NRL Round 21 Predictions and Preview

NRL Round 21 Predictions and Preview

The Form Guide

The most open premiership race in recent memory has been transformed in the space of one weekend, with the Storm and the Roosters surging into form while their rivals have begun to splutter. Miracle escapes from the Panthers and the Rabbitohs, over two teams well out of finals contention, did little to inspire confidence, though both teams have improvement left in them. The Panthers are about to welcome back Regan Campbell-Gillard, missing since game 1 of Origin, and he will undoubtedly give their pack a lift. But if is the worrying taper of form from their halves which must be of most concern to Anthony Griffin. James Maloney himself has admitted he is a little flat, but is backing himself to come good over the next couple of weeks, while Nathan Cleary will hopefully take some confidence from his game winning try over the Sea Eagles.

The Storm and the Roosters, though, are purring at exactly the right time. We have waited all year for the Chooks to produce this type of form, and it looks like their fans’ patience may well be finally paying off. Latrell Mitchell is playing at another level since State of Origin, while Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco are finally putting their combination to good use. Their forwards, too, look to have discovered some punch, and they have some big young bodies that are doing some damage. Melbourne have been ultra-consistent this year, and they have finally been rewarded with top spot on the premiership ladder. They are not quite the sure things they were this time last year, but it will take a mighty performance from someone to knock them off in the finals.

The Dragons are another team in swift decline. They are simply not the same force they were in the first half of the year. Their forwards aren’t hitting as hard, their halves aren’t taking the opportunities that they were, and their outside back have been manhandled like boys playing men. If Paul McGregor can arrest this form slump before the finals, he will be doing very well. The Broncos showed some defensive determination to hold out a willing Sharks and join them on 26 competition points, while the Warriors would be on their way out of the top 8 if the Tigers had taken their chance against the Bulldogs. If the Kiwis hold their place in 8th, they will just be making up the numbers in the finals.

The Big Games

Round 21 kicks off with the Broncos visiting the Bulldogs, and this will tell us a lot about where the Broncos are at. The Bulldogs were at their best last week, while the Broncos did just enough to win, but this is one that Brisbane should win well if they are serious about contending for this year’s premiership. Their forwards have been outstanding for the last 6 weeks, and the shift of Jamayne Isaako to fullback has been an undoubted success, but it is still the halves where the question marks remain. If they can’t score 30 points against the Dogs, they won’t trouble the big guns in the finals.

Speaking of big guns, Friday night sees a top of the table clash between the Storm and Souths in Sydney. The Rabbitohs have been underwhelming for the last two weeks, and will need a return to form to trouble Melbourne. Cameron Smith continues to be the most influential player in the game, and he seems incredibly focussed on steering his team to back-to-back premierships before he pulls the pin. They are still perhaps not quite settled on their preferred halfback, but that might not be the issue it appears with Smith in control. The Rabbits have transformed from the most in form team in the competition to one that is in somewhat of a slump in the matter of a fortnight, and Anthony Siebold is faced with the toughest challenge of his short first grade career to get them humming again. It all starts with their pack, so any turnaround in form must be led by the Burgess boys and Damien Cook. This should be must-watch football.

The Sharks and Roosters should both win their games against lower ranked opposition, but it is the Dragons v Warriors clash on Saturday afternoon, and the Panthers v Raiders match up on Sunday that will be crucial to the make up of the top 8. Both teams are operating below their best, and coming up against teams below them on the table should be the perfect opportunity to get their seasons back on track. These are dangerous games, though, as both the Warriors and the Raiders are capable of causing an upset if they turn up in the right frame of mind. The Saints and Penrith were considered the major threats to Melbourne, Souths and the Roosters, but their worrying lack of form has punters running scared. Both teams have stopped dominating physically, and need their forwards to reassert some dominance, while their halves have gone off the boil as well. The Warriors desperately need to find some form, and the return of Issac Luke, Adam Blair and Tohu Harris might be just the tonic they need. They were embarrassed last week against the Titans, which usually means they will lift this weekend. They will certainly be a tough test for the Saints.

Finally, spare a thought for Cooper Cronk and Jonathan Thurston, who will meet each other for the last time on Saturday night. This is far from how Thurston would have imagined he would be exiting the game, but after he pulled off a miracle escape last week, he might have enough left in the tank for one more showdown with his great Queensland mate. Let’s hope the spectacle can live up to these two legends.

Predictions

Last weekend saw some absolute nail biters, with a couple of genuine upsets, so let’s see if this week is a little easier on the blood pressure. The Broncos will be too good for the Bulldogs on Thursday, and need to win well. The Knights will make sure they play both halves this week to beat the Tigers, while the Storm will earn a spot alone at the top of the ladder by beating the Rabbitohs. The Warriors will remember how good they can be against the Dragons, who will continue their slide down the ladder by going down to the Kiwis, and the Titans will come crashing back to Earth against an Eels team that should’ve beaten Souths last week. The Roosters will run riot over North Queensland, the Sharks will do the same against Manly, and the Panthers will bounce back to form by beating the Raiders.

Best Bet

There are a few possible upsets coming up this weekend, while other games should go the way of strong favourites. The Warriors are excellent value at $2.75, considering how badly the Dragons are travelling, but who knows which Warriors team will actually turn up? This time of year should see the top teams hit form, so a multi of victories for the Broncos, Roosters, Sharks and Panthers, at $2.88, is where the value is this weekend, and that is our best bet of the week.

For the latest NRL odds, click here.