The following are previews with betting tips for Round 18 of the 2023 NRL season. Best bets for the round are also provided.
Sharks v Dragons
Thursday, June 29, 7:50pm AEST
St George were woeful in a 30-point loss to the red-hot Warriors last week as the club looks to move on from the destabilising period after the sacking of former coach Anthony Griffin that saw captain Ben Hunt request a release. With their captain affirming his commitment to the club, the Dragons now face a huge test against a Cronulla outfit whose devastating 48-10 last-start win over Canterbury pushed the Shire club into the top-four.
Ongoing knee issues will keep Jack Bird out of the Dragons line-up with Ben Murdoch-Masila shifting into the starting side in the back-row and Jaiyden Hunt and Toby Couchman coming onto the bench. The injured Moses Suli will also be replaced by Tautau Moga at centre in an otherwise unchanged squad. Unsurprisingly, Cronulla have named an unchanged squad but Toby Rudolph could yet be a late inclusion as he works his way back from injury.
Cronulla will enter this match as firm favourites and St George would need to summon a Herculean effort to beat an in-form Sharks squad. Craig Fitzgibbon’s troops have been inconsistent all year but the quality and class in their side has seen them break into the top-four. Sharks to get the points.
Betting Tip: Dragons +18.5 @ $1.91 (bet365)
Warriors v Rabbitohs
Friday, June 30, 6pm AEST
The Warriors’ resurgence under Andrew Webster continued last week with a massive 30-point win over the Dragons elevating the Kiwi club to equal fourth on the competition ladder. Their opposition in Souths were woeful by their lofty standards against a resurgent Cowboys squad for a disappointing 25-point loss. A concerning form slump has seen the club slip to eighth on the competition ladder and facing their third-consecutive loss, Jason Demitriou will be desperate to finish the representative period strongly to set up his club’s run into the finals.Marata Niukore has been suspended with Mitch Barnett returning from his own suspension as cover on the bench, pushing Josh Curran into the starting side in an otherwise unchanged line-up. Meanwhile, Souths will also be missing Jacob Host to suspension with Michael Chee-Kam his replacement in the second-row as Shaquai Mitchell and Siliva Havili join the interchange in Jason Demitriou’s only changes.
The Kiwis will enter this contest as favourites but should be highly cautious of a quality South Sydney line-up playing below their best and eager for redemption after a terrible loss against North Queensland. This match could go either way but expect the Warriors’ to claim another scalp in their warpath to a top-four berth.
Betting Tip: Warriors -2.5 @ $1.95 (bet365)
Storm v Panthers
Friday, June 30, 8pm AEST
Friday night will bring a blockbuster top-four clash between Melbourne and Penrith in what could be a sneak-preview of the finals series. Melbourne were dominant against Manly last week for their third-consecutive win, while the Panthers impressed in a solid victory over a desperate Newcastle squad with none of their Origin representatives.
Cameron Munster will return after he was rested last week with Tui Kamikamica also returning from a calf injury on the bench in an otherwise unchanged squad. Meanwhile, Penrith will welcome their full representative contingent in Brian To’o, Jahrome Luai, Isaah Yeo, Stephen Crichton and Liam Martin back into the starting side in a massive boost.
Penrith have yet to reach the heights of dominance they achieved in previous premiership-winning years but a victory in this contest could go a long way to re-establishing themselves as top-dogs of the NRL. Expect a quality contest but the ruthlessness of Melbourne and ongoing absence of the Panthers best player in Nathan Cleary should see the Victorians get over the line.
Betting Tip: Storm -1.5 @ $1.90 (BlueBet)
Raiders v Titans
Saturday, July 1, 3pm AEST
In the aftermath of Justin Holbrook’s sacking, the Titans produced a huge upset over the Broncos, knocking their Brisbane rivals from first spot on the competition ladder in an impressive performance. They will face a Raiders outfit who were solid in victory over the desperate Roosters last week, staving off a late comeback for a two-point win, elevating the Canberra squad to equal fourth ladder.
Titans will receive a big boost with the return of skipper Tino Fa’asuamaleaui in the front-row in an otherwise unchanged squad. Meanwhile, Canberra will be without stalwart Josh Papali’i after he suffered a calf injury with Pasami Saulo coming into the starting side and Ata Mariota joining the bench.
Titans’ faithful are hoping last week’s victory will be indicative of the club’s success under incoming veteran coach Des Hasler, and with a supremely talented roster – the future is looking bright for the Gold Coast. With both teams separated by only one win, expect an intense physical contest but the big-game experience and defensive nous of the Raiders should get them over the line.
Betting Tip: Raiders -3.5 @ $1.87 (bet365)
Cowboys v Tigers
Saturday, July 1, 5:30pm AEST
North Queensland have produced a superb period of football with impressive victories over Melbourne, Penrith and Souths in recent weeks. The club now have an opportunity for redemption against the Tigers after their embarrassing 48-point loss to the joint-venture club in round 12. The Tigers enjoyed a bye last week but their on-field struggles have continued and Tim Sheens’ troops will be desperate to avoid their fourth consecutive loss.
