Almanac Rugby League – Monday night is punt night

The Wests Tigers entered this match on the back of a 6-0 winning streak and only a mentally-ill pundit would have tipped anything but a Tigers victory. I would have thrown “Titans diehard” in the above category but I think there are about as many of them as there are genuine Gold Coast Suns and GWS AFL fans.

Sure, this was an important match for the Tigers to win and with points differential so vital, they were also desperate to run up a decent score. But, in the greater rugby league community, this match was one that would be forgotten in a hurry.

So why on earth did it attract such great viewing numbers across the country? The same reason most sporting competitions across the world are booming…the popularity of the punt.

Many purists may shudder, but for plenty of viewers tonight, the only interest in the game was whether the Tigers would cover the 21.5 point spread. Betting throughout the week on this match was mostly uneventful; weather was not a factor, both sides were relatively unchanged and despite the gap in class, punters seemed to think TAB SportsBet had adequately accounted for this by giving the Titans the biggest NRL handicap since Cronulla were handed 23.5 points start at Brookie back in Round 25 2009.

Generally speaking, money was spread equally across both options but there was a late rally for support on the Titans +21.5.

Matt Utai’s fourth-minute try set the scene for what was to be an open match with a noteable lack of intensity (as one would expect in such a game). From his own half, Benji Marshall noticed some lazy Titans right hand defence, outpaced poor old Clinton Toopi and found Utai on the inside for the easiest of tries.

Further scores to Beau Ryan, Benji and Blake Ayshford had the Tigers leading 22-0 after 33 minutes and minus punters were on very good terms with themselves. An unexpected Mark Minichiello four-pointer saw Wests go to the break with a handy 22-4 lead.

The halftime break used to be a chance to grab a beverage of choice, perhaps answer the call of nature and check if the better half needed a cuddle. However, the live betting phenomenon has added a whole new dimension to the equation. Thousands of punters wait for their bookmaker of choice to throw up their halftime prices and the next 10-15 minutes can be pure bedlam for both parties.

Bookies try to balance up positions, punters try to get themselves out of trouble and those who forgot to get their bet on before kick-off still have a chance to get stuck in. On this occasion, our friends at TAB SportsBet threw up 29.5 points start for the visitors. This equated to 11.5 for the second half. Was that enough for what looked to be a battling Titans side or would the Tigers simply keep the Titans at arm’s length and grind out the final stanza? Most of the rank and file investors thought the Tigers would keep on going at a good click and took the minus.

David Mead’s intercept try in the 47th minute made things very interesting and Gold Coast spent a further five minutes deep on the attack. William Zillman was brought down inches short and a score at that stage would have made it 22-16 with 20 minutes remaining.

However, the sloppy Wests side clicked into gear and tries to Lote Tuqiri and Tim Moltzen made the score 32-10 heading into the final 10 minutes. The match was over as a contest but those who took the +18.5 pre-match or the -29.5 at halftime were very much on the edge of their seats.

In fact, when Chris Heighington strolled over in the 78th minute, punters who smashed the over 42.5 total match points pre-match were doing handstands. There were plenty of them, as the overs opened up at $1.90 and jumped $1.60. That is quite a go. The score was 38-10 and the Tigers were awarded a scrum 20 metres out with 20 seconds remaining. Who cares you might ask.

The -29.5 punters come to mind, so do the +29.5 brigade and those who went either side of the 50.5 total points quote at halftime. Sadly for some, and happily for others, Robbie Farah steadied himself and took a field goal to make the final score 39-10 in favour of the home side. The 29.5 halftime line was fairly shrewd in hindsight.

It was a solid win for the in-form Wests outfit. The Titans did not disgrace themselves and Preston Campbell stood out in his second last match. Benji Marshall was a clear man of the match while Tim Moltzen has really come into form in recent weeks.

It was an exciting yet mistake-riddled match but one that most of us will not recall in 12 months’ time. However, with sports betting now the wagering option of choice for Australian males aged 18-40, this match along with every NRL match kept everyone interested right up until the final hooter.

It is this generated interest along with the generated income from TV rights and from bookmakers themselves that makes sports betting such an important player in the modern sporting landscape. It is also this reason that sporting bodies must work with bookmakers to ensure integrity is protected. Anyone who thinks otherwise is either naïve or someone who has never had a flutter.

Matt Fisk

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