by Alastair Bull

While Aussie Rules fans look forward to the second round of their 2018 Australian Rugby League playoffs this weekend in the Land Down Under, the country’s other major football code is also in the second week of the postseason.

Rugby League, the 13-a-side code which split from its close and more dominant 15-a-side cousin Rugby Union early in the 20th century, is the biggest winter sport in New South Wales and Queensland. And in 2018, the National Rugby League (NRL) has been an incredibly close competition. After 24 games, the top four teams in the 16-team competition all had 16 wins and eight losses, while the next four all had 15 wins and nine losses.

Those eight teams made the 2018 Australian Rugby League playoffs, and week one saw the elimination of the New Zealand Warriors (eighth in the regular season), beaten by the Penrith Panthers (fifth), and of the six-time champion Brisbane Broncos (sixth), thrashed by the St George-Illawarra Dragons (seventh).

The second round of 2018 Australian Rugby League playoffs sees Penrith and St George-Illawarra take on the two teams beaten in the qualifying final matches last week, the Cronulla Sharks (fourth in the regular season) and the South Sydney Rabbitohs (third), respectively. In both cases, the beaten qualifying final teams have been installed as favorites.

The semi-finals begin Friday U.S. time with the Panthers taking on the Sharks in what could be a very close game. The Panthers lost two of their final three regular season games and have been in turmoil off the field, with coach Anthony Griffin sacked with four games remaining in the regular season. However, they were too strong for the Warriors, winning 27-12.

They have two very good playmakers in James Maloney and Nathan Cleary, but they lost their two games in the season to the Sharks, who gave minor premiers, the Sydney Roosters, a tough game last week and might have won rather than losing 21-12 had they not wasted several try-scoring chances.

Much could depend on conditions. If there is any rain it may favor the Sharks, but if not, Maloney may be able to dictate terms. The Panthers at +110 may be the best bet.

For the second 2018 Australian Rugby League playoffs semi-final, a team which won by 30 points last week is rated as the underdog. However, despite St George-Illawarra’s impressive win over Brisbane, South Sydney are understandably favored given their one-point loss last week to the Melbourne Storm.

It should be a tough fight, but the Rabbitohs at -400 look to be the ones to take.

Awaiting the winners of these matches are the Roosters and the Storm, both of whom will ultimately be very tough to overcome.

2018 AUSTRALIAN RUGBY LEAGUE PLAYOFFS – Week 2 Picks:
Penrith Panthers (+110) to beat the Cronulla Sharks; South Sydney Rabbitohs (-400) to beat the St George-Illawarra Dragons