Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for all Round 23 matches. It’s a big one for favourites with big lines.
Parramatta Eels v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs @ Bankwest Stadium
|Clinton Gutherson||1||Dallin Watene-Zelezniak|
|Maika Sivo||2||Nick Meaney|
|Michael Jennings||3||Kerrod Holland|
|Waqa Blake||4||Will Hopoate|
|Brad Takairangi||5||Reimis Smith|
|Dylan Brown||6||Kieran Foran|
|Mitchell Moses||7||Lachlan Lewis|
|Kane Evans||8||Aiden Tolman|
|Reed Mahoney||9||Jeremy Marshall-King|
|Junior Paulo||10||Dylan Napa|
|Shaun Lane||11||Josh Jackson|
|Manu Ma’u||12||Corey Harawira-Naera|
|Nathan Brown||13||Adam Elliott|
|Peni Terepo||14||Jack Cogger|
|David Gower||15||Renouf To’omaga|
|Daniel Alvaro||16||Raymond Faitala-Mariner|
|Marata Niukore||17||Chris Smith|
History: Played 156, Eels 67, Bulldogs 83
Last Meeting: Round 2, 2019: Eels 36 def. Bulldogs 16
Final Thoughts: The Bulldogs are the people’s team at the moment. They’ve won five of their last seven games to outlast the Cowboys and Dragons as mathematical chances for the Top 8. Genuine spoilers, the Dogs will be out to put a dent in the hopes the Eels have for the top four.
It makes for an interesting matchup given the makeup of the two sides. The middle of the field is relatively even. Both sides are filled with grit and grind forwards prepared to do the hard yards. Parramatta might have a little bit more on the edges in Manu Ma’u and Shaun Lane, but Josh Jackson and Corey Harawira-Naera are in impressive form themselves. Where the Eels have a significant advantage is in the spine.
Mitchell Moses has taken a leap in his career and playing consistent, high-quality football. Meanwhile, Clint Gutherson has looked better in recent weeks at fullback. With youngsters Reed Mahoney and Dylan Brown filling out the hooker and five-eight spots, the Eels simply have more talent in key playmaking positions. It’s should be enough for them to end up on top. However, the Bulldogs won’t make it easy.
North Queensland Cowboys v Penrith Panthers @ 1300SMILES Stadium
|Scott Drinkwater||1||Dylan Edwards|
|Kyle Feldt||2||Stephen Crichton|
|Jordan Kahu||3||Dean Whare|
|Tom Opacic||4||Brent Naden|
|Murray Taulagi||5||Brian To’o|
|Michael Morgan||6||James Maloney|
|Jake Clifford||7||Nathan Cleary|
|Scott Bolton||8||James Tamou|
|Jake Granville||9||Mitchell Kenny|
|Jordan McLean||10||James Fisher-Harris|
|Gavin Cooper||11||Viliame Kikau|
|Shane Wright||12||Liam Martin|
|John Asiata||13||Isaah Yeo|
|Reuben Cotter||14||Jarome Luai|
|Coen Hess||15||Spencer Leniu|
|Peter Hola||16||Moses Leota|
|Francis Molo||17||Reagan Campbell-Gillard|
History: Played 39, Cowboys 18, Panthers 20
Last Meeting: Round 9, 2018: Cowboys 26 def. Panthers 20
Final Thoughts: Jason Taumalolo has been named in the reserves and is a chance at returning for this one. It might not matter, though. His Cowboys put on an embarrassing display through the middle last week. Not even the hulking Tongan could have saved them. This week they face a Panthers side playing for their season.
Penrith were poor last week. Despite running close to the Broncos, the Panthers never really looked like taking over. On the outside of the Top 8 and a chance at getting back in should results go their way, the Panthers need to win if they’re to be a chance.
Anticipating an even clash in the middle with or without Taumalolo, it’s going to come down to the outside backs.
