South Sydney Rabbitohs
Saturday, April 6
One of just two unbeaten teams across the first three rounds of the season, can the Rabbitohs make it four wins from four when they come up against a resurgent Manly outfit on Saturday afternoon? Souths were arguably the most impressive team over the first two rounds as they registered two big victories over minor premiers the Roosters and rivals the Dragons, but the fact they were able to overcome a gallant Titans outfit last week was also eye-catching. It would have been easy for the Rabbitohs to take their foot off the pedal – which, to be fair, they did in the second-half once they established a healthy lead – but in front of a flat atmosphere on a Sunday night at ANZ Stadium, they got the job done without ever being in danger. Can Souths keep pace with Melbourne and remain unbeaten when they travel to Brookvale on Saturday afternoon? The Sea Eagles will be full of confidence after securing their first win of the season last week, demolishing the Warriors in Christchurch by a 46-16 scoreline. The match highlighted just how crucial Tom Trbojevic is to Manly’s hopes this season, with the fullback putting in a spectacular display after returning from injury. Now the challenge for Manly – prove that last week wasn’t a fluke and if they can match it with the genuine juggernauts of the competition. These two teams have split their last six meetings at three wins apiece, with Souths winning their last clash in Round 3 last year and their last meeting at Lottoland in 2017. Manly were impressive last week, but the Warriors were terrible, and they won’t be afforded the same luxuries against the Rabbitohs. I’m expecting Wayne Bennett’s team to continue their unbeaten start.
North Queensland Cowboys v Canberra Raiders
Saturday, April 6
North Queensland and Canberra bring contrasting form and records into this Round 4 showdown in Townsville on Saturday. The Raiders are looking good to return to finals football in these early stages of the season, winning two of their first three matches and noticeably improving their defence, which was the biggest issue holding them back. However, the Cowboys have been extremely disappointing since an opening round win over the Dragons, leaking 29 and 42 points respectively against the Broncos and Sharks over the last fortnight. The most worrying aspect of last week’s loss to the Sharks was how poorly they fell off the pace in the second half, with the Cowboys now possessing the third worst defence in the competition behind the Warriors and Bulldogs. Canberra meanwhile have only conceded 32 points combined in their there games, shutting out the Titans in Round 1, conceding 22 to a rampaging Melbourne in Round 2 and defeating a solid Newcastle side 17-10 last week. Unsurprisingly, the Raiders have kept the same 17 players from that win for this clash, while Paul Green has also opted not to make any changes despite his side’s collapse last week. Canberra have won the last two meetings between the sides, and on the back of their improved defence, I think they’ll prevail again on Saturday. The Cowboys aren’t looking good without Jason Taumalolo and I don’t see them outscoring Canberra – or keeping them out for that matter.
Raiders win ($1.90 TopBetta
Parramatta Eels v Cronulla Sharks
Both the Eels and Sharks have been impressive to start the season with two wins from their three games – who keep their positive momentum going and claims another two points on Saturday night? It’s been the Eels who have arguably been the most surprising side of the season to date – wooden spooners last year, Brad Arthur’s side have registered two big wins over Penrith and Canterbury and matched it with reigning premiers the Roosters until the last 20 minutes last week. Blake Ferguson has been superb since arriving at the club, consistently chalking up massive metres and running hard – if he can keep that form up, he will be a key player for the Eels as they attempt to make the finals over the course of the season. Arthur has been forced into one change for this encounter, with Dylan Brown out due to a back injury. He’s replaced in the halves by Jaeman Salmon. Meanwhile, the Sharks have bounced back from an opening round defeat to beat two Queensland sides over the last fortnight. It was a celebration up in Townsville last week as the Sharks demolished the Cowboys 42-16 in the game that saw skipper Paul Gallen notch up a record number of caps for the club. It wasn’t all good new though – Matt Moylan was injured in the win and misses out this week, with Josh Dugan moving back to fullback and Bronson Xerri coming into the squad in the centres. Cronulla have dominated this match-up recently, winning their last five meetings, but this looks like a much different Eels outfit. They’ve acquitted themselves well in all three games, and they easily could have beat the Roosters last week if not for dropping off the pace in the last quarter of the game. I like the Eels to bounce back and continue their terrific start to 2019.
Melbourne Storm v Canterbury Bulldogs
Sunday, April 7
Incredibly, the Storm haven’t beaten Canterbury at AAMI Park since 2013 – but surely Craig Bellamy’s side are ready to snap that streak when the two sides clash at the venue on Sunday afternoon?Canterbury have won their last three meetings at AAMI Park, but they are massive underdogs to extend that run on Sunday, with the Dogs fielding one of their most inexperienced sides in recent memory this season due to problems with their salary cap. It was looking like it was going to be a long season for the current wooden spoon favourites after heavy defeats to the Warriors and Eels in the first two rounds, but Canterbury stepped up and registered an impressive first win of the season last week, beating the Tigers 22-6. However, that win came at a cost, with Kieran Foran injuring his ankle and needing surgery that will keep him sidelined for up to three months. Jack Cogger has been named as his replacement in the halves alongside Lachlan Lewis. There’s no such worries for Melbourne, who will field the same 17 players that cruised past the Panthers by a 32-2 scoreline in Bathurst last week. That win followed earlier victories over Brisbane and Canberra, with the Storm conceding an average of just eight points per game across the first three rounds. Despite the retirement of Billy Slater, the Storm look as polished as ever, building their game around rock-solid defence and letting their attack flow off that. As mentioned, the Bulldogs have a great record at AAMI Park, but with this team and Melbourne’s current form, I can’t see anything other than a comfortable win for the home side.
Prediction: Storm -16.5 ($1.80 TopBetta)
Newcastle Knights v St George Illawarra Dragons
With both sides claiming just one win from the first three rounds, this is a big clash as the Knights and Dragons bring a close to Round 4 on Sunday night. Newcastle easily could have been 3-0, but they lost by a combined margin of just nine points to the Panthers and Raiders over the last fortnight, following from their opening round win over Cronulla. The Kalyn Ponga five-eighth experiment is over for the time being, with the supremely talented young gun moving back to his more natural position of fullback, meaning Mason Lino comes into the halves alongside Mitchell Pearce and Kurt Mann drops back to the bench. Most Knights fans are in favour of Ponga shifting back to the No. 1 jersey, while Pearce will now be allowed total control of the halves. Meanwhile, the Dragons surprised nearly everybody with their lightning quick start against the Broncos last week, racing out to a 12-0 lead at Suncorp and hanging on for a 25-24 victory as Corey Norman slotted over a last-gasp field goal. It was a much-needed first win of the season for the Dragons, who can now get their season rolling as they look to keep pace with the top eight. Paul McGregor has been forced into one change, with the injured Gareth Widdop replaced at fullback by Matt Dufty, while Tyson Frizell could be a late inclusion after being named in the reserves. The Dragons have won seven of their last eight meetings, but I think Newcastle have the edge at home in this one. Ponga will be much more dangerous at fullback when he can pop up when he pleases instead of having the responsibility of needing to create. It will be close, but I’m backing the Knights to get the job done.
Knights win ($1.76 TopBetta