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Bunker Review – Round 23

The results went largely to script, but there was no shortage of drama and intrigue in NRL Round 23 as the race for the finals shapes as the most unpredictable in years. 

By the barest of margins 

The nature of a lengthy competition like the NRL usually dictates there’s a few more blowouts as a season wears on and teams dip out of contention. But Round 23 was only the third full round in 2023 that didn’t produce a margin of more than 20 points, and the first since Round 8 that didn’t have more than two games decided by more than 10 points.

More unusual was the fact the closer the teams were in quality, the bigger the margin was.

The Warriors made hard work of a 28-18 win over a 12-man Gold Coast side on Friday night, throwing away an 18-6 lead before holding their nerve to produce two late tries.

The next day in Perth, in-form Newcastle found themselves on the ropes against the barely-in-contention Dolphins, who led 14-6 and 22-12.

Kalyn Ponga and Jackson Hastings stepped up to lead a Knights rally, eventually squeaking home 30-28 for a sixth straight win and a their first entry into the Top 8 this season.

The trend continued on Sunday as the NRL’s two worst teams almost played the role of spoilers. Four consecutive tries to Mikaele Ravalawa put St George Illawarra up 20-10 against Parramatta, who rescued their finals hopes by storming back to win 26-20.

Canberra only narrowly pulled out of a two-game skid with a 22-18 home win over wooden-spoon-bound Wests Tigers, getting the second-half wobbles in all-too-familiar fashion.

Top two make a break for it

Penrith and Brisbane came away with the biggest wins of the weekend – despite facing fellow top-six premiership market contenders – and maintained their four-point lead on the field.

The Panthers kept their noses in front in the minor premiership race with a ruthless 26-6 defeat of fourth-placed Melbourne, while the Broncos overcame the loss of Adam Reynolds (and a slew of errors and penalties) to put away North Queensland 30-14 in Townsville.

Seven into three won’t go

Penrith, Brisbane and arguably the Warriors are home and hosed for the top four, while Melbourne and Canberra would have to absolutely blow it to miss the finals from here.

But the remaining three spots are far from settled. Here’s how the final month of the regular season looks for the contenders.

6th – Cronulla Sharks (Top 8 odds – $1.25): Titans (H), Cowboys (A), Knights (A), Raiders (H)
7th – Newcastle Knights ($1.50): Bulldogs (H), Rabbitohs (H), Rabbitohs (H), Dragons (A)
8th – South Sydney Rabbitohs ($1.10): Dragons (H N), Knights (A), Bye, Roosters (H)
9th – Parramatta Eels ($2.90): Broncos (A), Roosters (H), Panthers (A), Bye
10th – North Queensland Cowboys ($1.55): Bye, Sharks (H), Dolphins (A), Panthers (A),
11th – Manly Sea Eagles ($14): Panthers (H), Warriors (A), Bulldogs (A), Tigers (H)
12th – Sydney Roosters ($12): Dolphins (H), Eels (A), Tigers (H), Rabbitohs (A)

Statement game of NRL Round 23

Cronulla arrived in 2023 in freefall, haemorrhaging points in three consecutive losses to the Warriors, Manly and Penrith. The flat-track bully label was firmly entrenched thanks to a 4-9 record against the current top 11 teams.

But the $3.90 underdogs turned up in Perth with a point to prove and led a shellshocked South Sydney 26-0 after an hour, before taking the foot off the gas slightly and claiming a vital 26-16 win.

Connor Tracey stepped into the fullback breach impressively, Nicho Hynes and Siosifa Talakai found their mojo again, and Braydon Trindall’s two-try effort surely locked down the No.6 jersey for the rest of the campaign. And with Dale Finucane and Teig Wilton rubbed out by injury, Toby Rudolf, Jack Williams and Cameron McInnes made huge contributions.

A loss would have sent the Sharks spiralling out of the Top 8, but they instead climbed into outright sixth to suggest they can still be a factor in 2023.

Warriors leapfrog weekend losers

The Panthers and Broncos shortened again, but the most notable mover was the Warriors, who rose to the fourth line of betting ahead of the Rabbitohs and Cowboys. Meanwhile, the Sharks and Knights made big jumps, but the Raiders remain on the 10th line despite hanging onto fifth spot on the NRL ladder.


Penrith Panthers$2.05$2.20
Brisbane Broncos$4.00$4.50
Melbourne Storm$8.00$7.50
New Zealand Warriors$9.50$11
South Sydney Rabbitohs$11$7.50
North Queensland Cowboys$18$10
Cronulla Sharks$41$76
Newcastle Knights$51$76
Parramatta Eels$61$61
Canberra Raiders$91$91
Sydney Roosters$151$151
Manly Sea Eagles$501$251
The Dolphins$501$501
Gold Coast Titans$501$501
Canterbury BulldogsN/A$601
St George Illawarra DragonsN/AN/A
Wests TigersN/AN/A


Close games, Controversy & Cleary’s Return

Round 20 Preview

Apologies, Sprays & Silky Tries Define Round 19

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