The NRL premiership heats up in Magic Round with eight vital clashes staged over three days in a festival of footy at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.
History: Played 71: Bulldogs 37, Raiders 34
Last meeting: Round 9, 2022: Raiders 14 d Bulldogs 4 at GIO Stadium
Team News: Jacob Kiraz makes a surprise return from injury, coming in for Braidon Burns (MCL). Max King is also back for Canterbury at Harrison Edwards’ expense. Teenage half Karl Oloapu is named to come off the bench again. Canberra welcome Xavier Savage back on the wing for his first game in the top flight this year, while Ata Mariota is back on the bench. Albert Hopoate and Corey Harawira-Naera drop out of the Raiders’ 17.
What We Like: This one looks likely to fall under the total line of 41.5 points, with five of their last seven clashes producing 38 or less, and both teams only scoring more than 20 points twice this season each. Jake Averillo is tantalising as a $3.20 Anytime Tryscorer after his scintillating brace last week, while Savage is $2.18 to cross in his first NRL match of 2023.
Final Thoughts: The Raiders have recorded three straight narrow wins to grab a share of seventh place with five other clubs. At the end of a tough week, their unity came to the fore in a golden point win over the Dolphins – though they should never have ended up in that situation after leading by 18. The Bulldogs showed plenty of character to snap a three-game slide with an 18-16 defeat of the Dragons on the road. Cameron Ciraldo gets some key troops back, too, but they are still under-strength and far from the finished article. The Green Machine should chalk up their seventh straight win over Canterbury.
Best Bet: Handicap – Raiders -3.5 @ $1.90
History: Played 49: Sea Eagles 24, Broncos 24, draws 1
Last meeting: Round 10, 2022: Broncos 38 d Sea Eagles 0 at Suncorp Stadium
Team News: Wide-ranging changes at Manly, with Tom Trbojevic, Brad Parker and Tolutau Koula returning; Reuben Garrick moves back to the wing and Morgan Harper and Christian Tuipulotu drop out. Jake Trbojevic has been ruled out injured and Toafofoa Sipley is suspended, with Ben Trbojevic and Aaron Woods coming onto the bench. Brisbane welcome Payne Haas and Ezra Mam back from suspension; Kobe Hetherington and Jock Madden make way.
What We Like: The Broncos average 26 points per game despite last week’s season-low effort and look good value to score over 27.5 against misfiring Manly at $1.82. After bagging a hat-trick in the corresponding game last year, Selwyn Cobbo is a strong option to score two or more tries at $3.90.
Final Thoughts: Both teams – who were first and second on the ladder – suffered big losses in Round 9 that couldn’t be explained away by some key absentees. The Broncos fell away badly in the second half of a 32-6 home defeat to Souths, but they retained top spot and get Haas and Mam back. The Sea Eagles’ 26-10 defeat to the Titans was more concerning and highlights their wild inconsistency so far in 2023. Despite some key players returning, they don’t exactly look stronger with Jake Trobojevic sidelined and the club’s five-eighth saga dragging on. It’s a tough spot for Manly at a packed Suncorp Stadium against the Magic Round hosts, who have far greater scope for an immediate bounce-back.
History: Played 49: Panthers 30, Warriors 18, draws 1
History: Round 24, 2022: Panthers 46 d Warriors 12 at BlueBet Stadium
Team News: The Warriors have named Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (concussion) and Tohu Harris (knee) to return, though Harris has to be in some doubt. Viliame Vailea is out of a reshuffled backline and Freddy Lussick drops off the bench. The Panthers get James Fisher-Harris back in time to replace the injured Matt Eisenhuth, while Spencer Leniu is lurking in the reserves as he nears a return.
What We Like: Only two of the Panthers’ eight games have produced more than 38 points, while the Warriors have a 6-3 unders record – go the under 41.5. Brian To’o scored doubles in both games against the Warriors last year and shapes as a decent option to dot down, albeit at a skinny $1.78. Warriors winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak flashed over for a double against the Storm before moving to fullback for a week – he’s good value at $2.40 to score.
Final Thoughts: This always shaped as the toughest section of the Warriors’ draw. Although they’ve shown now-trademark resilience in losses to the Storm (30-22) and Roosters (14-0), injuries have bitten hard and the 5-4 Warriors have to dig deep again in their third match in 11 days against yet another NRL heavyweight. The Panthers have also dropped their last two, however, and went down in inglorious fashion to the previously winless Tigers 12-8 last weekend. It seems crazy that Ivan Cleary’s charges have scored more than 18 points just twice in 2023. The two-time champs have won their last six against the Warriors and have lost three straight since 2019, but the Warriors’ competition-leading 7-2 record against the start makes them hard to pass up as double-digit underdogs.
