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2017 NRL Round 20 preview and expert tips

Posted on 18/07 by Joe Gann

2017 NRL Round 20 preview and expert tips

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Brisbane Broncos v Canterbury Bulldogs betting
Team Odds
Brisbane Broncos $1.34 Bet Now
Canterbury Bulldogs $3.29 Bet Now
There’s a welcome return to Thursday night action this week as the Broncos take on the Bulldogs at Suncorp. The Broncos had the boost of Anthony Milford’s early return against the Knights; the pivot has been missing for the past five weeks with a shoulder injury that will ultimately require surgery. Wayne Bennett rates his five eighth as ‘50/50’ to make it through the remainder of the campaign and has voiced his concerns about a possible World Cup selection in October.

The gamble to rest Origin combatants Josh McGuire and Matt Gillett paid off with the Broncos managing to withstand a plucky Newcastle outfit and ensure freshness in a squad that may welcome skipper Darius Boyd back to the fold this week.

Despite signing a two-year contract extension earlier on in the campaign, the issue of coach Des Hasler’s future has once again reared its head. Speculation is rife that the new contract includes a clause that states his employment may be terminated without the club having to pay up in full should the board decide to dispense with his services.

The next three fixtures are seen as crucial to any decision with the Dogs anticipating challenging games against the Panthers and Eels following this round. They have enjoyed a bye week in Round 19 and will hope to kick on after the glimmer of hope offered by victory over the Knights in their previous outing.

Selection: Broncos to win

Sydney Roosters v Newcastle Knights betting
Team Odds
Sydney Roosters $1.14 Bet Now
Newcastle Knights $5.80 Bet Now
The Roosters’ win over a buoyant Rabbitohs in Origin week set them up nicely for a bye round prior to this home game against the bottom-placed Knights. It was a gritty performance against a South Sydney side who were in full-flow at the time, and a tactical success for coach Trent Robinson who was forced to set up his team deprived of its Origin stars to stifle an exuberant Bunnies.

The Roosters will be missing Michael Gordon with a pectoral complaint and Jake Friend who has a broken hand but should have captain Boyd Cordner returning from a calf injury. The Roosters will surely prove too strong for the Knights as they look to consolidate second place on the ladder.

The signing of Herman Ese’ese is a huge coup for Newcastle in anticipation of next season – the 22-year old has started eight games for the Broncos this year and forced his way into the team with the quality of his showings. The capture of the powerhouse is designed to improve the Knights' running in the middle of the park, an aspect of their play that has simply not been up to scratch this term.

The Knights continued their recruitment drive with the acquisition of Roosters utility Connor Watson who follows Aidan Guerra and Shaun Kenny-Dowell, who is in line to make his debut this week, from Bondi. With Kalyn Ponga already signed up and Tautau Moga allegedly being targeted next, their 2018 squad has begun to take shape. Dane Gagai will be sorely missed next year though as he heads to the Rabbitohs; last week he became the first winger to be named Man of the Series after his outstanding Origin contributions for Queensland.

The Knights put up brave resistance against the Broncos at the weekend, but the defeat was the consequence of a yet another half-time lead evaporating. Korbin Sims twisted the knife into his former club with the winning try at Hunter Stadium after the Knights almost pulled off an upset, but three tries in ten minutes after the break helped consign the Novocastrians to their fifteenth defeat of the season.

Selection: Roosters to win

Cronulla Sharks v South Sydney Rabbitohs betting
Team Odds
Cronulla Sharks $1.35 Bet Now
South Sydney Rabbitohs $3.22 Bet Now
A ragged Sharks succumbed to their sixth defeat of a mixed campaign amidst farcical conditions on the Gold Coast at the weekend. They were missing James Maloney, who was afforded an extended rest after his Origin exploits, but that takes nothing away from the Titans, who were excellent throughout and it took until the 71st minute for the Sharks to register on the scoreboard. So far, they have only shown flashes of their old selves, and the 2017 version has a worrying tendency to lose focus.

