SEPTEMBER is the best month of the NRL calendar and four fascinating Week 1 Finals fixtures have been thrown up for punters this week.
The regular season quinella of Melbourne and the Roosters present two formidable outfits heading into their Qualifying Finals, but if anyone can beat them it is the fearless attacking outfits put out by Parramatta and Brisbane respectively.
The Elimination Finals throw up four sides each carrying genuine question marks heading into the finals. Defending premiers Cronulla host North Queensland in a rematch of last year’s Preliminary Final, while Manly and Penrith renew hostilities after a lop-sided contest last week.
Here is how our NRL expert views each fixture. You can bet on every NRL Finals match at TopBetta.
Sydney Roosters $1.60 v Brisbane Broncos $2.35
The finals series kicks off with the second-placed Roosters taking on third placed Brisbane at Allianz Stadium for a place in the Prelims.
The Roosters have been anything but convincing in recent weeks – they’ve won their last three, but all have been by four points or less and two of those were against sides with nothing to play for. On each occasion they’ve got out of jail late and they can ill afford a slow start against a side with as many points in them as Brisbane.
But the Broncos have endured an indifferent fortnight of their own, shipping 52 points against Parramatta before losing fullback Darius Boyd against North Queensland to injury. He remains on the sidelines and his absence will be felt in attack and defence.
In an evenly matched contest, the home side may have a slender advantage on their own turf and we’ll side with them.
Betting tip: Sydney Roosters 1-12 @ $2.70
Melbourne Storm $1.21 v Parramatta Eels $4.50
It is night on impossible to knock the Storm’s Premiership credentials after winning 20 of 24 in the regular season, three clear of their nearest rivals. The market for their Qualifying Final reflects their superiority across the park and they are expected to make light work of Parramatta.
But if there’s one team that can worry them in this finals series, I believe it is the Eels. The new halves combination of Corey Norman and Mitchell Moses is humming, marshalling an exciting side with plenty of pace and power across the park. Their slick, attacking style makes them the most likely to pull something out of the bag and any side with Semi Radradra, who has scored seven tries in two weeks, stands a chance of pulling off something special.
But for all the positives the Eels bring to the table, the Storm and their all-conquering Queensland spine look simply too good on paper. This match will be closer than many expect and the two-try start to the Eels looks the safest play.
Betting tip: Parramatta +12.5 @ $1.85
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles $.60 v Penrith Panthers $2.35
It is a case of deja vu for Manly and Penrith who, after last week’s final round clash, face off again in the first Elimination Final. Manly came out 28-12 victors on their home turf but despite earning hosting rights for this one, will be playing the fixture at Allianz Stadium – historically a ‘bridge too far’ for many of their fans to attend.
There’s little doubt which team out-performed expectations in the regular season. The Panthers were tipped as Premiership contenders but it took a remarkable run of 11 wins from 13 matches to secure a top eight berth. Meanwhile Manly was expected to be closer to the bottom than the top, but only a late season slide cost them what looked at one stage like a top four finish.
We have a sneaking suspicion that last week was a Grand Final of sorts for this Manly side, while possible the kick up the backside Penrith needed to sharpen for the finals. On paper the Panthers are a better side and there’s superb value about them getting the job done here.
Betting tip: Penrith win @ $2.35
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks $1.35 v North Queensland Cowboys $3.23
Patchy late season form means the defending Premiers Cronulla slipped out of the top four and their season could be over as early as Sunday in their Elimination Final clash with North Queensland.
Both sides have been limping of late – but only one has its best roster in tact. The Sharks have been sloppy and error prone all season, with their Premiership experience and class individuals dragging them over the line in a series of tight clashes. They carved up Newcastle early last week before switching off and letting what should have been a 20+ victory margin slip to eight points. They cannot afford to do the same here.
Despite the Sharks’ disappointing form, North Queensland faces an enormous task here. No side in the competition has had a worse run with injuries and Michael Morgan should be credited for the enormous job he has done to carry them into the top eight. They’ve lost to the Sharks twice already this year and have won just once in the last six weeks. This looks a task too great for them here.
Betting tip: Sharks 1-12 @ $3.00