Penrith v Melbourne
A blockbuster Thursday night clash with the grand final rematch between two sides who again look standouts in the competition. Two key outs have taken a minor edge off this clash with Penrith ruling out co-captain Nathan Cleary and Melbourne taking a precautionary approach with star fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen over his neck complaint.
While it is early in the season, these two sides again appear destined to secure a top four spot, and as the market suggests, it is extremely hard to split the pair. It will largely come down to which side can adapt best to the loss of Cleary and Papenhuyzen.
In Penrith’s favour is home ground advantage, however they come into this with a question mark on if they are ‘match hardened’ after effortless victories against the lowly Cowboys and Bulldogs without conceding a single point. On the flipside, they remain fresh and this could be key to having the leg-speed ascendency over the Storm who slogged it out in the wet to go down to the plucky Eels last week.
While the Panthers have won just nine of their 36 meetings with the Storm, I’m hoping the Panthers can cover the loss of Cleary with the likes of versatile livewires Jarome Luai and Viliame Kikau.
Suggested bet: 1 unit Penrith win at $1.85
Dragons v Sea Eagles
There’s a little bit to like about what’s brewing at the Dragons and they could prove a team worth following, especially against sides unlikely to be vying for the top eight. Manly look destined for a finish in the bottom half and come into this short in the back-row department, which should be exploited by the Dragons.
Adding to this, the Dragons have won five of their past six games against Manly, who have also not won in Wollongong since 2003.
The Dragons halves Ben Hunt and Corey Norman drew on experience to finally gel last week and if that continues will cause headaches for the struggling Sea Eagles. Matt Dufty and Mikaele Ravalawa are proving a potent try-scorers in attack and will be another handful for the Manly defence.
With home ground advantage, the Dragons should continue Manly’s horrid record without Tom Trbojevic, adding a third straight loss to open the season.
Suggested bet: 1 unit Dragons -2 at $1.85
Rabbitohs v Roosters
This is set to be another cracking edition of a long-standing rivalry, amplified by the Roosters signing teen prodigy Joseph Suaalii from the Rabbitohs in the off-season.
Both teams have started positively in 2021, with the Roosters scoring easy victories over Manly and Wests Tigers, while the Rabbitohs bounced back from their season-opening loss to Melbourne to get past the Sea Eagles in the slop.
Revenge will be on the minds of the Roosters after they were trounced 60-8 in the two sies most recent encounter in the final round of the 2020 season. The Roosters will be boosted by Victor Radley and Angus Crichton returning and should have too much class for the Rabbitohs.
Suggested bet: 2u Roosters -3.5 at $1.90
Canberra v New Zealand
After the Warriors surprised the Titans in round one and then let in a late try to succumb to the Knights last week, this looms as a big test for where they are at in 2021.
While for the Raiders, inspirational co-captain Jarrod Croker returns and the advantage of playing at home has ensured they are red-hot favourites. But there were concerns last week as they limped past the Sharks who let the Raiders take the points on the back of poor goal-kicking.
The signs are good for the Warriors, dominating possession against Newcastle, only to let in some soft tries off the back of defensive lapses. If they can remedy those errors they can be competitive here against the Green Machine.
Suggested bet: 1.5u Warriors +10.5 at $1.90
Broncos v Bulldogs
Is the Broncos winless streak set to finish on 13? Coach Kevin Walters is already feeling the pressure and has resisted making changes to the rudderless outfit that was embarrassed by the Titans last week.
Much was made of their positive start to the season, but it’s now clear the Eels poor first half was more to blame than the Broncos good play.
The Dogs experienced forwards Adam Elliott, Josh Jackson and Dylan Napa will be hard to contain and the Broncos still have a number of key injuries and suspensions.
While the Bulldogs only have two wins from 13 visits over the past decade at Suncorp, if they can improve on the average 36 missed tackles and 11 errors from the first two rounds they should be too good for a Broncos outfit short on personnel and direction.
Suggested bet: 1.5u Bulldogs at $2.15
Eels v Sharks
After letting another big scalp off the hook last week against Canberra, the Sharks have a chance to prove they are up to matching the top 8 sides against Parramatta.
In recent years, the Sharks have dominated the Eels, except for the lone 2020 clash which saw the latter take the points 14-12.
For the Eels, they have the opportunity to land 3-0 and set up their season, but the Sharks come off a frustrating loss to the Raiders where they arguably would’ve won had it not been for some poor goal-kicking.
The Sharks were resolute in defence but came undone with inaccurate kicking and 18 handling errors.
Ryan Matterson will also be a big loss for the Eels.
A very interesting match-up here and the Eels must withstand the fallout from a mentally and physically tough win over the Storm in sloppy conditions. While for the Sharks, this is an early test to see if they are up to matching it with finals contenders.
1u Cronulla at $3.10
1u Cronulla +7.5 at $1.95
Newcastle v Wests Tigers
Two sides with contrasting starts to the season, with the Newcastle Knights out to to continue their unbeaten start season against a winless Wests Tigers outfit.
While many pundits had these two sides reasonably evenly matched before the season kicked off, the Tigers have shown only small glimpses, but mostly been disappointing. In constrast, the Knights have been disciplined with ball in hand and in defence.
The Knights have won their last six at home, and while the Tigers have the ability to score an upset, they need to show more signs before being a betting proposition.
No suggested bet
Cowboys v Titans
Important game for the Titans up north – and one that will likely be a pointer to whether they are ready to play finals this season.
The Cowboys are 0-2, while the Titans come off a dominant display against the second-rate Broncos. The Titans’ star recruits David Fifita and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui look to have now found their groove after the disappointing season opening loss to the Warriors and that should only improve as the season wears on.
While the Cowboys showed signs of improvement in the round two loss to the Dragons, new coach Todd Peyton still has plenty of work to do before his side can match it with finals contending sides.
Suggested bet: 1 unit Titans -5.5 at $1.85
(All prices quoted TopSport 9pm Thursday)