Canberra Raiders and Manly Sea Eagles collide in a blockbuster top four clash in the pick of the NRL Round 23 action.
Canberra and Manly have transformed into genuine premiership contenders this season and will be determined to claim bragging rights before potentially meeting again in September.
With the race for finals spots in top gear, Round 23 has some key games and we preview all eight fixtures:
Parramatta Eels vs Canterbury Bulldogs
Parramatta go in search of their fifth consecutive win when they play host to an in-form Canterbury outfit who will be looking to play spoiler to another finals-bound team. It’s been a great season for the Eels, with the club all but wrapping up a finals spot with three rounds to spare. On a four-match winning streak, including a 36-12 win over the Titans last week, the Eels are on the cusp of the top four as they head into this weekend level on 28 points with South Sydney and Manly. Losses to both of those sides in Round 23 and a win over the Bulldogs would elevate the Eels into outright fourth – but they can’t afford to take their opponents lightly. Canterbury’s season has been over for months now, but Dean Pay has got his side playing inspired football towards the end of the year. Parramatta have dominated their recent meetings, winning six of their last seven games – including a 36-16 triumph back in Round 2. This should be much closer with the Bulldogs in good form, but the Eels should really have too many points in them.
Prediction: Eels by 1-12 ($2.90 TopBetta)
North Queensland Cowboys vs Penrith Panthers
It’s basically do-or-die stuff for the Panthers over the next three rounds as they attempt to force their way into a finals spot. Penrith’s mid-season revival may all have been for nothing if they can’t play some consistent football over the next three weeks and reclaim a place in the eight. The Panthers have lost three of their last four games, including a disappointing defeat to Canterbury and a costly result to Brisbane last week, falling 24-12 at Suncorp. It’s been a nightmare season for North Queensland, who suffered their 14th loss of the season last week against Newcastle, going down by a crushing 42-6 scoreline. It’s tough to see how the Cowboys can get themselves up for this one when you consider how flat they were against the Knights.
Prediction: Panthers by 13+ ($3.30 TopBetta)
Brisbane Broncos vs South Sydney Rabbitohs
Brisbane will be aiming to consolidate their top eight status and South Sydney will be desperate to break back into the top four when the two sides clash on Friday night. It’s been an up-and-down season for the Broncos, but they’ve responded well to a 40-4 thrashing to Melbourne a fortnight ago, registering back-to-back victories over the Cowboys and Panthers to move back into the top eight. The Rabbitohs are on a three-match losing streak and generally haven’t been at their best since the Origin period. Souths are certainly a far cry from the team that won nine of their first 10 games and were leading the competition after almost three months. Their loss to Canterbury last week was a new low and they don’t look like lasting very long into September in their current form. Brisbane had won their last seven encounters until the Rabbitohs demolished them 38-6 back in Round 8. However, that was when Souths were firing on all cylinders – and they are nowhere near that level right now.
Prediction: Broncos by 1-12 ($3.10 TopBetta)
Cronulla Sharks vs New Zealand Warriors
It’s a crucial clash for both sides as the Sharks and Warriors try to keep their season alive. Cronulla control their own finals destiny after an unconvincing victory over the Dragons last week, but the Warriors can kiss their season goodbye if they lose this after suffering a heavy defeat at the hands of the Roosters last week. The Warriors are still mathematically in with a chance of making the eight, but they would need a small miracle after losing 42-6 to the Roosters. Cronulla have won four of their last five encounters, but the Warriors prevailed 19-18 just a few weeks ago in Round 18. The Sharks were in the midst of a massive form slump during that period, and although they haven’t improved that much, they should be able to dig out a positive result at home.
Prediction: Sharks by 1-12 ($3.20 TopBetta)
Wests Tigers vs Newcastle Knights
It’s do-or-die stuff for the Tigers and Knights as the two sides look to keep their seasons alive. With both sides hanging by a thread with identical 9-12 records in 10th and 11th spots on the ladder, the equation is simple – win and live to fight another round, but lose and it will be season over. Neither team has been in good form recently either, with the Knights only just snapping a long losing streak last week against the Cowboys, while the Tigers have lost their last two games to the Bulldogs and Sea Eagles. These two sides clashed just last month in Round 19, with the Tigers edging out a 28-26 victory in the Hunter. This one is a coin toss, but I think the Knights have that extra level they can go to if they can find it.
Prediction: Knights win ($1.74 TopBetta)
St George Illawarra Dragons vs Sydney Roosters
The Roosters look to continue their winning momentum heading into the finals when they take on the embattled Dragons on Saturday night. Timing is everything when it comes to securing the NRL premiership – something the Roosters know all about after surging to the title last season, and it appears as if they could be peaking at exactly the right time again. After a shock loss to the Cowboys, the Roosters have won their last five games, including putting 40+ points on the Knights, Titans and Warriors, while they also emerged triumphant in a blockbuster showdown with fellow premiership candidates Canberra a fortnight ago. The Dragons battled hard in a six-point loss to the Sharks last week, but they simply don’t have enough in the tank right now to be competitive against most teams. The Roosters have won four of their last five meetings and should extend that record comfortably.
Prediction: Roosters by 13+ ($1.90 TopBetta)
Melbourne Storm vs Gold Coast Titans
Preview to follow.
Canberra Raiders vs Manly Sea Eagles
Arguably the match of the round, this is sure to go down to the wire. The Sea Eagles have won four of their past five games, only suffering a shock-loss to the Warriors in Auckland in Round 21 and last week’s win over the Tigers couldn’t have been any more impressive. The Raiders were turning heads, winning four in a row before an unlucky loss to the Roosters two weeks back. But they had the doubting Thomas’s thinking again with that super winning performance over competition leaders Melbourne last week and will be looking to backing that effort up here in front of their Viking-chanting home crowd. Manly are 5-5 with road trips so far while the Raiders have been caught out several times at home with a 6-4 record. A top-four spot is still on the line for both clubs with the Eels breathing down their necks. Possession and field position will decide this one and I favour the home side getting the better in both departments.
Prediction: Raiders by 1-12 ($2.85 TopBetta)