Best Bet: Handicap – Warriors +10.5 @ $1.90
History: First meeting
Team News: Cronulla have lost Braden Hamlin-Uele (knee) but get Dale Finucane back from suspension for the first time since Round 5. The Dolphins have named Tesi Niu to come back on the wing for Robert Jennings, while Anthony Milford and Mason Teague return on the bench with Ray Stone out. Giant centre Valynce Te Whare is a chance to debut with Brenko Lee battling a hamstring issue.
What We Like: The Dolphins have averaged over 30 points conceded in their past five games, while the Sharks are averaging an NRL-high 29.6 for the season; Craig Fitzgibbon’s firepower-laden outfit should score more than 27.5 at $1.79. Siosifa Talakai belatedly got off the mark for 2023 with a try last weekend and is a juicy $2.90 to follow it up with another. Ronald Mulitalo has nine tries in his last seven games and is just $1.47 in the Anytime Tryscorer stakes, but his opposite, Jamayne Isaako ($2.00), could be the better value with three of Mulitalo’s opposing wingers scoring tries in the Sharks’ last four games.
Final Thoughts: Cronulla look like the team that stormed to a top-two finish in 2022 again, a three-match winning run culminating in a ruthless 44-6 defeat of the Cowboys in Round 9. Nicho Hynes lifts every player around him and the leaky Dolphins will be on high alert for the halfback wizard on Saturday. The Dolphins came within a whisker of pulling off a second straight mind-blowing comeback win, eventually going down to the Raiders in golden point. They need to halt the ‘game of two halves’ trend that has permeated their last month of football if they are any chance of an upset. But the settled, near full-strength Sharks are firing on both sides of the ball and should be too good in the clubs’ maiden clash.
Best Bet: Margin – Sharks 13+ @ $2.20
History: Played 38: Storm 32, Rabbitohs 6
Last meeting: Round 5, 2023: Storm 18 d Rabbitohs 10 at Accor Stadium
Team News: Melbourne have named Tom Eisenhuth to return at Tyran Wishart’s expense, while Eliesa Katoa looks likely to play after suffering a concussion on Anzac Day. Souths’ only change sees Liam Knight called up for the first time this year with Davvy Moale making way.
What We Like: Souths have not conceded more than 20 points in a game this season, while the Storm have leaked just 14 points per game in their last five. After their 18-10 slugfest in Round 5, the under 40.5 is a clear play in this one. Rabbitohs centre Campbell Graham scored in that game and zipped to the top of the NRL try charts with 11 courtesy of a hat-trick at this ground last Friday – you have to like him as a $2.25 Anytime Tryscorer. Storm centres Justin Olam ($3.60) and Reimis Smith ($4.00) provide solid value on the other side of the fence.
Final Thoughts: A flip of the coin between a pair of in-form premiership contenders. Both teams have gone up a gear since their showdown in Sydney five weeks ago. The Storm won four of their last five heading into the Round 9 bye, with Nelson Asofa-Solomona’s return a huge factor in recovering from 12 points down to see off the Warriors’ Anzac Day challenge 30-22. The Rabbitohs to their loss to the Storm with four straight wins – each better than the last. After breaking their Panthers bogey, Souths thumped the Broncos in their own backyard 32-6 with Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker calling the tune. The Storm’s historically dominant record against the Rabbitohs may provide a psychological edge for the $2.00 underdogs, but it’s hard seeing this being decided by many points either way.
History: Played 42: Dragons 22, Tigers 20
Last meeting: Round 24, 2022: Dragons 24 d Tigers 22 at CommBank Stadium
Team News: Tommy Talau will replaced the suspended Brent Naden in Wests Tigers’ centres, while Asu Kepaoa (illness) takes Talau’s spot on the bench. St George Illawarra coach Anthony Griffin has dropped Zac Lomax, Jacob Liddle, Jaiyden Hunt and Toby Couchman; Mikaele Ravalawa returns on the wing with Max Feagai moving to centre, while Jaydn Su’a and Billy Burns are the new second-row pairing with Jack Bird shifting to lock, and Jayden Sullivan is in the No.14.
What We Like: Seven of the merged outfits’ last 10 clashes produced 38 points or less, bringing the under 42.5 into play here. Meanwhile, seven of their last 12 – including both games last season – were decided by a 10 points or less; either team to win by less than 10.5 points looks good at $1.85. David Nofoaluma ($2.03), who returned to first grade with his 100th try, and Ravalawa ($1.97), who crossed for three tries in his last two games before getting injured, are hard to ignore in the Anytime Tryscorer market at their respective prices.