They’re far from world-beaters. The Panthers still rank 13th in the NRL in attack scoring just 16.6 points per game. However, with more to play for against a terribly inefficient Cowboys side struggling to score, the Panthers should take the chocolates on Friday evening.
Brisbane Broncos v South Sydney Rabbitohs @ Suncorp Stadium
|Anthony Milford||1||Adam Doueihi|
|Jamayne Isaako||2||Dane Gagai|
|Kotoni Staggs||3||James Roberts|
|Alex Glenn||4||Kyle Turner|
|Corey Oates||5||Campbell Graham|
|Darius Boyd||6||Cody Walker|
|Sean O’Sullivan||7||Adam Reynolds|
|Matthew Lodge||8||Sam Burgess|
|Andrew McCullough||9||Damien Cook|
|Payne Haas||10||Liam Knight|
|David Fifita||11||John Sutton|
|Matt Gillett||12||Jaydn Su’a|
|Joe Ofahengaue||13||Cameron Murray|
|James Segeyaro||14||Mark Nicholls|
|Thomas Flegler||15||Ethan Lowe|
|Gehamat Shibasaki||16||Dean Britt|
|Patrick Carrigan||17||Tevita Tatola|
History: Played 43, Broncos 29, Rabbitohs 12
Last Meeting: Round 8, 2019: Rabbitohs 38 def. Broncos 6
Final Thoughts: At a time of the NRL season that can be a little boring, we’ve got a genuine grudge match to get us through Friday night. It’s the rematch between Anthony Seibold’s Broncos and Wayne Bennett’s Rabbitohs. For the Broncos fans that wiped it from their memory bank: the Broncos lost the Round 8 clash 38-6.
The good news is the Rabbitohs don’t look anything like the side that started the season at the top of the ladder. They’ve lost three in a row after falling to the Bulldogs in Round 22. With the sting in the pack absent, the Bunnies backline hasn’t been able to fire. The Broncos backline hasn’t been all that potent either, though.
We could be in for a bludger here. Both sides are desperate while the Broncos are playing with yet another new halves pairing. Points look like they’ll be hard to come by on the night. Surely, what the Broncos lack in attack, they make up in defence with so much on the line?
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v New Zealand Warriors @ PointsBet Stadium
|Josh Dugan||1||Roger Tuivasa-Sheck|
|Sosaia Feki||2||David Fusitu’a|
|Bronson Xerri||3||Peta Hiku|
|Josh Morris||4||Patrick Herbert|
|Ronaldo Mulitalo||5||Ken Maumalo|
|Shaun Johnson||6||Chanel Harris-Tavita|
|Chad Townsend||7||Blake Green|
|Aaron Woods||8||Agnatius Paasi|
|Jayden Brailey||9||Issac Luke|
|Matt Prior||10||Leeson Ah Mau|
|Briton Nikora||11||Adam Blair|
|Wade Graham||12||Isaiah Papali’i|
|Paul Gallen||13||Jazz Tevaga|
|Kurt Capewell||14||Lachlan Burr|
|Jack Williams||15||Sam Lisone|
|Andrew Fifita||16||Bunty Afoa|
|Braden Hamlin-Uele||17||Kodi Nikorima|
History: Played 40, Sharks 22, Warriors 17
Last Meeting: Round 18, 2019: Warriors 19 def. Sharks 18
Final Thoughts: Which version of the Sharks are we going to get? The one that looked like they should have been up 24-0 against the Dragons last week? Or, the side that failed to take their opportunities before scraping to an 18-12 victory?
What about the Warriors? Will the 17 that beat the Sea Eagles comfortably in Round 21 turn up? Or, the group thumped by the Roosters in Round 22?
You might be better off buying a lotto ticket that getting involved in this one. The Sharks have the superior players in key positions. However, the Warriors are producing better performances through the middle of the field. While they’re at home and inside the Top 8, Cronulla hasn’t done enough to justify the -7.5 line they’re being handed. The Warriors have been there or thereabouts with every team they’ve played in the middle of the NRL ladder. They should keep it close.
