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
Thursday 22nd August, 7:50pm

Clinton Gutherson1Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
Maika Sivo2Nick Meaney
Michael Jennings3Kerrod Holland
Waqa Blake4Will Hopoate
Brad Takairangi5Reimis Smith
Dylan Brown6Kieran Foran
Mitchell Moses7Lachlan Lewis
Kane Evans8Aiden Tolman
Reed Mahoney9Jeremy Marshall-King
Junior Paulo10Dylan Napa
Shaun Lane11Josh Jackson
Manu Ma’u12Corey Harawira-Naera
Nathan Brown13Adam Elliott
Peni Terepo14Jack Cogger
David Gower15Renouf To’omaga
Daniel Alvaro16Raymond Faitala-Mariner
Marata Niukore17Chris Smith

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.

Tip: Handicap – Bulldogs +7.5 @ $1.90

North Queensland Cowboys v Penrith Panthers @ 1300SMILES Stadium
Friday 23rd August, 6:00pm

Scott Drinkwater1Dylan Edwards
Kyle Feldt2Stephen Crichton
Jordan Kahu3Dean Whare
Tom Opacic4Brent Naden
Murray Taulagi5Brian To’o
Michael Morgan6James Maloney
Jake Clifford7Nathan Cleary
Scott Bolton8James Tamou
Jake Granville9Mitchell Kenny
Jordan McLean10James Fisher-Harris
Gavin Cooper11Viliame Kikau
Shane Wright12Liam Martin
John Asiata13Isaah Yeo
Reuben Cotter14Jarome Luai
Coen Hess15Spencer Leniu
Peter Hola16Moses Leota
Francis Molo17Reagan Campbell-Gillard

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.

Advantage: Panthers.

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.

Tip: Handicap – Panthers -1.5 @ $1.80

Brisbane Broncos v South Sydney Rabbitohs @ Suncorp Stadium
Friday 23rd August, 7:55pm

Anthony Milford1Adam Doueihi
Jamayne Isaako2Dane Gagai
Kotoni Staggs3James Roberts
Alex Glenn4Kyle Turner
Corey Oates5Campbell Graham
Darius Boyd6Cody Walker
Sean O’Sullivan7Adam Reynolds
Matthew Lodge8Sam Burgess
Andrew McCullough9Damien Cook
Payne Haas10Liam Knight
David Fifita11John Sutton
Matt Gillett12Jaydn Su’a
Joe Ofahengaue13Cameron Murray
James Segeyaro14Mark Nicholls
Thomas Flegler15Ethan Lowe
Gehamat Shibasaki16Dean Britt
Patrick Carrigan17Tevita Tatola

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?

Tip: Total Score – Under 39.5 Points @ $1.90

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v New Zealand Warriors @ PointsBet Stadium
Saturday 24th August, 3:00pm

Josh Dugan1Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
Sosaia Feki2David Fusitu’a
Bronson Xerri3Peta Hiku
Josh Morris4Patrick Herbert
Ronaldo Mulitalo5Ken Maumalo
Shaun Johnson6Chanel Harris-Tavita
Chad Townsend7Blake Green
Aaron Woods8Agnatius Paasi
Jayden Brailey9Issac Luke
Matt Prior10Leeson Ah Mau
Briton Nikora11Adam Blair
Wade Graham12Isaiah Papali’i
Paul Gallen13Jazz Tevaga
Kurt Capewell14Lachlan Burr
Jack Williams15Sam Lisone
Andrew Fifita16Bunty Afoa
Braden Hamlin-Uele17Kodi Nikorima

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.

Tip: Handicap – Warriors +7.5 @ $1.95

Wests Tigers v Newcastle Knights @ Campbelltown Stadium
Saturday 24th August, 5:30pm

Corey Thompson1Kalyn Ponga
Robert Jennings2Hymel Hunt
Paul Momirovski3Sione Mata’utia
Esan Marsters4Tautau Moga
David Nofoaluma5Shaun Kenny-Dowall
Benji Marshall6Mason Lino
Luke Brooks7Mitchell Pearce
Thomas Mikaele8David Klemmer
Josh Reynolds9Danny Levi
Oliver Clark10Daniel Saifiti
Luke Garner11Lachlan Fitzgibbon
Chris Lawrence12Mitch Barnett
Ryan Matterson13Josh King
Matthew Eisenhuth14Kurt Mann
Elijah Taylor15Herman Ese’ese
Alex Twal16Jacob Saifiti
Michael Chee-Kam17Aidan Guerra

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.

Tip: Half-time/Full-time – Knights/Knights @ $2.40

St. George Illawarra Dragons v Sydney Roosters @ Nestrata Jubilee Stadium
Saturday 24th August, 7:35pm

Corey Norman1James Tedesco
Zac Lomax2Daniel Tupou
Euan Aitken3Latrell Mitchell
Timoteo Lafai4Joseph Manu
Jonus Pearson5Brett Morris
Gareth Widdop6Luke Keary
Ben Hunt7Cooper Cronk
James Graham8Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
Cameron McInnes9Sam Verrills
Paul Vaughan10Isaac Liu
Jackson Ford11Angus Crichton
Luciano Leilua12Mitchell Aubusson
Tyson Frizell13Victor Radley
Jeremy Latimore14Nat Butcher
Korbin Sims15Zane Tetevano
Blake Lawrie16Poasa Faamausili
Patrick Kaufusi17Siosiua Taukeiaho

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.

Tip: Player to score 2 tries – Daniel Tupou @ $4.50

Melbourne Storm v Gold Coast Titans @ AAMI Park
Sunday 25th August, 2:00pm

Jahrome Hughes1Michael Gordon
Suliasi Vunivalu2Jesse Arthars
Will Chambers3Kallum Watkins
Justin Olam4Brian Kelly
Josh Addo-Carr5Phillip Sami
Cameron Munster6Tyrone Peachey
Brodie Croft7Ryley Jacks
Jesse Bromwich8Moeaki Fotuaika
Cameron Smith9Mitch Rein
Nelson Asofa-Solomona10Jai Arrow
Felise Kaufusi11Kevin Proctor
Kenneath Bromwich12Sam Stone
Dale Finucane13Nathan Peats
Brandon Smith14Alexander Brimson
Tui Kamikamica15Jai Whitbread
Joe Stimson16Jarrod Wallace
Ryan Papenhuyzen17Brenko Lee

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.

Goodluck, Titans.

Tip: Handicap – Storm -19.5 @ $1.90

Canberra Raiders v Manly Warringah Sea Eagles @ GIO Stadium
Sunday 25th August, 4:05pm

RaidersSea Eagles
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad1Tom Trbojevic
Nick Cotric2Jorge Taufua
Jarrod Croker3Brendan Elliot
Joseph Leilua4Moses Suli
Jordan Rapana5Reuben Garrick
Jack Wighton6Dylan Walker
Aidan Sezer7Daly Cherry-Evans
Josh Papalii8Addin Fonua-Blake
Josh Hodgson9Apisai Koroisau
Iosia Soliola10Martin Taupau
John Bateman11Joel Thompson
Elliott Whitehead12Jack Gosiewski
Ryan Sutton13Jake Trbojevic
Bailey Simonsson14Manase Fainu
Dunamis Lui15Corey Waddell
Corey Horsburgh16Morgan Boyle
Hudson Young17Taniela Paseka

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.

Tip: Handicap – Raiders -4.5 @ $1.90