After he was a late withdrawal last week, Jason Taumalolo could return from a hamstring injury after he was named in the reserves in what would be a huge boost for the Cowboys. The Tigers will introduce Daine Laurie into the starting 13 at five-eighth, pushing Starford To’a back to centre in an otherwise unchanged squad.
The Cowboys will enter this match as firm favourites and be highly motivated against Wests. Sitting just one win outside the top-eight, North Queensland have done a wonderful job clawing their way back into finals contention and with time running out, coach Todd Payten and his squad will be desperate to bank premiership points. Cowboys to get the win.
Betting Tip: Cowboys -16.5 @ $2 (bet365)
Broncos v Dolphins
Saturday, July 1, 7:35pm AEST
Brisbane were woeful in a poor showing against the Titans last week and with star fullback Reece Walsh facing almost a month on the sidelines for contrary conduct, the Brisbane club could be in danger of emulating their late-season form slump last year. They will face a struggling Dolphins outfit desperate to avoid their fourth consecutive loss after a devastating 28-point defeat at the hands of Parramatta.
Tristan Sailor will replace the suspended Reece Walsh at fullback, while long-term injuries to Jordan Riki and Thomas Flegler will test Brisbane’s forward depth. Keenan Palasia and Xavier Willison will come into the starting side at prop and second-row respectively in an otherwise unchanged squad. Meanwhile, the Dolphins will welcome back hooker Jeremy Marshall-King in a massive boost with Tesi Niu also displacing rookie Brayden McGrady on the wing. In a curious move, Wayne Bennett looks set to shift Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow to left-centre – the same position the speedster plays for the Maroons – with pint-sized utility Kodi Nikorima set to take the fullback role.
Given their opposition’s recent form, Brisbane will enter this match as firm favourites but should be highly cautious against a Dolphins line-up restored to the play-making combinations that saw them dominate the competition earlier in the year. Expect a huge response from Brisbane after such a disappointing performance last week. This match could go either way but expect Brisbane to come out on top in a brutal physical contest.
Betting Tip: Dolphins +9.5 @ $1.95 (Playup)
Bulldogs v Knights
Sunday, July 2, 2pm AEST
Newcastle were unable to overcome the reigning premiers last week in a disappointing loss given the absence of the Panthers’ whole representative contingent. They will face a Canterbury outfit fresh from a bye but eager for redemption after they were humiliated in a poor 38-point loss to Cronulla in round 16.
Newcastle will replace the injured Dane Gagai with Enari Tuala at centre with Lachlan Fitzgibbon also set to return from concussion in the second-row in a welcome boost. Meanwhile, Canterbury will welcome Josh Addo-Carr and Matt Burton back from Origin duty on the wing and halfback respectively with Harrison Edwards, Ryan Sutton and Jackson Topine joining the bench. Rookie Khaled Rajab has been promoted to the starting side at five-eighth and club captain Raymond Faitala-Mariner could also be a late inclusion after he was named in the reserves in what would be a huge boost.
Despite plenty of talent in their roster, a lack of play-making experience in key-positions is hurting Canterbury as the rookie coach Cameron Ciraldo continues to search for winning combinations. Expect a desperate Newcastle outfit facing their fourth consecutive loss and slipping to 14th on the competition ladder. This match could go either way but expect the relative play-making class and experience in the Newcastle spine to prove the difference.
Betting Tip: Knights -2.5 @ $1.95 (Playup)
Sea Eagles v Roosters
Sunday, July 2, 4:05pm AEST
Manly face their third consecutive loss in the absence of superstar Tom Trbojevic but the return of some key troops will boost the club ailing morale with Anthony Seibold and his squad facing an uphill battle to break into finals contention from 13th position on a congested competition ladder. They will have an opportunity to overleap the 12th-placed Roosters after a disappointing last-start loss to a tenacious Raiders squad heaped pressure on coach Trent Robinson.
Manly will welcome a host of returning stars with Jake Trbojevic, Kelma Tuilagi, Jason Saab and Brad Parker returning at lock, second-row, wing, and centre respectively in a massive boost. Ben Trbojevic will also join the bench in an otherwise unchanged squad. Meanwhile, the Roosters will welcome the return of Joseph Suaalii and Fletcher Baker on the wing and bench respectively. Siua Wong has been named to make his NRL debut off the bench and could push Victor Radley back into the middle-rotation.
Facing their third-consecutive loss, Manly will be relying on the leadership and experience of the returning Jake Trbojevic while the return to some of their preferred defensive combinations on the edge will give the team some desperately needed stability. The Tri-colours are still searching for the answers to unlock the enormous potential in their squad, but unless they can produce a miraculous form turnaround – expect a big performance from Manly to get them the win.
Betting Tip: Sea Eagles -1.5 @ $1.95 (Unibet)
Dolphins +9.5 @ $1.95 (Playup)