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North Queensland Cowboys v Penrith Panthers – 7.05pm AEST/8.05pm AEDT/10.05 NZT, Thursday @ 1300Smiles Stadium

Losses in high-profile away games to the Broncos and Storm will have the Cowboys bristling ahead of this home assignment – and the Panthers are reeling from Nathan Cleary’s injury. I’m excited by the makeshift Peachey-Maloney halves pairing, but it’s a tough first-up game to work out their fledgling combination in. Thurston hasn’t lost to Penrith in Townsville since 2009, a streak that is unlikely to come to an end here with the Cowboys desperate to avoid a 1-3 start. Cowboys by 14

The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Cowboys $1.25, Panthers $3.70 (Line: Cowboys -10.5). Tip: Cowboys -10.5/Over 40.5 @ $3.50. BETTING PREVIEW

Warriors Fan Interest: The Cowboys make the trek to Auckland next weekend for the Mount Smart double-header and will be eager to build some momentum before taking on the in-form Warriors.


South Sydney Rabbitohs v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs – 4.10pm AEDT/6.10pm NZT, Friday @ ANZ Stadium 

The traditionally fiery Good Friday showdown takes on a different dynamic with big characters James Graham and Josh Reynolds no longer involved, but how Aaron Woods and Kieran Foran step up in a game that always contains something extra will be an intriguing sidelight. Both sides are coming off impressive breakthrough wins. Moses Mbye’s shift to fullback is shaping as the making of the Bulldogs’ season, while the Rabbitohs are soldiering on admirably without Adam Reynolds. I can smell some golden point. Bulldogs by 1 

The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Rabbitohs $1.75, Bulldogs $2.00 (Line: Rabbitohs -1.5). Tip – Match to go to Golden Point @ $15. BETTING PREVIEW

Warriors Fan Interest: Kieran Foran is warming to the task at Canterbury, while it still rankles to see Raymond Faitala-Mariner starring in the blue-and-white jumper after the Warriors gave him up for Shaun Lane.

Cronulla Sharks v Melbourne Storm – 8.05pm AEDT/10.05pm NZT, Friday @ Southern Cross Group Stadium

This rivalry has really picked up steam in recent years, with each of the 2016 grand finalist grinding out tense away wins last year. The Sharks have won three of the last five. But they haven’t started 2018 particularly well, scoring just one try in a 14-4 win over struggling Parramatta last week to get off the mark. Matt Moylan and Luke Lewis are back in a significant boost. The Storm responded perfectly to the shock Tigers loss, overwhelming the Cowboys 30-14 in Round 3. They travel to take on one of the few teams capable of beating them in the grind, but the Sharks are well short of their arm-wrestling best right now. Storm by 8

The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Sharks $2.30, Storm $1.57 (Line: Sharks +3.5). Tip – Storm 12 & Under @ $2.90. BETTING PREVIEW

Warriors Fan Interest: The Anzac Day showdown in Melbourne – including a mouth-watering second-row duel between Tohu Harris and Ryan Hoffman – is looming large on Warriors fans’ radars.


Sydney Roosters v New Zealand Warriors – 5.30pm AEDT/7.30pm NZT, Saturday @ Allianz Stadium

OK, this will well and truly tell whether the Warriors are the real deal or not. After two convincing wins, the Warriors pulled off an astonishing escape in Canberra – but if they produce a similar first 60 minutes this Saturday, there’s no way the Rooster will let them back into the contest as generously as the Raiders did. The Roosters’ Round 1 shocker is now a distant memory, pumping the Bulldogs and Knights with Keary’s return key. The gritty Warriors just need to keep doing the basics well and hope that the spark of Johnson, Luke and RTS can pry open a Roosters defence that has only conceded four tries in three games. Warriors by 2

The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Roosters $1.35, Warriors $3.00 (Line: Roosters -9.5). Tip – Warriors +9.5 @ $1.87. BETTING PREVIEW

