Round 20 of the NRL premiership is in the books, with a couple of clubs continuing to make big strides towards an unlikely finals appearance and several more careening towards playoffs oblivion.
Sharks looking shaky as Top 8 squeeze takes hold
Cronulla was the biggest loser of Round 20 – from margin, ladder position and premiership contender status standpoints.
Desperate to proved themselves against a quality team after slumping to a 1-5 record against their Top 8 rivals (including a horrific 54-10 loss to the Storm in their previous attempt), the Sharks were obliterated 44-12 by the Warriors.
Their 2022 reputation as having one of the toughest, most formidable middle-forward rotations in the NRL was left in tatters as an under-strength Warriors pack dominated, while backline big guns were comprehensively outplayed by opposite numbers regarded as journeymen and fringe first-graders at the start of the year.
After tumbling from third to sixth, the Sharks are facing the very real prospect of missing the finals given their bye-less schedule over the last rounds includes matches against the Panthers, Rabbitohs, Cowboys and Raiders.
Meanwhile, alarm bells will be ringing at ear-splitting volume outside Craig Fitzgibbon’s office if Cronulla can’t account for Manly this Sunday in the Shire. The Sharks have slid from $13 on the fifth line of premiership betting to $18 on the eighth line in the wake of Mt Smart mauling.
Where does your team stand after Round 20? 🤔
— NRL (@NRL) July 16, 2023
Professional Panthers see out arduous Origin period
Penrith may not have been as dominant as the previous couple of seasons, but the manner in which the two-time champs have navigated the Origin drain should be roundly applauded.
The ladder-leading Panthers have lost just one of their last nine games – a golden point defeat in Townsville with their NSW contingent missing prior to game two – despite their heavy representative contribution and Nathan Cleary’s absence since Round 14.
The club’s depth has again come to the fore, with Ivan Cleary opting to rest his Blues quartet in the wake of Wednesday’s dead-rubber.
The fill-ins heeded the call with aplomb once more and the Panthers came away with a 24-14 win over the desperate Dolphins in Redcliffe, coming from behind with two tries inside the last 15 minutes.
— NRL (@NRL) July 16, 2023
For the second game running, centre Izack Tago stole the show with two tries, two try assists and 200 running metres.
Despite currently sharing the competition lead with the Broncos and two teams sitting just one win adrift, the Panthers have shortened to just $1.40 to collect another minor premiership.
Finals ship sailing
The Bulldogs, Dragons and Tigers are the only teams that can be counted out of the finals race with seven rounds left, but it’s getting towards do-or-die time for the five teams placed 10th-14th on the ladder, who are separated by just one point.
The Knights were the only one of the quintet to grab a Round 20 win – accounting for the Tigers 34-16 – and consequently moved up four spots to 10th. The Dolphins and Titans were gallant and unlucky, covering the line but surrendering late leads against the Panthers and Eels, respectively. The Sea Eagles were outlasted at home by the Cowboys, while the Roosters’ plunge continued with a convincing home loss to the Storm.
The big red pen will come out if the aforementioned clubs can’t come away with victories in Round 21. The Dolphins have a bye, the Titans and Roosters play one another on the Gold Coast, the Knights have a daunting home assignment against the Storm and the Sea Eagles will be looking to take advantage of the out-of-sorts Sharks.
Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson has owned the decision to allow skipper James Tedesco to miss last weekend’s NRL game by holidaying on the NSW north coast.
— Telegraph Sport (@telegraph_sport) July 16, 2023
Statement game of NRL Round 20
When can we start talking about the Warriors joining the well-established 2023 NRL ‘big four’ of Penrith, Brisbane, Souths and Melbourne?
The manner of their 44-12 demolition of the Sharks was arguably their biggest statement in a year where they’ve made plenty. Shaun Johnson’s form remains at a stratospheric level, Addin Fonua-Blake and Mitch Barnett bullied the Cronulla pack into submission, Rocco Berry alleviated the centre problem spot with a sensational breakout game, Luke Metcalf’s sizzling pace again came to the fore, and Wayde Egan and Dylan Walker are in the conversation as the most valuable No.9 and No.14, respectively, in the NRL right now.
The Warriors’ third-ranked defence has captured most attention during their renaissance campaign, but their ability to rack up quick points has become a real feature over the past six weeks. They blitzed the Sharks with flurries of three tries in eight minutes in both halves.
Match Highlights 🎥 – #NRLWarriorsSharks
The Warriors piled on eight tries in their biggest-ever win against the Sharks following a 44-12 victory at Go Media Stadium. pic.twitter.com/yCsbvyfKrg
— NRL (@NRL) July 16, 2023
A home clash with Canberra this Friday shapes as the Warriors’ biggest remaining test in the regular season; after their Round 22 bye, their only trips to Australia will attract heavy pro-Warriors crowd contingents in south-east Queensland (versus the Titans and Dolphins), while they play the Tigers, Sea Eagles and Dragons on home soil.
Now just $1.50 to finish in the Top 4, the 11-7 Warriors are every chance of matching their all-time season winning tally – in 2002, when 17 victories carried them to the minor premiership and set them on course for a historic grand final appearance.
Cowboys, Warriors close on big guns
The NRL premiership market stayed very stable overall again, but the Cowboys and Warriors shortened significantly again to move into the fifth and sixth lines, respectively, while the Eels also inched ahead of the tumbling Sharks by virtue of their nail-biting win over the Titans. As the market indicates, the premiership race is essentially down to nine clubs.
NRL PREMIERSHIP ODDS
|TEAM||CURRENT PRICE||LAST WEEK’S PRICE|
|South Sydney Rabbitohs||$7.00||$6.00|
|North Queensland Cowboys||$12||$16|
|New Zealand Warriors||$13||$18|
|Gold Coast Titans||$301||$251|
|Manly Sea Eagles||$201||$401|
|St George Illawarra Dragons||$501||$501|