NRL Form week 15
The week before Origin Game II means messy team selection for Round 15. Scott Ferguson delves deep into a difficult round to find some value wagers.
BULLDOGS (1.36) v PENRITH PANTHERS (3.6) +9.5 Total 42.5
ANZ Stadium Friday 1935pm
The Bulldogs were impressive last week, hammering a severely-disrupted Broncos team. Their only absentee this week is Hannant. Apart from the first half at Newcastle, their recent form is top class. Early in the season when the new signings had work to do to gel together, they won by two pts at Penrith. Now in full stride, it's a different prospect. Michael Ennis may be a late Origin call-up to replace Farah, and if drafted in time, will miss this match.
Not only do the Panthers miss key players due to Origin duty, they also have a couple of stars out injured as well - Civoniceva, Coote, Jennings and Lewis all miss, and they'd be four of the first six picked most weeks. Penrith will want forget last week's loss to Manly. Being beaten by a side returning to form is understandable, but with so much wasted possession and sloppy errors, they gave the result to Manly on a silver plate.
Normally come Origin time, you'd look at the outsider, but here it just makes the case for the home team stronger. The Bulldogs have shown the best teams in the comp that they are a threat, while Penrith's win have all happened on their terms - against weak teams or at home against a depleted Titans unit. Bulldogs 13+.
NORTH QUEENSLAND (2.0) v SYDNEY ROOSTERS (1.95)
Dairy Farmers Stadium Saturday 1930
A strong run of form came to an abrupt halt last week with an 18-32 loss away to the Dragons. No shame in that, but now the Cowboys have to do without Bowen (injured), and O'Donnell, Thurston & Tonga all on Origin duty. North Queensland's fortunes have hinged heavily on Thurston this season, removing his most able deputies makes this task very difficult. Grant Rovelli replaces Thurston at halfback, new recruit Michael Bani starts on a wing.
A second win for the season looked on the cards until the last couple of minutes last week against the Titans, who were on a short back-up. There are definite signs of improvement in the Roosters camp and this is their best opportunity for several rounds. Prop Nate Myles is the only player missing on Origin duty.
The Cowboys have a poor record against the Roosters - winning just twice from 11 matches here, and the heart of the side is missing. Countering that, North Queensland have won four in a row here and four of their last five in all. The visitors are bottom of the table for a reason, winning just one of their past nine. If evens was available on the Roosters (either by backing them or laying the Cowboys), I could be tempted.
MELBOURNE (1.61) v WESTS TIGERS (2.62) +5.5
Olympic Park Sunday 1400
Melbourne are always one of the worst-affected teams around Origin time, with Slater, Inglis, Smith, Johnson and coach Bellamy all absent. Sika Manu returns after being quarantined last week, with handy fringe players Hinchcliffe, Nielsen and Quinn securing rare starts. Just one loss in their past six, and fourth place on the table despite a poor start to the season suggest this team has depth.
A five-match losing streak was halted last week with a stunning second half against Parramatta, instigated as usual by Marshall and Farah. The win was better than it looked on paper, with Lawrence and Moltzen being late withdrawals. The latter returns to fullback this week while Heighington has been named despite a thigh strain. Farah's NSW duties means Hanbury will line-up at centre, Ayshford moves to five-eighth and John Morris replaces Farah at hooker.
Melbourne are seven from seven against the Tigers at Olympic Park but most of those will be with full-strength teams. Wests pinched this one at Leichhardt Oval in Round 6 and will fancy their chances again. Could go either way, either side by under 6.5pts in the TriBet market.
MANLY (1.72) v CANBERRA (2.38) +2.5
Brookvale Oval Sunday 1500
Manly are riding every bump that comes their way of late, with four wins and a one-point loss in their last five games. This week they lose D.Williams, Lyon, G.Stewart, Kite and Watmough on Origin duty in a major upheaval, that quintet supplies the vast majority of the team's line breaks.
Losing at home to the Sharks last week is about as low as it gets. That's five losses out of seven. Joel Monaghan has been called up for Origin duty while Terry Campese has been left out. He'll be on a mission this week to prove a few folks wrong. A Canberra try has been first scoring play in nine out of their last ten matches.
Could go either way here with the momentum being taken away from the form team, and the visitors simply struggling. Even below strength, I have to lean to the reigning premiers but it's not a betting match.
CRONULLA (1.88) v BRISBANE (2.1)
Toyota Stadium Monday 1900
Three wins on the trot for the Sharks threatens to turn their season around, but the teams they have beaten won't be playing finals. Barrett and Gallen are on Origin duty removing clearly the best two players in the side. Porter at halfback has been a key playmaker in recent weeks and will have even more responsibility here.A Sharks try has been first scoring play only once in their last seven rounds.
The price of consistent success is a bunch of players on representative duty, so the Broncos give debuts to 17yo Dale Copley (fullback) and 19yo Ben Hunt (halfback) in the absence of Karmichael Hunt, Darren Lockyer, Peter Wallace and Israel Folau on Maroons duty and Justin Hodges and Sam Thaiday injured.
The Sharks have beaten three ordinary teams recently but we saw just a few weeks ago that Brisbane are firmly in that class around Origin time. Can the Broncos fire up with fresh new blood in the team? Barrett and Gallen are critical elements of the Sharks team, while it's hard to back the Broncos around Origin time, it's even harder to back the 15th team on the ladder without their two best players.
BETS of the WEEK
Melbourne v Wests - either side by under 6.5pts