After a wild opening three weeks, the NRL premiership heats up in Round 4 with a grand final rematch among three massive derbies.
NRL Tips – Parramatta Eels V Penrith Panthers
History: Played 107: Eels 60, Panthers 46, draws 1
Last meeting: Grand final, 2022 – Panthers 28 d Eels 12 at Accor Stadium
Team News: Ryan Matterson’s return for the 0-3 Eels could not be more timely, with back-row tyro Matt Doorey moving back to the bench and Jack Murchie (head knock) out. Brad Arthur has kept faith in his struggling three-quarter line. Back from the bye, Penrith’s only change sees Scott Sorensen return to the bench at Matt Eisenhuth’s expense.
What We Like: Despite some bigger scorelines in their four clashes last year, this derby is traditionally low-scoring: eight of the last 12 have produced 35 points or less. Under 39.5 points ($1.90) looks a decent play with the Panthers only scoring 28 points and conceding 23 across two games. Stephen Crichton has crossed in both of Penrith’s games so far and is great value at $2.50 to score a try opposite the enigmatic Waqa Blake.
Final Thoughts: Parramatta was in a position to win each of its three matches – and though their pack is depleted, the responsibility for failing to ice those tight encounters rests on Moses, Brown and Gutherson. There attack has been on song but the Eels’ defence has been well below par, leaking 64 points in their last two games. Penrith would have gone into the bye very satisfied with an authoritative win over Souths, but the champs’ new combinations are still forming. The Eels’ twin regular-season upsets of the Panthers last season were negated by convincing losses in the qualifying final and grand final, but this still shapes as a tight contest between fierce rivals.
Best Bet: Head to Head / Total Points Double – Panthers & Under 39.5 @ $2.65
NRL Tips – Melbourne Storm V Wests Tigers
History: Played 35: Storm 23, Tigers 12
Last meeting: Round 1, 2022 – Storm 26 d Tigers 16 at CommBank Stadium
Team News: A massive inclusion with Cameron Munster returning from a broken finger suffered in Round 1 for the Storm, who have looked rudderless in his absence in losses to the Bulldogs and Titans, but Jahrome Hughes’ two-match ban takes the wind out of their sails somewhat. Meanwhile, there’s signs of Tim Sheens hitting the panic button at the 0-3 Tigers, with Adam Doueihi shifted to fullback, Brandon Wakeham promoted to five-eighth and Daine Laurie returning in the No.14 jersey. David Nofoaluma has been dumped to the reserve with Charlie Staines switching to the wing. Isaiah Papali’i is back from suspension and Alex Seyfarth takes a bench spot from Joe Ofahengaue.
What We Like: The Storm featured in a 72-pointer on the Gold Coast, but the under 42.5 is the play here with the Tigers’ attack a disgrace besides a four-minute pocket against the Bulldogs. Storm fullback Nick Meaney has bagged a double last week to take his 2023 tally to three tries – and he’s a steal at $3 in the Anytime Tryscorer stakes against the Tigers.
Final Thoughts: Melbourne have been unmistakably out of sorts, following up a 13-plus home defeat to the Bulldogs with a high-scoring loss on the Gold Coast. The advantage in having Munster back with Hughes now at is negligible, while Nelson Asofa-Solomona’s absence is tough to overcome in a rebuilt pack. But the Tigers are beyond terrible, flattered by every scoreline of their disastrous 0-3 start. Sheens’ spine reshuffle is also very concerning and it would require one of the more remarkable backs-to-the-wall turnarounds for the Tigers to come away with a win here.
Best Bet: Margin – Storm 13+ @ $2.25
NRL Tips – Dolphins V Brisbane Broncos
History: First meeting
Team News: Felise Kaufusi has been rubbed out for four weeks in a major blow – the back-row enforcer has been crucial to the Dolphins’ 3-0 start. Jarrod Wallace bolsters the Dolphins’ pack, however, after missing the 36-20 defeat of Newcastle due to personal reasons. Jeremy Marshall-King still has a week to serve on suspension. The Broncos, who exploded in the last 10 minutes to blow the plucky Dragons away 40-18 in Round 3, have named an unchanged 17.
What We Like: Both teams have a 2-1 overs record and although both teams have been very good defensively, there should be on a fast, dry Suncorp Stadium track – the over 43.5 points option looks good. It’s hard to fathom Dolphins fullback Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow being as long as $2.75 to score a try when he’s dotted down in all three rounds, while Jamayne Isaako ($2.50) already has two doubles and brilliant Broncos No.1 Reece Walsh ($1.96) has scored three tries in two games back.
