Three things The Thinker learned in round four
- Not so much a new learning but a reminder – if you backed every outsider in every game for the first five rounds you would make a profit, and it's been a profitable strategy for many a season.
- The commentators criticising the penalty count are the same commentators that have been telling referees to clean up the ruck for years.
- Since the expansion of the NRL outside Sydney I doubt we have ever had an NRL ladder with the Storm outside the top four and all three QLD teams outside the top eight. Is the dominance of the Sunshine State coming to an end?
Canberra Raiders vs Canterbury Bulldogs – Thursday night – GIO Stadium
Ricky Stuart doesn't criticise his players very often, but he did last week. It made for riveting viewing at the post-match press conference as the coach ripped in while his captain sat beside. He's backed up the words with actions too, dropping Papalii from the starting seventeen. With the Raiders back at home I expect a better effort, and you would hope they have learned that they can't stop playing with ten minutes to go. Hard to split these two, but home ground advantage and the injury to under-rated Bulldog Aiden Tolman leaves me feeling green.
Verdict – Raiders by 2
Result – Raiders 26 defeated Bulldogs 10
Cronulla Sharks vs Sydney Roosters – Friday night – Southern Cross Group Stadium
Trent Hodkinson gets shunted to the seconds after steering the Sharks to successive victories. He's replaced by Moylan, who is 0 from 2 in a Sharks jumper. There's some chance Dugan returns for the Sharrks also, but official confirmation hasn't come through just yet. The Sharks ground their way to victory over the defending premiers during the Easter weekend in one of the more unwatchable sporting events I've seen in quite some time. It was ugly, but they won, and no team knows more about winning ugly than the Sharks. The Roosters big loss to the Warriors was baffling indeed. No changes from their coach to the seventeen, giving his troops an opportunity to show that round four was an anomaly. I'm tempted to trust him, but tipsters should note that I don't need too many excuses to tip against the Sharks.
Verdict – Roosters by 1
Result – Roosters 28 defeated Sharks 10
St George Illawarra Dragons vs South Sydney Rabbitohs – Friday night – Jubilee Oval
Undefeated and sitting atop the NRL ladder, the Dragons have scored more points than every other team and only the Tigers have conceded less points. The new halves pairing is working a treat and James Graham has made a very good pack even better. In a competition where getting half the games right makes you a genius, this is one game which almost picks itself. The Rabbitohs have named Sam Burgess, but his two game suspension rules him out. Memo for Mary McGregor – Wayne Bennett wants Ben Hunt back.
Verdict – Dragons by 16
Result – Dragons 16 defeated Rabbitohs 12
Wests Tigers vs Melbourne Storm – Saturday afternoon – Mt Smart Stadium
Memo to Ivan Cleary – Wayne Bennett wants Benji Marshall back too. It's only round five but the Storm and Tigers are meeting for the second time after the Tigers surprised everyone including themsevles with their victory over the purple machine in Melbourne in round two. Captain Cameron (Cranky) Smith was sent to the bin for the first time in about 38,000 days and it doesn't look like the referees are going to stop blowing the whistle anytime soon. Cranky and Bellyache may have to come up with a new strategy. There's plenty of former Warriors sporting stripes for the Tigers now (Lolohea, Packer, Godinet, Matulino) but there's quite a few Kiwis in that Storm pack that will feel at home in Auckland. I've pointed out previously that the Storm don't lose two games in a row very ofteb (although the last time I pointed it out I still didn't tip them). It's the only reason I'm leaning purple...but only just.
Verdict – Storm by 2
Result – Tigers 11 defeated Storm 10
New Zealand Warriors vs North Queensland Cowboys – Saturday night – Mt Smart Stadium
A bumper crowd should be on hand for the Mt Smart double=header and my only concern about tipping the Warriors is their history of losing games they are expected to win. History is a good guide but recent performances would suggest that this Warriors team is a little different. Shaun Johnson and Simon Mannering return to a side that put the Chooks to the sword. The Cowboys were pedestrian at best in round four and they haven't been great all season. Thurston appears a yard slower. I'm reluctant to criticise a champion of the game, but it looks to me like his best is behind him. I hope I'm wrong. I really do.
Verdict – Warriors by 16
Result – Warriors 22 defeated Cowboys 12
Newcastle Knights vs Brisbane Broncos – Saturday night – McDonald Jones Stadium
The Broncos coould easily be 0 from 4 this season, but for Scott Bolton running into a goalpost and a tryless victory (and a dubious penalty) against the Tigers. Their loss to the Titans was their worst performance thus far, and I'm not sure what levers Bennett can pull to change their fortunes. Pengai Jnr and Oates return for the visitors which helps. Some are calling for Milford to be switched to fullback but Bennett doesn't like being told what to do so I can't see it happening. Broncos winger Isaako has been caught out defensively a few times now – watch for Mitchell Pearce to target his edge. Kenny-Dowall is the man you want to be backing in try-scoring markets.
Verdict – Knights by 4
Result – Knights 15 defeted Broncos 10
Gold Coast Titans vs Manly Sea Eagles – Sunday afternoon – Marley Brown Oval
I've looked it up so you don't have to – Marley Brown Oval is in Gladstone. While the Broncos were awful it was the Titans that made them look that way. They appear to have their forward pack sorted now, with Wallace and James up front and Arrow locking the scrum. If those Titans forwards do the job Ash Taylor is the halfback that can finish the job (a memo from Wayne Bennett is on its way). Another good win for the Sea Eagles last weekend but that was at Brookvale and the injury to Tom Trbojevic is a big loss. Remember that backflip by Cherry-Evans who had agreed to terms with the Titans and then went back to the Sea Eagles? I wonder if a dubious third-party offer is what kept him at Manly, and I wonder what sort of seasons the Titans may have had if Cherry-Evans moved to the Coast. I can only wonder I suppose.
Verdict – Titans by 8
Result – Titans 32 defeated Sea Eagles 20
Parramatta Eels vs Penrith Panthers – Sunday afternoon – ANZ Stadium
The Eels were top four in 2017 and in 2018 they are 0 from 4 – I assume it's the curse of Jarryd Hayne. In round one the Panthers beat the Eels 24-14 and I see no reason why this game would be any different. The Eels are missing firepower in the backline and James Maloney has stepped up in the absence of Nathan Cleary for the Panthers. Could the NSW Blues name Pearce and Maloney in the halves again this season? Oh yes they could.
Verdict – Panthers by 10
Result – Panthers 12 defeated Eels 6
Wally Lewis - round five selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.
- Raiders vs BULLDOGS
- SHARKS vs Roosters
- DRAGONS vs Rabbitohs
- Tigers vs STORM
- Warriors vs COWBOYS
- Knights vs BRONCOS
- Titans vs SEA EAGLES
- Eels vs PANTHERS