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2017 NRL Round 21 preview and expert tips

Posted on 26/07 by Joe Gann

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Penrith Panthers v Canterbury Bulldogs betting
Team Odds
Penrith Panthers $1.44 Bet Now
Canterbury Bulldogs $2.88 Bet Now
The Panthers stayed on course for finals football in haphazard fashion at the weekend, overcoming fellow top- eight hopefuls the Titans 24-16 to maintain their excellent recent form.

The injury to Matt Moylan comes at the worst possible time, just as his combination with Nathan Cleary is beginning to bear fruit, they will be hoping for the skipper to make a speedy recovery. Victory on Saturday saw the mountain men draw level on points with the Dragons temporarily although the Red V regained their lead on the back of their thumping win over the Sea Eagles the following day – Penrith have now won seven of their last nine without yet really finding top gear.

They can look forward to two attractive fixtures against the Dogs and Tigers next, and they will need to extract maximum points before they undertake a more challenging set of fixtures from Round 23 onwards.

The Bulldogs have been busy accumulating an unwanted list of statistics as their dreadful season limps to its miserable conclusion. They have now lost seven of their eight away trips, including the last five straight, their worst run since 2008. Not since 1989, have Canterbury offered so little in attack with a mere 12.7 points scored per game. Des Hasler has delivered finals football in each of his last five seasons including grand final appearances in 2012 and 2014, but they have lost eleven times this season - the fifth consecutive season they have done so - and lie in twelfth with only a mathematical chance of finals participation.

The stark figures reflect a grim season at Canterbury.

Selection: Panthers to win

New Zealand Warriors v Cronulla Sharks betting
Team Odds
New Zealand Warriors $2.35 Bet Now
Cronulla Sharks $1.62 Bet Now
The loss of Shaun Johnson already weighs heavily on a fragile squad; in the thirteen games that the 26-year-old has missed for the Warriors since his NRL debut in Round 13 of 2011, the club have lost all but two of them. There has been slightly better news concerning the playmaker’s injury this week – he may return for the final round in a bid to prove his fitness ahead of the World cup.

That doesn’t help his club much though, and although they still boast the talents of Kieran Foran and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, the absence of Johnson significantly weakens the effectiveness of this side. The onus is on Mason Lino as he attempts to fill the void left by the influential skipper, an unenviable task for a team struggling to keep pace in the race for a top-eight berth.

The defeat at the hands of the Panthers at the weekend was catastrophic to their hopes; their traditional strong form during the Origin period has failed to materialise this year, winning three from six, a frailty that may come back to haunt them.

Cronulla kept up their top-four pursuit with a solid 26-12 over the Rabbitohs in Round 20. With rivals the Cowboys, Broncos and Roosters maintaining their consistent form coming into the business end of the season, any slip will be pounced upon. They have kept their place in the top-four courtesy of the Dragons’ destruction of the Sea Eagles, but with James Maloney forced out of the action for a minimum of the next three rounds after suffering a hand fracture, the Sharks will desperately need a contingency plan to cover his absence.

That may come in the form of regular centre Jack Bird, who is considered the favourite to be deployed in the halves alongside Chad Townsend, satisfying his appetite to be ‘closer to the action’; the primary reason for his decision to join the Broncos next year.

It could prove to be an inspired switch, one that reawakens the Premiers from their slumber this season.

Selection: Sharks to win

Parramatta Eels v Brisbane Broncos betting
Team Odds
Parramatta Eels $2.78 Bet Now
Brisbane Broncos $1.47 Bet Now
The Eels almost shot themselves in the foot in a Sunday afternoon thriller, squeezing past a determined Tigers outfit 17-16 in front of an encouraging crowd of over 30,000 at ANZ Stadium.
The season ending ACL injury sustained by Clint Gutherson has come as a crippling blow to both player and club; after making the full-back role his own this season, his absence will be a huge loss for the Eels finals charge. They are certainly capable of winning the three of six games they will likely require to confirm their finals place, although they face an extremely tough encounter this round against an impressive Broncos team.

