Penrith Panthers and Brisbane Broncos remain on track to meet in the NRL Grand Final after producing two dominant performances over the weekend.
The Panthers breezed past Auckland Warriors in their play-off match, while Brisbane Broncos swept aside Melbourne Storm with contemptuous ease.
Read on as we assess the first round of matches in the NRL Finals Series, starting with the Panthers’ demolition job on the Warriors.
Penrith Panthers 32-6 Auckland Warriors
The Panthers justified their status as the bookmakers’ favourites to win the NRL championship with a dominant display against Auckland Warriors.
The home side took full advantage of some sloppy handling in the first half, with each of their three tries coming after the Warriors wasted possession.
One of the most intriguing elements of the Panthers’ performance was how easily they saw off the visitors’ challenge. The Panthers led 20-0 at the break and had the luxury of winding down in the second half on their way to a comprehensive 32-6 victory.
Having finished in the top four during the regular season, the Warriors will have a second chance to make progress when they face Newcastle Knights next weekend. It is difficult to imagine either side troubling the Panthers in the Preliminary Finals – a point shared by all of the leading online sportsbooks.
The Panthers are a best-priced 6/5 with several NRL betting sites to be crowned champions and will be tough to stop in their quest to win their third consecutive NRL title. However, Brisbane Broncos may have something to say about that after demolishing Storm in their lop-sided play-off encounter.
Brisbane Broncos 26-0 Melbourne Storm
Recent history suggested the Broncos would find it tough to defeat Storm having gone 14 years since their last victory over their rivals at the Suncorp Stadium.
However, the result never looked in doubt from the moment the Broncos opened the scoring and they went on to complete an emphatic 26-0 win. Brisbane captain Adam Reynolds was in fine form, while full-back Reece Walsh proved too hot to handle for Storm’s beleaguered backline.
The Broncos’ defensive turnaround under head coach Kevin Walters has been spectacular, with the team conceding an average of 17.7 points in 24 regular season matches.
They shipped an average of 31.2 points per game in 2020, before improving that to 28.95 during Walters’ first season in charge. That figure was reduced to 22.9 points per game last term and Walters has made the Broncos even tougher to break down this time around.
Odds of 6/4 to win the NRL title are a fair reflection of their chances and they should have little difficulty easing past either Storm or Sydney Roosters to reach the final on October 1.
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 12-13 Sydney Roosters
The bookies rate the Roosters as one of the outsiders in the NRL betting, despite the team heading into the play-offs in fine form.
They extended their winning run to six games with a hard-fought 13-12 victory over the Sharks to set up a semi-final meeting with Storm.
Despite their dismal performance in the previous round, Storm are rated as the favourites to defeat the Roosters and bag another shot at the Brisbane giants.
Punters who fancy the Roosters to upset the odds would be well advised to check out the PuntNow review given the prices they have available on the match. The Roosters are available at 5/2 at PuntNow, which looks well worth an interest following their gritty display against the Sharks.
They overcame the loss of two key players to injuries during the game, while captain James Tedesco’s sin-binning made no difference to the eventual outcome.
Storm defeated the Roosters twice during the regular season, but their performance against the Broncos makes them a risky betting proposition this weekend.
Newcastle Knights 30-28 Canberra Raiders
The clash between the Knights and Raiders had a bit of everything, with the see-saw encounter eventually settled by a Kalyn Ponga penalty goal in extra-time.
An allegation of biting made by Tyson Gamble against Jack Wighton marred a game where both sides got themselves into winning positions before crumbling.
The Raiders led 16-6 at the end of the first half, but the Knights roared back after the break to establish a healthy 28-16 advantage.
However, the Raiders refused to lie down and clawed their back inside the final 15 minutes to force the additional period.
Jamal Fogarty spurned the chance to win the game for the Raiders by Fogarty driving a low field goal attempt into Newcastle’s defence. Ponga made no mistake when his opportunity presented itself, sending the home fans in the 29,548 crowd wild with delight.
The Knights are expected to have their work cut out in the next round, with the Warriors rated as odds-on favourites by the bookies to knock them out.