Final Thoughts: The Dolphins’ bubble refuses to burst. While the red-hot Broncos theoretically present their biggest test so far, the newcomers will again revel in the underdog tag with Wayne Bennett pulling the psychological strings publicly and behind closed doors. Both sides ebbed on their earlier performances in Round 3, before finding another gear to run out convincing winners. The Broncos have a clear advantage from a backline firepower standpoint, they’ve got better halves and a dynamic pack – patience is the key for Kevin Walters’ side. Despite the Broncos’ ability to rack up quick points, it’s hard to justify such a big line and the gritty Dolphins to cover is a clear play in this one.
Best Bet: Handicap – Dolphins +10.5 @ $1.90
NRL Tips – North Queensland Cowboys V Gold Coast Titans
History: Played 29: Cowboys 18, Titans 11
Last meeting: Round 13, 2022 – Cowboys 32 d Titans 6 at Cbus Super Stadium
Team News: The Cowboys, reeling from back-to-back losses to the Broncos and Warriors, have promoted Griffin Neame to prop with Reuben Cotter out. James Tamou returns to the bench. Scott Drinkwater and Peta Hiku are still on suspension. The Titans have named the same 17 that upset the Storm 38-34 in an end-to-end thriller short on defensive aptitude, with Sam Verrills still sidelined.
What We Like: The Titans love a high-scorer, scoring the third-most points and conceding the third-most points across three rounds. The total points line is set at 43.5. Brian Kelly made a tryscoring return for the Titans last week and has scored 21 times in his last 41 matches – solid value as a $3.50 Anytime Tryscorer playing opposite fill-in Gehamat Shibasaki. It’s been an indifferent start to the year for Jeremiah Nanai but he scored two tries against the Broncos (for a remarkable 20 in 30 NRL games) and he’s a great option at $2.50 to score with his peerless ability in the air.
Final Thoughts: The Cowboys are $1.45 favourites to arrest their two-match slide, but they were inexplicably flat in a 26-12 loss to the Warriors at home last Saturday. They’ve started all three games well before falling off dramatically in the second half, while it was jarring to see their international-studded pack dominated in yardage by the Warriors. The Titans remain as inscrutable as ever: a dangerous attacking unit but among the most porous defensive outfits in the NRL. The Cowboys have won 12 of the last 15 in the least-heralded of the Queensland derbies and should emerge from their mini-slump.
Best Bet: Line & Total Points Doubles – Cowboys -4.5 & Over 41.5 Points @ $2.70
NRL Tips – South Sydney Rabbitohs V Manly Sea Eagles
History: Played 148: Sea Eagles 77, Rabbitohs 71
Last meeting: Round 8, 2022 – Rabbitohs 40 d Sea Eagles 22 at Central Coast Stadium
Team News: Souths’ bid to end a two-match slide has been hampered by a mandatory 11-day standdown for Hame Sele and injuries to Tevita Tatola and Shaquai Mitchell. Daniel Suluka-Fifita, Jacob Host and Blake Taaffe are the new faces in the side. The unbeaten Sea Eagles, who came off the bye with a Josh Schuster-inspired 34-30 win over the Eels, are unchanged with Taniela Paseka and Josh Aloiai escaping with fines after being charged.
What We Like: Manly back-rower Haumole Olakau’atu scored a brilliant double last week and has 20 tries in his last 38 games – crazy value at $4.20 to back up with another four-pointer at Souths’ expense. Alex Johnston has 14 tries in 14 career games against the Sea Eagles (and six in his last four); always a decent option at $1.75 and crossed in each of the Rabbitohs’ last two games.
Final Thoughts: This is a crucial juncture for a Souths side determined to prove their place among the NRL’s heavyweights, having come up short against the Panthers and Roosters. Fixing their discipline needs to be top priority against a Manly side whose offence is firing with the added threat of Schuster alongside Tom Trbojevic and DCE. The Rabbitohs’ depth is being severely tested and although Latrell Mitchell’s presence gives them a chance under any circumstances, the Sea Eagles are the play with a start.
Best Bet: Handicap – Sea Eagles -4.5 @ $1.90
NRL Tips – New Zealand Warriors V Canterbury Buldogs
History: Played 41: Bulldogs 21, Warriors 18, draws 2
Last meeting: Round 22, 2022 – Warriors 42 d Bulldogs 18 at Mt Smart Stadium
Team News: The Warriors are riding a wave of confidence that culminated in a stellar 26-12 win over the Cowboys in Townsville, but two of their best performers this season – Wayde Egan and Mitch Barnett – both suffered injuries. Freddy Lussick and Jackson Ford replace the duo, while Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad returns at fullback for impressive debutant Taine Tuaupiki. Bayley Sironen has held a bench spot ahead of Josh Curran. The Bulldogs went back-to-back last weekend, following up a superb win in Melbourne with a patchy 26-22 defeat of the Tigers. Cameron Ciraldo has named the same 17 that achieved the latter.