When the Sharks are in the right frame of mind and are completing their sets, they are a difficult opponent to overcome. However, the attitude hasn’t appeared to be right in numerous games this year; they are averaging 11.6 handling errors per game this year which, alongside the Roosters is a competition high. They have won games this season on cruise control - winning without having to be at their best has bred complacency in the Premiers.

They are a hard team to predict; sloppy at times but still as good as anyone when they apply themselves properly – they badly need to rediscover the consistency of last year. It was a damaging round of results with rivals all winning to wipe away their lead in the contest for a top-four berth, and as a result, they have slipped into fifth and find themselves embroiled in a four-way fight.

The Rabbitohs gave up home advantage to take their game to Cairns at the weekend, and the decision didn’t reap any rewards for the Bunnies. The perfect weather conditions were a disadvantage against their acclimatised North Queensland counterparts as they went down 23-10. They were second best for large periods of the match, and the 66 per cent completion was nowhere near good enough to take anything from the game.

Their hopes of securing a place at the top table have almost certainly disappeared, and their record of three wins from the last eleven explains why.

Selection: Sharks to win

Penrith Panthers v Gold Coast Titans betting
Team Odds
Penrith Panthers $1.50 Bet Now
Gold Coast Titans $2.60 Bet Now
It was a hugely significant win over the Warriors last week and a victory that goes a long way in shaping the race for the top eight. The Panthers need to build upon consecutive wins, and this weekend’s game could be pivotal with both team’s seasons at stake. Young gun Nathan Cleary was outstanding in a week in which the NSW halves position was placed under the microscope, and Cleary’s timing was impeccable.

The 19-year-old produced a mesmerising display in the absence of partner Matt Moylan to almost single-handedly win the match with a personal tally of 22 points and place himself at the forefront of the minds of the Blues' decision-makers. Trent Merrin is out for between 6-8 weeks for the Panthers with a medial knee injury with James Fisher-Harris poised to stand in - Matt Moylan and Peter Wallace are set to return to boost the ranks.

The Titans achieved a fantastic victory over the Premiers in monsoon conditions on Saturday, adapting to the waterlogged pitch far better than their opponents. Ash Taylor was instrumental with two tries and two assists and will continue his partnership with Tyrone Roberts as the Titans' play-off hopes are rekindled. Just four points off top eight, the new-found confidence stems from having the nucleus of the team back from injury.

They still have to play Broncos, Eels and Roosters - not an easy task by any means - but they are on a three- game winning streak, and need to continue momentum against fellow finals hopefuls this week.

Selection: Panthers to win

Canberra Raiders v Melbourne Storm betting
Team Odds
Canberra Raiders $2.67 Bet Now
Melbourne Storm $1.48 Bet Now
The Green Machine is looking to repeat their strong late season form of last year when they powered into the finals. They had lost three of their last four at home before last week and will hope that the tight win over the Dragons will herald a turnaround in fortunes. The free-scoring side of early rounds has given way to a nervous looking, ponderous outfit who fluctuate from superb to terrible within the course of a match.

Their unpredictable nature was characterised by a litany of strange kicking decisions from Josh Hodgson with a fear factor seemingly having an influence. Aiden Sezer produced a length of the field effort and a 40/20 kick that led changed the course of the match and may yet have an enormous impact on their season. Josh Papalii was cited for a shoulder charge on Josh Dugan and faces a two-week suspension which has dealt a blow to their hopes.

The Storm’s Origin contingent have enjoyed a well-earned rest following their Game III heroics, and they will now refocus their energy in preparation for a final push in the pursuit of NRL glory. Cameron Munster’s bow for Queensland has been described by some observers as the greatest debut of all time in the Maroon jumper; an incredible accolade for the 22-year old sensation who seems unfazed by his meteoric rise in the game. The storm will be looking to replicate the level of performance they produced in the 42-12 demolition of the Broncos in Round 17 as they attempt to tighten their grip on top spot.