Andrew McCullough has received praise this week after a tremendous attacking performance in the Broncos’ Thursday night win over the Bulldogs. It was an area of his game that has been identified as having the potential for improvement by Australia coach Mal Meninga, and the Kangaroos selectors can’t help but be impressed by the hooker’s development.

Although five of the Broncos' last six games are against teams currently in the top eight, only one game is outside Queensland in their run to the finals, and that arrives this week against the Eels. It is hard to back against Wayne Bennett’s men claiming one of the precious places that will earn them home ground advantage and a crucial second chance in the elimination phase; Corey Oates and Herman Ese Ese should be back this week from thumb and knee injuries respectively to boost their chances.

Selection: Broncos to win

Newcastle Knights v St George Illawarra Dragons betting
Team Odds
Newcastle Knights $4.00 Bet Now
St George Illawarra Dragons $1.26 Bet Now
The Knights went down to their sixteenth defeat of a disappointing season at the weekend, as the Roosters just about held off the competition’s bottom side. A Shaun Kenny-Dowall try against his ex-teammates - he has now scored against every club in the NRL - wasn’t enough to swing the game in favour of his new employers, and the Chooks emerged with a hard-fought 28-4 victory.

A contentious decision from the bunker to award a try to Daniel Tupou helped shift momentum the way of the Tricolours, and it was extremely harsh on a Knights side that had more than held their own up to that point. The blow took the wind out of the Novocastrians' sails, and it was their 2018 recruit Connor Watson who rubbed salt in the wounds of his next club by crossing the whitewash to seal the game.

The Dragons breathed new life into their season with a stunning win over top four candidates the Sea Eagles. It was a match that witnessed a bizarre flurry of points scoring – the Dragons were 30-0 up at half-time before a ferocious Sea Eagles fightback saw them score four tries in the opening ten minutes of the second, three of which were scored while reduced to twelve men.

Gareth Widdop delivered yet another phenomenal performance and was at the heart of everything good for the Dragons, producing three try assists, a ninety-metre intercept try, a 40/20, a forced a goal-line dropout and contributed fourteen individual points, all before half time. His form and fitness are inextricably linked to the Dragons chances of success this year.

The win has released the pressure that had begun to build following a lean spell of four defeats from six- they will need to win three of their last six to guarantee a finals place.

Selection: Dragons to win

South Sydney Rabbitohs v Canberra Raiders betting
Team Odds
South Sydney Rabbitohs $2.50 Bet Now
Canberra Raiders $1.56 Bet Now
Sam Burgess may be in line for a return in this round after scans revealed no broken bones following the rib injury he incurred against the Sharks. That game undoubtedly heralded the end of the Rabbitohs as a competitive outfit this year as they were soundly beaten by the Premiers.

The Bunnies remain stuck in fourteenth place, a position where they will, in all probability, finish the season.

Jordan Rapana is facing a one-week suspension for a shoulder charge on Nelson Asofa-Solomona, joining teammate Josh Papalii who is serving the second week of his suspension following his shoulder charge on Josh Dugan. Sia Soliola has been referred straight to the judiciary on a dangerous contact charge for his assault on Billy Slater and will have his case heard on Tuesday evening.

Selection: Raiders to win

Sydney Roosters v Nth Queensland Cowboys betting
Team Odds
Sydney Roosters $1.64 Bet Now
Nth Queensland Cowboys $2.32 Bet Now
A comfortable win against the Knights saw Mitchell Pearce bouncing back from Origin criticism to help lift his side up to second on the ladder in Round 20. With Michael Gordon and Jake Friend still out, better news comes in the guise of Boyd Cordner’s likely return to action.