Wests Tigers v Newcastle Knights @ Campbelltown Stadium
|Corey Thompson||1||Kalyn Ponga|
|Robert Jennings||2||Hymel Hunt|
|Paul Momirovski||3||Sione Mata’utia|
|Esan Marsters||4||Tautau Moga|
|David Nofoaluma||5||Shaun Kenny-Dowall|
|Benji Marshall||6||Mason Lino|
|Luke Brooks||7||Mitchell Pearce|
|Thomas Mikaele||8||David Klemmer|
|Josh Reynolds||9||Danny Levi|
|Oliver Clark||10||Daniel Saifiti|
|Luke Garner||11||Lachlan Fitzgibbon|
|Chris Lawrence||12||Mitch Barnett|
|Ryan Matterson||13||Josh King|
|Matthew Eisenhuth||14||Kurt Mann|
|Elijah Taylor||15||Herman Ese’ese|
|Alex Twal||16||Jacob Saifiti|
|Michael Chee-Kam||17||Aidan Guerra|
History: Played 28, Tigers 14, Knights 13
Last Meeting: Round 19, 2019: Tigers 28 def. Knights 26
Final Thoughts: This one is a beauty!
Both teams are on the outside of the NRL’s Top 8 and looking in, but only one will still be in the hunt after Saturday evening. On 22 competition points, the loser will be at least three points out of a finals spot. While a mathematical chance, the reality is too much will need to go their way even with two wins to end the season. This is do or die for the Tigers and Knights.
Nathan Brown is already on his deathbed regardless of the result. It was announced on Tuesday that he will be leaving the club at the end of the season. It’s a strange move by the club, but one that could motivate the side to finish the season strong. If it can generate some go-forward in the middle, the Knights will be too good. They currently run for the fewest metres in the NRL.
The Tigers are, well, the Tigers. Just when they look good, everything turns to custard. Wests were favoured to crack the Top 8 a fortnight ago. They’ve since lost two game as well as Robbie Farah and Jacob Liddle to injury. A return to Campbelltown is unlikely to redirect their spiralling form guide.
St. George Illawarra Dragons v Sydney Roosters @ Nestrata Jubilee Stadium
|Corey Norman||1||James Tedesco|
|Zac Lomax||2||Daniel Tupou|
|Euan Aitken||3||Latrell Mitchell|
|Timoteo Lafai||4||Joseph Manu|
|Jonus Pearson||5||Brett Morris|
|Gareth Widdop||6||Luke Keary|
|Ben Hunt||7||Cooper Cronk|
|James Graham||8||Jared Waerea-Hargreaves|
|Cameron McInnes||9||Sam Verrills|
|Paul Vaughan||10||Isaac Liu|
|Jackson Ford||11||Angus Crichton|
|Luciano Leilua||12||Mitchell Aubusson|
|Tyson Frizell||13||Victor Radley|
|Jeremy Latimore||14||Nat Butcher|
|Korbin Sims||15||Zane Tetevano|
|Blake Lawrie||16||Poasa Faamausili|
|Patrick Kaufusi||17||Siosiua Taukeiaho|
History: Played 41, Dragons 20, Roosters 19
Last Meeting: Round 7, 2019: Roosters 20 def. Dragons 10
Final Thoughts: The Dragons are officially no longer a chance of playing finals footy. They’ve struggled to get up for most games this season as it is. What chance are they here against the defending premiers? Not much considering their $4.80 price and +12.5-point headstart.
The Roosters, on the other hand, are on fire. They’re peaking at the right time and casting aside any team that stands in their way. Scoring 38 points per game in their last five, the Chooks are having no trouble finding the line. They won’t have much trouble on Saturday night either. The Dragons are 15th in the NRL conceding 23.1 points per game.
