Wed, Aug 29, 8:59am by Staff Writer
The final round of the 2018 NRL season is upon us, with all position in the top eight uncertain heading into this weekend’s play.
Melbourne Storm versus Penrith Panthers
Friday, 31 August 2018 at 7:55pm AEST at AAMI Park, Melbourne
The Melbourne Storm is in the box seat to claim the minor premiership, with a win against Penrith at home on Friday night certain to guarantee them top spot.
The Storm is $1.49 to beat the Panthers, with the visitors priced at $2.65 at Sportsbet.
Melbourne squeezed past the Gold Coast Titans 10-8 last weekend in a game of two halves.
The Storm was on the backfoot during the first half, but turned the game’s momentum in their face after half-time. They could have won by a bigger margin if not for their poor conversion near the try line.
It has been a disastrous fortnight for the Panthers who have seen their top four hopes disappear after losses to Newcastle and New Zealand.
They will be desperate to regain winning form ahead of next week’s finals and hopefully secure a home final with a win against Melbourne.
What is counting against the Panthers is that they are winless at AAMI Park, losing all seven of their previous matches at the venue.
Penrith’s defence has been suspect in recent weeks, as they have struggled without five-eighth James Maloney, going 0-2 in his absence.
Melbourne could rest players, with a narrow loss and the Roosters and Souths not having wins by more than 20 points still likely to ensure they finish on top of the table.
The Storm isn’t in the sort of form to justify them resting players this late in the season, so it would be a surprise if there were any of their big names out.
The Panthers are in dreadful form and returning from a trip to New Zealand. They now have to take on one of the Premiership fancies, at home. This looks like a great spot to back the Storm.
Best bet- Melbourne Big Win Little Win 13+ at $2.88
Newcastle Knights versus St George Illawarra Dragons
Saturday, 1 September 2018 at 3pm AEST at McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
The Newcastle Knights can plunge the Dragons into further turmoil ahead of the finals and register their 10th win of the season on Saturday afternoon.
The 2018 season has been tremendously successful for the Knights, as they have competed at a high level in most of their matches.
The additions of Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga have been immense for Newcastle, reinvigorating their fan base and playing group.
The Knights are $2.08 to beat the Dragons on Saturday afternoon, with the visitors paying $1.75 at Sportsbet.
It’s been a miserable past eight weeks for the Dragons, as they have won only two of their eight matches during that span.
Last weekend’s 38-0 loss to the Bulldogs was surely breaking point for the Dragons. They surrendered control of a top four berth and had they beaten the Dogs, this match against the Knights could have secured a double chance for them in the finals.
As it stands, they could finish as low as eighth on the table if they don’t win on Saturday.
Gareth Widdop will still miss with a shoulder injury, as Queensland halfback Ben Hunt finds himself out of form.
The number seven’s kicking game was uncharacteristically poor on the weekend, but he is getting little help from his team mates.
Their forward pack looks tired and their outside backs aren’t contributing enough. Curiously, coach Paul McGregor benched fullback Matt Duftie to the bench on the weekend, with the youngster recently out of form.
Newcastle won its last match against the Dragons in Newcastle and are a great shot to send their home fans into the off-season with a win.
Best bet- Newcastle Knights to win at $2.08
Gold Coast Titans versus North Queensland Cowboys
Saturday, 1 September 2018 at 5:30pm AEST at Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast
Saturday afternoon is the final time Cowboys, Queensland and Australian great Johnathan Thurston will play in the NRL as his side play the Titans.
North Queensland is $1.53 to send JT off a winner, with the Titans a $2.50 underdog at Sportsbet.
The Cowboys produced their best performance of the season in a 44-6 demolition of Parramatta in round 24.
In Thurston’s final home match, the Cowboys were clinical and notched up a 32-0 lead by half-time.
The Titans were gallant in defeat to the Storm at home by a 10-8 scoreline and will be looking to play spoiler.
North Queensland demonstrated last weekend what they’re capable of, and had injuries to key players not curtailed their season, they may have played finals this season.
Gold Coast continue to develop, with young fullback AJ Brimson a revelation this season.
These two sides met in round seven this season, when the Cowboys won 26-14.
The past three contests between the two teams have been decided by 12 points or less, with the Cowboys victorious in their past six meetings with the Titans. The Cows will send JT off with a big win against a star struck Titans side.
Best bet- North Queensland Cowboys Big Win Little Win $3
South Sydney ($1.38) can stay in the running for a top-two spot with a win against Wests Tigers ($3.04) on Thursday night.
The New Zealand Warriors ($1.55) will be gunning for a home final in their match against Canberra ($2.45) at Mt Smart Stadium
Parramatta ($4.20) is all but assured the 2018 wooden spoon as they host the Roosters ($1.23) who have lost two in a row.
A win for Cronulla ($1.50) on Sunday gives them a spot in the top four, but they will have to contend with an in-form Canterbury ($2.60) side.
Brisbane ($1.36) round out the home and away season against Manly ($3.16) at Suncorp Stadium
NRL Round 25 Odds – Sportsbet
South Sydney $1.38 v Wests Tigers $3.04
New Zealand $1.55 v Canberra $2.45
Melbourne $1.49 v Penrith $2.65
Newcastle $2.09 v St George $1.75
Gold Coast $2.50 v North Queensland $1.53
Parramatta $4.20 v Sydney $1.23
Canterbury $2.60 v Cronulla $1.50
Brisbane $1.36 v Manly $3.16
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