The defeat to the Eels last time out was compounded by the news that Cheyse Blair has suffered a season-ending ankle injury, joining Christian Welch in the long-term treatment room. It is a situation that may provide opportunities for the likes of Curtis Scott to prove his credentials; the back-up members of the squad will have derived some invaluable lessons from their recent first-grade exposure which will benefit both themselves and the club in the days to come.

However, Craig Bellamy will be relieved that his superstars can return to club action and concentrate solely on the needs of Melbourne Storm having emerged victorious from the gruelling interstate series.

Selection: Storm to win

Nth Queensland Cowboys v New Zealand Warriors betting
Team Odds
Nth Queensland Cowboys $1.36 Bet Now
New Zealand Warriors $3.17 Bet Now
Another side chasing a coveted top four place, the Cowboys have been offered encouragement in their hunt by a wobbly Sharks outfit. Coen Hess is now the leading forward scorer in the competition with 11 tries, justifying his recent Origin call-up.

The Cowboys have won three straight now without Thurston for the first time, and in recent weeks, the likes of Jake Granville, Michael Morgan and Lachlan Coote have come to the fore to mitigate the loss of their skipper.

The Warriors threw away a golden Chance to stake their claim for a top-eight place with a desperately disappointing loss at the hands of rivals Penrith. They twice conceded the lead to go down 34-22 and leave their finals hopes in tatters; they are now four points adrift of eighth place with just seven games remaining. A daunting trip to Townsville awaits this week, a venue in which they have won only once in eleven visits since 2003.

A knee injury to Shaun Johnson that will keep the influential playmaker out for 6-8 weeks, effectively ending his season, has made their task even harder.

Selection: Cowboys to win

St George Illawarra Dragons v Manly Sea Eagles betting
Team Odds
St George Illawarra Dragons $2.30 Bet Now
Manly Sea Eagles $1.62 Bet Now
The chasing pack are beginning to turn the collective screw on the Dragons, and the demoralising effect of losing out on two competition points through a golden-point decider has added to their woes this week. With Russell Packer exiting the field and Josh Dugan failing to return after an HIA, the Red V were beset by ill-fortune after looking to be in the driving seat.

Their position is looking increasingly precarious with the Panthers handily placed to capitalise on any more slip ups. With their confidence eroded, this one has potentially huge repercussions for both sides.

The Sea Eagles lost their 100% away record at the Panthers in Round 18 and will aim to get that travelling form back up and running against an ailing St George. Defending their try-line has become one of the strengths of this side who have surprised many with their results so far and a place in knock-out football will be just reward for Trent Barrett's men.

Daly Cherry-Evans brushed off Origin disappointment to steer his side to an important win over Wests that saw the Silvertails return to the top four.

Selection: Sea Eagles to win

Wests Tigers v Parramatta Eels betting
Team Odds
Wests Tigers $3.22 Bet Now
Parramatta Eels $1.35 Bet Now
Wests couldn't break a Brookvale hoodoo that stretches back 14 years as they were overcome by the Sea Eagles in Round 19.

The Tigers are currently integrating mid-season recruit Tui Lolohea into a new look halves pairing alongside Luke Brooks, having been forced into a rethink following Mitchell Moses’ departure. A double at the weekend for Lolohea has offered encouragement that the partnership could be the long-term solution. Playing for pride only now against Sydney rivals who cannot afford to take their foot off the gas, the Eels will start clear favourites.

The Eels went into their bye week on a high after a win at AAMI Park; Mitchell Moses excelled, and the Eels look determined to make the finals. Their standing improved after a bye week that proved kind as they leapfrogged the Dragons to take their spot in seventh. Parramatta has now claimed three straight victories and five from their last six as their finals quest gains traction.

Fast starts have been key to recent success, and they continued that trend in Melbourne, running out to an early 16-0 lead that helped set up the victory. The Eels can look forward to a comfortable journey to the finishing line with games against Tigers, Bulldogs, Knights, Titans and Rabbitohs coming up with six of the last seven being played in familiar surroundings at ANZ Stadium.

A first finals appearance since 2009 looks to be well and truly on the cards for Brad Arthur’s men.

Selection: Eels to win

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