Final Thoughts: Another virtual pick ’em, with the bottom-placed Tigers riding high from their shock upset of the Panthers and the Dragons sinking to four straight losses. Luke Brooks, David Klemmer and rookie fullback Jahream Bula lead the way for the embattled Tigers last weekend – but it’s a big test for the team to back up that breakthrough performance, particularly defensively. The Dragons have by no means been awful during their current slide – they could quite easily have won all four – but their composure in the clutch has clearly been lacking. Meanwhile, under-pressure coach Griffin’s hatchet job on the team line-up seems destined to backfire.
Best Bet: Result – Tigers @ $1.95
History: Played 43: Roosters 31, Cowboys 12
Last meeting: Round 22, 2022: Roosters 32 d Cowboys 18 at SCG
Team News: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves returns for the Roosters after having a rest last week, while Drew Hutchison fills the centre breach left by Paul Momirovski (shoulder) and Jake Turpin joins the bench. Brandon Smith has been named despite a visit to hospital in Auckland with a neck concern. Fletcher Baker drops to the reserves. North Queensland’s Jeremiah Nanai suspension blow has been softened by Heilum Luki’s return from injury. Tom Chester’s suspected ACL injury sees Kulikefu Finefeuaki join the bench, while Ben Hampton and Jake Bourke are contenders to come in if Chad Townsend (calf) fails to recover.
What We Like: The Cowboys are scoring the second-least points in the competition and have been held to 14 or less in four of their last seven – a nudge at under 15.5 points for Todd Payten’s beleaguered side looks a sharp play against a team that kept a clean sheet on the road last week. Roosters second-rowers Nat Butcher and Sitili Tupouniua both opened their accounts for 2023 against the Warriors and are both $3.60 to score again this week.
Final Thoughts: It hasn’t been a smooth ride, but the Roosters have shown plenty of character since the Sam Walker selection bombshell to close out the Anzac Day game against the Dragons 27-26 and defend their way to a 14-0 win in Auckland against the Warriors. The latter was a tough effort against a quality team in challenging conditions, but they were on task from the first minute until the 80th. In contrast, the Cowboys’ continue to spiral. Todd Payten could take heart from the fact his side hadn’t been embarrassed in their first five losses, while there was hope the narrow home win over the Knights was a circuit-breaker. That all changed last Thursday at Cronulla as they crashed to a 44-6 defeat. Their heavy injury toll in the pack is starting to tell and it’s got a little bit worse with Nanai suspended. It’s no surprise to see the Roosters installed as the shortest favourites of the round.
Best Bet: Margin – Roosters 13+ @ $2.08
History: Played 23: Eels 12, Titans 11
Last meeting: Round 5, 2022: Eels 26 d Titans 20 at Cbus Super Stadium
Team News: Jayden Campbell will line up at fullback with AJ Brimson ruled out, with Kruise Leeming coming back onto the bench. Kieran Foran has been named despite battling multiple injuries. Parramatta welcome Bailey Simonsson (concussion) back at centre and Ryan Matterson (illness) to the interchange, while mid-season recruit Andrew Davey comes straight into the second-row with Bryce Cartwright moving to the bench. Sean Russell and Matt Doorey drop out of the Eels’ line-up.
What We Like: The Titans have only been held to less than 20 points twice this season (and not at all since Round 4) – consider them to score more than 18.5 at $1.99. The Eels have scored 26-plus points a game in winning their last seven against the Titans so they could be worth a shout to more than 27.5 at $1.87, a tally the Titans have leaked more than in four games this season. Clint Gutherson scored twice in these teams’ most recent encounter and has crossed for eight tries in his last seven games in 2023; he’s $1.91 to score a try. Value Titans in the market include David Fifita and Brian Kelly (both $3.60).
Final Thoughts: An intriguing encounter to close out Magic Round with the winner getting right back amongst Top 8 contention. The Titans were surprise 26-10 winners at Manly in Round 9, with David Fifita, Kieran Foran, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and supersub Jayden Campbell starring. The defensive improvement was arguably the most striking feature of the victory. The Eels also bounced back with a win last weekend, lighting up CommBank Stadium with a 43-12 win over the wilting Knights with Clint Gutherson bagging a hat-trick and Mitch Moses and J’maine Hopgood starring. The market is doing Gold Coast a disservice here – Parramatta has been nowhere near good enough week to week to justify such a big line.