The Tricolours were beneficiaries of a dubious bunker decision to run out winners against the luckless Knights, cementing their chances of a top-two spot. With a critical series of games on the horizon - starting with the Cowboys this week, followed by Manly, Storm and the Sharks before the season is out - the incentive of home advantage in the finals is an enormous motivation to finish the regular season in the best possible fashion. This week's opponents remain hot on their heels.

The Cowboys’ big guns have rallied since Johnathan Thurston's injury to ignite their faltering campaign - and they are now one of the competition's form teams on the back of four wins in a row. This is crunch time for Paul Green’s troops, they find themselves comfortably in the top eight but are tantalisingly close to an infinitely more desirable fourth place.

They also have a tricky run of fixtures coming up, with the Storm, Panthers, Sharks and Broncos all waiting in the wings to attempt to halt their considerable recent progress. Powerful running from the forwards – namely Jason Taumololo and Coen Hess has laid the groundwork for the purple patch as the Cowboys' resurgence continues apace.

Selection: Cowboys to win

Melbourne Storm v Manly Sea Eagles betting
Team Odds
Melbourne Storm $1.65 Bet Now
Manly Sea Eagles $2.30 Bet Now
An against-the-odds win in Canberra, in which the Minor Premiers character was put the test, came at a price with injuries to star duo Billy Slater and Cameron Smith. The diabolical tackle that left Slater unconscious on the ground amazingly went unpunished, marring the superb win in the capital.

A pectoral injury forced the captain from the field – although it was later revealed to be more of a precautionary measure, the veteran rake is a doubt for this round, in what will be his milestone 350th appearance. It was the first time Smith has featured in less than fifty minutes for the club since 2009 – a testament to his fitness and consistency.

With the possibility of having to do without two such vital members of the team, the Storm will need to be especially wary of a wounded Sea Eagles this weekend. Bad blood between the two stretches way back and the traditional animosity will no doubt be present again at AAMI Park on Sunday.

Sunday’s harrowing loss to the Dragons prompted Silvertails supremo Trent Barrett to describe the outing as ‘embarrassing’ and ‘NYC standard’. As a consequence, they crashed out of the top four placings, with every defeat having the potential to be extremely costly at this stage.

Timing is all-important as they attempt to build the momentum necessary to peak at the optimum time of this campaign and although one defeat hardly constitutes a crisis, a substantial loss can easily lead to a dip in form and confidence. The Sea Eagles perversely looked a better outfit with twelve men against St George, running in three unanswered tries after the break despite the inferior numbers. They need to rebound and prove that this was a rare off day – however, no team has ever won the title after conceding fifty points in a game in the same season.

Manly are up against history, but the first thing Barrett will expect is that his team has learned their lesson with a trip to the league leaders next up.

Selection: Storm to win

Gold Coast Titans v Wests Tigers betting
Team Odds
Gold Coast Titans $1.32 Bet Now
Wests Tigers $3.52 Bet Now
The Titans emerged as losers in last week's must-win game against the Panthers, and their finals chances are now extremely remote. It was their own errors that contributed to the loss in a match that swayed from end to end, in particular, two glaring mistakes that led directly to tries for the Panthers that ultimately resulted in a costly defeat.

They now require an unlikely five wins from the next six games, and with Konrad Hurrell exiting the game with a serious hamstring injury, their chances of success have been hampered further. It now leaves their goal of a top eight finish out of reach, and it would take a massive shift in circumstances for them to have any chance of making up the ground – the insurmountable gulf of six points now stands between themselves and the Dragons.

The Tigers managed another strong effort against the Eels on Sunday. Unfortunately, their endeavour went unrewarded in a narrow loss - a story that epitomises their season. Ivan Cleary announced that he is happy with improved recent performances, running the Sea Eagles, Sharks and Eels close, and winning the basement clash against the Knights.

Their better goal line defence has been key in Wests remaining competitive throughout the tail end of the season, and although it 's hard to see them climbing any further up the ladder before the year is out, the foundations are being built for a more positive campaign in 2018.

Selection: Titans to win

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