The 2023 NRL premiership found something of an even keel in Round 11 with a rare absence of upsets, but the competition remains as unpredictable – and historically tight – as ever as the halfway mark of the regular season nears.
Aint no parity like NRL parity
All eight favourites saluted over the weekend – the first time anything close to that happening has occurred in a rollercoaster 2023 – with Cronulla’s round-closing 20-14 victory over Manly featuring the closest margin.
Each of the first 10 rounds saw at least one match decided by two points or less.
Even more remarkably, all eight favourites won against the start. Most emphatically so. Those results are a bit of a paradox, though, because the 2023 NRL premiership is statistically the closest we’ve seen in years.
It’s felt closer with less of a gulf between the heavyweights and battlers and no clearly defined top and bottom half. But the numbers back up that atmosphere of equality.
The Rabbitohs have taken top spot on the NRL Ladder after Round 11! 🔝
— NRL (@NRL) May 14, 2023
Just six points separate new ladder leaders South Sydney (who leapfrogged Brisbane on for-and-against) and rallying, 13th-placed North Queensland – the equal-lowest gap between first and 13th in the NRL era (1998-present).
Meanwhile, it’s the first time since 2015 there’s been a gap of fewer than 10 competition points this deep into a season. In 2021, 16 points separated Penrith and Cronulla after 11 rounds, while last year the Panthers were 14 points ahead of Gold Coast at the same stage of the campaign.
With the eighth-placed Warriors (who accounted for Canterbury 24-12 on Friday) enjoying the Round 12 bye, the gap between the top and bottom of the Top 8 will remain a maximum four points at the end of this weekend. Last year it was 10 points after 12 rounds.
The premiership market retains a breakaway group of six contenders, but the Top 4 and Top 8 markets reflect the NRL’s remarkable parity.
Dragons find their tipping point
By all reports, the Anthony Griffin era at St George Illawarra is set to come to an end before they play their next game. After five consecutive losses by six points or less, the Dragons were humiliated 42-22 by a Cowboys outfit that hadn’t scored more than 24 in a game this season.
Griffin’s record with the Saints stands at 22-35, with a 38.6 winning percentage putting him last in the joint venture’s history (excluding caretaker coaches). He was almost certainly out the door at the end of 2023 anyway, but consistently baffling decisions – this time switching Jayden Sullivan to halfback in a late change but leaving him on the bench for the last 50 minutes after an unfortunate sin-binning – should ensure he joins predecessors Paul McGregor and Steve Price in failing to see out the season.
— 9News Sydney (@9NewsSyd) May 15, 2023
The Dragons have plummetted to the last line of betting for the title at $301 and into wooden spoon favouritism. Crazy as it sounds, though, the competition is so even and unpredictable, the breath of fresh air (or simply baseline coaching competence) a new mentor provides could keep them in the finals frame at this early stage.
Expect Jason Ryles to be named as the club’s new boss in coming days, though it’s likely he won’t take over until the end of the year.
Crunch time for high-profile teams
Sydney Roosters have extra reason to be fearful of a potential sacked coach bounce-back when they face the Saints on Friday night. The perennial heavyweights are in a huge hole, battling on both sides of the ball in consecutive losses to the Cowboys (20-6) and Panthers (48-4).
The Roosters played both teams back into form and went tumbling out of the Top 8, while they will be without Joey Manu due to an ankle injury, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is racing the clock to be fit with a pec complaint and Sam Walker’s knee injury in reserve grade will prevent a recall to replace Manu.
The situation is getting more grim by the week for 2022 grand finalists Parramatta, sinking to 14th on the ladder with just four wins from 11 games. The Eels were outplayed by the unfancied Titans in Magic Round and they fell short 26-18 in Canberra in Round 11.
— NRL (@NRL) May 13, 2023
The even nature of the competition is their friend, but the next fortnight – facing front-running Souths, who have won their last six, and suddenly back in form North Queensland – is crucial for the blue-and-golds before their belated first bye.
The Roosters have tumbled to sixth in the premiership market at $12, while the fluctuating Eels are back out to $41.
The Anthony Seibold bubble at Manly appears to have burst, meanwhile, on the back of three straight losses to Gold Coast, Brisbane and Cronulla. The Sea Eagles blew out to $51 for the title this week after hovering between $15 and $20 for most of the season to date.
Statement game of NRL Round 11
Penrith walked into their Friday night grudge match against Sydney Roosters under a bit of pressure, sporting a modest 5-5 record and have been held to 18 points or less in their previous four outings – and in seven of nine matches for the year.
What unfolded was vintage Panthers ruthlessness, efficiency and flair.
Under-fire Jarome Luai stole the show in a pointed reminder to NSW’s selectors, toying with the Roosters’ defence. But Scott Sorensen, Tyrone Peachey, James Fisher-Harris and Isaah Yeo also had immense games in the 48-4 drubbing – a record margin between the clubs.
It was the perfect statement ahead of a blockbuster this Thursday at Suncorp Stadium, where the Panthers will aim to avenge their Round 1 home loss to the Broncos.
For a team destined to contribute a handful of players to the NSW cause, Penrith have a fairly helpful draw through the Origin period and the two-time defending champs’ value at $4.50 to collect the minor premiership for the third time in four seasons should not be ignored.
Match Highlights 🎥 – #NRLPanthersRoosters
The Panthers dismantled the Roosters 48-4 at BlueBet Stadium to send an ominous warning to anyone with designs on their premiership crown. pic.twitter.com/Tl4qDam72E
— NRL (@NRL) May 12, 2023
Tight at the top
Despite the Panthers shortening in the wake of their big win, the Rabbitohs have almost drawn level at the head of the premiership market. The other contenders remained steady – except for the Roosters, who have been nestled in second since the pre-season but have slipped to the sixth line in the past fortnight. The Sea Eagles’ dramatic slide continues, while the Eels also eased out further. The Raiders, Cowboys and Warriors all made signficant moves, but a clearly-defined bottom-three – the Bulldogs, Tigers and Dragons – has developed.