The following are previews with betting tips for the Qualifying & Elimination Finals of the 2018 NRL season.
Storm v Rabbitohs
Fri, Sep 7, 7:40pm
Week one of the 2018 finals series will begin as the Storm host a resurgent Rabbitohs outfit at their home-ground in Melbourne. The powerhouse Victorian club went down against the Panthers last week in a disappointing result but fans will hope the return of key personnel provides a much needed boost on the path to their fourth premiership. South Sydney have similarly suffered a late-season form slump but have also welcomed back vital players in recent weeks to inspire a massive 51-10 victory over the Tigers that will go a long way to restoring their battered confidence.
The Storm will bring Billy Slater, Suliasi Vunivalu and Cameron Munster back into their starting 13 with Brandon Smith also set to join the interchange. Meanwhile, South Sydney have made no changes to their squad that tuned-up the Tigers in round 25.
Melbourne have the benefit of a wealth of big-game and finals experience across their roster and coaching staff, while Souths last played finals football in 2015. Both teams have been far from their best heading into the play-offs but will hope to build consistency on their war-path to the grand-final. The Rabbitohs will look to emulate their comprehensive round 21 victory over the Storm but expect Melbourne’s experience to give them the edge.
Betting Tip: Storm -1.5 @ $1.92 (Ladbrokes)
Panthers v Warriors
Sat, Sep 8, 5:30pm
After poor on-field form claimed Anthony Griffin’s position as head coach of the Panthers, fans and critics alike were concerned for their finals prospects. This concern was justified after the subsequent form slump, but an encouraging last-round victory over the Storm has reignited the young outfit’s premiership campaign. They will now face an in-form Warriors team whose comprehensive round 24 victory over the Panthers should hold them in good stead for the clash.
Penrith have named only one change with Corey Harawira-Naera replacing Jack Hetherington on the bench. For the Warriors, Blake Green will return in the halves in a massive boost for the club as James Gavet and Gerard Beale also join the side at prop and centre respectively.
Talent and attacking ability are present in abundance in both club’s rosters but it will be discipline and execution that ultimately decide the outcome of this contest. Neither side has been playing ‘finals football’ in recent weeks and have lacked consistency across 80 minutes. Expect the Warriors to benefit enormously from the return of Blake Green as the Panthers struggle to match their opposition’s game management. Warriors to get the win.
Betting Tip: Warriors +2.5 @ $1.92 (Ladbrokes)
Roosters v Sharks
Sat, Sep 8, 7:40pm
Game three of the 2018 finals series will see the minor-premiers in the Roosters take on a dangerous Sharks outfit who snuck into the top four in the finals round of the regular season. Cronulla have won four in a row and have been playing tough football heading into the finals as their key players hit form at the perfect time. For the Roosters, consecutive losses to the Raiders and Broncos late in the season are a concern that their last-round 44-10 victory over Parramatta will do little to allay.
The Sharks have named Ricky Leutele to return in the centres with Jesse Ramien also a chance to make an injury come-back after he was named in the reserves. Meanwhile, the Roosters have named the same squad as their round 25 victory.
Discipline has been the Achilles heel of both these teams throughout 2018 and while they have managed to largely compensate for these weaknesses, they will hope to improve through the finals series. Expect a tough contest between two physically dominant teams. Despite entering the match as underdogs, Cronulla have displayed the best form in the competition in the last month and should back their forward-rotation to win them the ruck, and the game.
Betting Tip: Sharks +4.5 @ $1.95 (Neds)
Broncos v Dragons
Sun, Sep 9, 4:00pm
Brisbane will host a struggling St George outfit for week one of the finals after producing a massive form turnaround with impressive consecutive victories over the highly rated Rabbitohs and Roosters, as well as Manly. Their opposition in the Dragons have suffered a terrible form-slump and representative fatigue was again evident in their unconvincing last-round victory over the Knights.
St George faithful will be hoping the return of skipper Gareth Widdop inspires his outfit into top-form with no other changes named despite an injury cloud over Jack De Belin. Brisbane have similarly named only one change with Andrew McCullough returning to the squad at the expense of Jake Turpin.
Given both teams’ recent form, Brisbane will enter the match as heavy favourites. If the Dragons’ forwards can stand up to the Broncos inexperienced but extremely effective pack, they are a chance, but they have not been the same football team since the State of Origin Series. Brisbane to get the win.
Betting Tip: Total Match Points Over 41.5 @ $1.91 (Ladbrokes)
Warriors +2.5 @ $1.92 (Ladbrokes)
Sharks +4.5 @ $1.95 (Neds)