What We Like: The Warriors defence has been the second-best in the competition across the first three rounds and their matches have all produced 38 points or less. The total points line is 42.5 and the under is a big play in this one. The Warriors have leaked the first try in the opening 10 minutes of all three games so far, bringing the Bulldogs to score first ($1.95) into the frame. In the Anytime Tryscorer market, rival wingers Marcelo Montoya ($1.83) and Josh Addo-Carr ($1.90) are both coming off Round 3 doubles.
Final Thoughts: The Warriors are a new team under Andrew Webster with a clutch of astute signings, with defensive resilience underpinning three highly encouraging performances in their 2-1 start. Shaun Johnson is rejuvenated behind a hardworking pack that is getting on the front foot. Cameron Ciraldo’s start at the Bulldogs has been slightly less impressive but he’s overseen back-to-back wins, with a late collapse in a narrow win over the woeful Tigers a reminder of how much work there still is to do. They will keep improving as young guns Jacob Kiraz, Paul Alamoti and Jacob Preston get more games under their belt. But the Warriors, who have won their last four in this rivalry, will be pumped up for their first Mt Smart assignment of 2023 and should be much shorter in the head-to-head market.
Best Bet: Result – Warriors @ $1.80
NRL Tips – Newcastle Knights V Canberra Raiders
History: Played 54: Raiders 29, Knights 23, draws 2
Last meeting: Round 23, 2022 – Raiders 28 d Knights 22 at McDonald Jones Stadium
Team News: Big changes for a 1-2 Knights side that was overrun 36-20 by the Dolphins at home last Friday. Hooker Jayden Brailey is back, Dominic Young has been dropped for Greg Marzhew and Kurt Mann returns at lock, while Tyson Frizell is a chance of returning from injury after being named in the No.22. The Raiders’ first win of the season – a solid 24-20 result against the Sharks – was soured somewhat by Danny Levi’s broken jaw. Zac Woolford comes in at hooker with Tom Starling remaining on the bench. Positive news with Josh Papalii (calf) to make his first appearance of the season.
What We Like: Points have been hard to come by for the Knights – not aided by Kalyn Ponga’s absence – with the battlers averaging 15 points per game. A bet on the hosts scoring 11-20 points for the fourth straight game is paying $2.25. Marzhew is $2.30 to score on club debut for Newcastle after crossing 15 times in 25 games for the Titans. Canberra second-rower Hudson Young has scored in his last three games against the Knights and is $2.70 to get off the mark for 2023 against his bunnies.
Final Thoughts: Given their long list injuries and suspensions, the Knights have overachieved in jagging an ugly win at Leichhardt and sticking with the Dolphins for an hour. But they are still vastly under-strength and Young’s axing hints at an unhappy camp. The monkey is off the Raiders’ back after a home win as an underdog, but it’s imperative they back it up in Newcastle. They almost blew both games against the Knights in 2023 before getting up in nail-biters. The likes of Corey Horsburgh and Matthew Timoko swung the game against the Sharks but it’s up to their more experienced heads to get the Raiders on a consistent roll. Papalii’s return is big and Canberra will win, though their poor record of covering as road favourite is a concern when they’re giving away 6.5 points with so many top-liners still out.
Best Bet: Margin – Raiders 1-12 @ $3.05
NRL Tips – St George Illawarra Dragons V Cronulla Sharks
History: Played 50: Sharks 26, Dragons 23, draws 1
Last meeting: Round 21, 2022 – Sharks 24 d Dragons 18 at Pointsbet Stadium
Team News: The Dragons followed up their Round 2 win with a gutsy 70 minutes against the Broncos, before being overwhelmed 40-18 via four late tries. Their only change sees rookie forward Toby Couchman return from a head knock at Michael Molo’s expense. The Sharks have bookended an exciting win over the Eels with losses to Souths and the Raiders in the absence of linchpin Nicho Hynes, but the Dally M winner returns this week with in-from Braydon Trindall slipping back to the bench.
What We Like: The Dragons’ two matches this season have produced 50-plus points, while all three of the Sharks’ games have gone over the total line with 44 or more scored. The archrivals should post over 43.5 ($1.90). Wing speedster Sione Katoa is one player who should benefit from Hynes’ return and he’s $1.96 to score a try and $5.75 to get two or more – which he’s done 10 times since the start of 2019.
Final Thoughts: Cronulla’s stoic efforts without their best player and St George Illawarra’s surprisingly solid start after being pilloried all summer sets up a cracking derby. The Sharks have been dominant against the Dragons in recent years, though, winning seven of the last eight – and the last four at Kogarah. Hynes may take some time to find his rhythm but his return will spark the rest of this Sharks line-up, which is only missing Wade Graham. There’s been good signs for the Dragons but speculation continues to swirl around Anthony Griffin’s future and the Sharks should take this one.