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v Canberra Raiders – 7.35pm AEDT/9.35pm NZT, Saturday @ Lottoland

Two clubs under immense pressure that would love a win to take the heat off. On the back of a deflating 34-6 loss to Souths, Manly’s salary-cap rorting penalty came down and they’ve been in the news all week. The Raiders have no such off-field issues, but they’ve bottled three straight games and their season is already on the brink. Blake Austin has been axed and Aiden Sezer is being shopped to the Bulldogs. Ricky Stuart is approaching meltdown point. It’s going to be a fun night at Brookvale! Sea Eagles by 6 

The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Sea Eagles $1.47, Raiders $2.55. (Line: Sea Eagles -5.5). Tip – Sea Eagles 12 & Under @ $3.10. BETTING PREVIEW 

Warriors Fan Interest: Warriors discard Ata Hingano is set to make his Raiders debut off the bench – and given recent developments with Austin and Sezer, he could end up being the Green Machine’s 2018 saviour.


St George Illawarra Dragons v Newcastle Knights – 4.10pm AEST/6.10 NZT, Sunday @ WIN Stadium

The front-running Dragons just keep getting better, demolishing the Titans 54-8 in Toowoomba to stay unbeaten. The fairytale Knights came back to earth with a thud last Sunday, routed by the red-hot Roosters. The still-fresh Newcastle combination’s defensive frailties were exposed and a sizzling Saints attack will be looking to put on a show for the Wollongong faithful. Dragons by 12 

The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Dragons $1.33, Knights $3.10 (Line: Dragons -8.5). Tip – Dragons 11-20 @ $4.00. BETTING PREVIEW

Warriors Fan Interest: The Dragons are the only standing in the way between the Warriors and top spot on the ladder. Could both teams still be unbeaten by the time they lock horns at Mount Smart in Round 7?

Brisbane Broncos v Gold Coast Titans – 6.30pm AEST/8.30pm NZT, Sunday @ Suncorp Stadium

The south-east Queensland derby is a huge one for the Titans, who must show some backbone after conceding a half-century to the Dragons last Sunday. The Broncos – everyone’s favourite punching bag after Round 1 – have responded in the past fortnight with gutsy wins over the Cowboys and Tigers. Cartwright and Latu have been demoted to the Titans’ bench, but its unlikely that will be enough to turn things around in the short-term…it’s starting to become apparent Garth Brennan doesn’t have the cattle. Broncos by 16

The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Broncos $1.20, Titans $4.20 (Line: Broncos -12.5). Tip – Over 46.5 @ $1.87. BETTING PREVIEW

Warriors Fan Interest: The Warriors’ 20-8 win over the Taylor-less Titans certainly looks less impressive after last week’s landslide. Meanwhile, the Broncos come to town in Round 6.


Wests Tigers v Parramatta Eels – 4pm AEST/6pm NZT, Monday @ ANZ Stadium 

It’s the fifth instalment of the Eastern Monday battle of Western Sydney, with the ledger tied at two-all. Both teams’ starts to 2018 have defied expectations. Wooden spoon favourites Wests Tigers have conceded just two tries and are desperately unlucky not to be 3-0, while top-four fancies Parramatta are 0-3 and have scored a paltry 18 points. Injuries to French and Hayne have compounded the Eels’ dire early-season picture. If the Tigers show up with anything close to the desire they’ve shown in the opening three rounds it’s hard to see the embattled Eels matching them. Tigers by 8

The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Tigers $1.87, Eels $1.87. Tip – Tigers/Tigers @ $2.50. BETTING PREVIEW 

Warriors Fan Interest: The Cleary-coached, ex-Warriors-stacked, Benji renaissance-facilitating Tigers are rapidly becoming the second-favourite team of choice in New Zealand. If both sides maintain their current form, the Round 9 showdown in Auckland will be an absolute belter.

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