The 2023 NRL premiership reverted to the wildly unpredictable in Round 12, courtesy of five upset results, big comebacks and epic finishes.
The NRL premiership enjoyed some unfamiliar stability in Round 11 with all eight favourites getting the result. It was short-lived, however, as arguably the most staggering batch of results of the most volatile season in recent memory unfolded in Round 12.
Five outsiders got the win – three of them by margins of 20 points or more and the other two courtesy of stunning late tries.
The sacked-coach factor set the stage for 6.5-point underdogs St George Illawarra to produce an astounding last-minute match-winner against Sydney Roosters when they looked to have thrown away a 14-point lead. Later on Friday, Parramatta – who were afforded an 8.5-point start that looked skinny – trounced streaking Souths 36-16.
— NRL (@NRL) May 19, 2023
Slight underdogs Wests Tigers obliterated North Queensland 66-18, smashing the record for most points in Tigers history, equalling the mark for most conceded in Cowboys history, and setting a new premiership record for most points scored by a team held to nought the previous week.
Canterbury overturned a 14-0 deficit to pip 1.5-point favourites Gold Coast via a frantic Jayden Okunbor try with less than three minutes to go on Sunday afternoon, before 4.5-point underdogs Manly, who had lost their last three, snapped Canberra’s five-match winning run with a 42-14 thrashing on the road.
The season will only get more unpredictable in coming weeks as State of Origin takes hold. With two points points separating first and eight, and only another six points to the foot of the ladder, it’s set to be a white-knuckle ride to the end of the regular season.
Five teams on 16 points at the end of a deadly Indigenous Round 🤯 pic.twitter.com/AjobmUAdU2
— NRL (@NRL) May 21, 2023
Late bids shake up Origin line-ups
Rarely have the series-opening State of Origin squads been impacted by the final round before selection as they were this year.
Near-certainties fell out of favour; barely-talked-about bolters won debuts; underdone stars did enough to win spots that looked tenuous at best heading into Round 12.
Jake Trbojevic’s decision to pull out of contention due to injury coincided with a man-of-the-match performance from Canterbury enigma Tevita Pangai Jr, who received a shock debut call-up from NSW coach Brad Fittler.
Jarome Luai’s second straight strong showing earned him a five-eighth reprieve, bumping irresistible debut selection Nicho Hynes to the bench and Damien Cook out of the side altogether – with Api Koroisau’s starring role in the Tigers’ landslide enough to oust the No.9 from the NRL’s form team.
Josh Addo-Carr’s first match in six weeks and a blistering display from a seemingly firing-on-two-cylinders Tom Trbojevic were sufficient for Blues recalls. In-form Campbell Graham was surprisingly bumped to 18th man before pulling out with a sternum injury.
— NRL (@NRL) May 22, 2023
Bombshells too in the usually-loyal Queensland camp. Kalyn Ponga, man-of-the-match in last year’s decider, was left out despite diggin his way out of a form hole impressively in the past two rounds. A head knock in the early minutes of the Knights’ loss to the Sharks may have been the clincher as the Maroons look to put Ponga’s wellbeing first – though having an irresistible debutant of Reece Walsh’s calibre would have made the decision easy.
Queensland great Dane Gagai was axed after being taught a centre lesson by Connor Tracey on Saturday, making way for Dolphin fullback Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow.
Intriguingly, Murray Taulagi beat out Xavier Coates for a wing spot despite an underwhelming campaign so far for the Cowboys, while Broncos tyro Thomas Flegler was picked over experienced Storm bookend Christian Welch against most predictions.
Meanwhile, Felise Kaufusi’s ongoing 2023 judiciary deathwish cost him a certain Origin jersey and catapulted David Fifita and Tom Gilbert into the Maroons’ second-row.
— NRL (@NRL) May 21, 2023
Anyone except those involved with or supporting the Cowboys had to feel good for Wests Tigers on Saturday night – neutrals were drawn to it like a magnet by the sheer scale of the home side’s performance and the atmosphere created by the Leichhardt Oval faithful.
After losing their first seven games, the Tigers dug their way out of a hole on the back of genuine grit. Wins over the Panthers and Dragons, and an honourable loss to Souths earned the Tigers respect again…but few could have predicted a 66-18 demolition of a 2022 preliminary finalist that had seemingly turned their campaign around with two convincing wins in the previous fortnight.
Match Highlights 🎥: #NRLTigersCowboys
Luke Brooks celebrated his 200th NRL appearance by steering Wests Tigers to a record 66-18 defeat of North Queensland. pic.twitter.com/W8Gv7VZqLa
— NRL (@NRL) May 20, 2023
Not since the playing days of modern-day coach’s box dwellers Benji and Robbie have the Tigers been so irresistible. Luke Brooks was the sentimental hero in his 200th, but as superb as he was, it was the next-gen Tigers who shone brightest: Starford To’a, Jahream Bula and Stefano Utoikamanu suddenly have fans justifiably dreaming of a fruitful future.
The Tigers remain $19 longshots to play finals footy in 2023, but the competition is so tight and unpredictable that anything seems possible.
Statement game of NRL Round 12
In a round of boilovers, several clubs – particularly St George Illawarra, Wests Tigers and Manly – would have been worthy recipients of this week’s gong.
But for calibre of opposition and potential impact on a team’s trajectory for the remainder of 2023, it’s hard to go past Parramatta’s universally unexpected 36-16 beatdown of Souths.
The Rabbitohs were the NRL’s form team, winning their previous six games in 2023 and in the rivalry. The Eels made them look like a mid-table team in their best performance of what had been a spluttering season so far.
Match Highlights 🎥 – #NRLSouthsEels
The Eels handed South Sydney their first loss in almost two months, with Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown orchestrating a comprehensive 36-16 win over the ladder-leaders. pic.twitter.com/adKmIUDq0Q
— NRL (@NRL) May 19, 2023
Mitch Moses and Dylan Brown were electric in the halves on the back of a powerhouse performance from front-row duo Junior Paulo and Wiremu Greig.
Parramatta have flattered to deceive on a couple of occasions already this year, but that was a performance to build a revival 0n – and the market has reacted with the Eels storming to the seventh line of title betting at $21 and shortening to just $1.85 to make the finals despite sitting 13th.
Panthers assert authority
The Panthers leapt to the competition lead and put a little distance bewteen themselves and the chasing pack in the premiership market, coming in to a season-low $3. Amid minimal movement in the top five contenders, the Storm and Sharks shortened after being the only other Round 12 favourites to win. The Roosters drifted significantly again and were almost overtaken in title betting by the Eels. The Sea Eagles’ price was slashed after a big win in the capital, while the Cowboys predictably as their mini-resurgence came to a jarring halt.