Given their form and the relentless attitude they displayed after pulling ahead of the Warriors last week, the Roosters will fly in this one.
Melbourne Storm v Gold Coast Titans @ AAMI Park
|Jahrome Hughes||1||Michael Gordon|
|Suliasi Vunivalu||2||Jesse Arthars|
|Will Chambers||3||Kallum Watkins|
|Justin Olam||4||Brian Kelly|
|Josh Addo-Carr||5||Phillip Sami|
|Cameron Munster||6||Tyrone Peachey|
|Brodie Croft||7||Ryley Jacks|
|Jesse Bromwich||8||Moeaki Fotuaika|
|Cameron Smith||9||Mitch Rein|
|Nelson Asofa-Solomona||10||Jai Arrow|
|Felise Kaufusi||11||Kevin Proctor|
|Kenneath Bromwich||12||Sam Stone|
|Dale Finucane||13||Nathan Peats|
|Brandon Smith||14||Alexander Brimson|
|Tui Kamikamica||15||Jai Whitbread|
|Joe Stimson||16||Jarrod Wallace|
|Ryan Papenhuyzen||17||Brenko Lee|
History: Played 21, Storm 14, Titans 6
Last Meeting: Round 18, 2019: Storm 38 def. Titans 18
Final Thoughts: Oh dear. This could get ugly. Really ugly.
The best team in the NRL takes on the worst. The Titans aren’t only the worst team in the competition, they’re without a legitimate head coach. You know they’re without a legitimate coach because AJ Brimson has been named on the bench. That’s a different conversation, though. The fact of the matter is that the Titans are awful and not even their +19.5 headstart offers much confidence. Funnily enough, the Storm have won their last six games following a loss by 19 points. Their last two have been by 36 and 54 points.
Following a week of reflection after giving up an 18-point lead for the first time in the clubs history in Round 22, the Storm will be fired up for this one.
Canberra Raiders v Manly Warringah Sea Eagles @ GIO Stadium
|Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad||1||Tom Trbojevic|
|Nick Cotric||2||Jorge Taufua|
|Jarrod Croker||3||Brendan Elliot|
|Joseph Leilua||4||Moses Suli|
|Jordan Rapana||5||Reuben Garrick|
|Jack Wighton||6||Dylan Walker|
|Aidan Sezer||7||Daly Cherry-Evans|
|Josh Papalii||8||Addin Fonua-Blake|
|Josh Hodgson||9||Apisai Koroisau|
|Iosia Soliola||10||Martin Taupau|
|John Bateman||11||Joel Thompson|
|Elliott Whitehead||12||Jack Gosiewski|
|Ryan Sutton||13||Jake Trbojevic|
|Bailey Simonsson||14||Manase Fainu|
|Dunamis Lui||15||Corey Waddell|
|Corey Horsburgh||16||Morgan Boyle|
|Hudson Young||17||Taniela Paseka|
History: Played 57, Raiders 21, Sea Eagles 34
Last Meeting: Round 7, 2019: Sea Eagles 24 def. Raiders 20
Final Thoughts: The end of the round brings the Match of the Round. It’s a potential playoff for 4th on the NRL ladder and a chance at a week off in Week 2 of the finals. Following their incredible win over the Storm last week, the Raiders currently occupy 3rd on 30 competition points. The Sea Eagles can go level on competition points with a win on Sunday leaving points differential as the difference heading into the last two rounds.
The Raiders are significant favourites, and they deserve to be. They’re the more consistent side and have displayed an ability to dig deep and adjust during games. The Sea Eagles, on the other hand, tend to show their hand and stick with it.
If Manly is playing well from the start, few teams can keep up. Canberra is one of them, though. Even when losing two players to the bin and finding themselves 18-0 behind in Melbourne, the Raiders still found a way to rally back. They showed premiership-winning qualities. Knowing a loss this week will undo some of the good work they achieved in Round 22, expect the Raiders to get the job done on Sunday afternoon.