Five games to go and plenty to play for up and down the ladder. Who will hang on in round 23? here come your NRL preview talking points.
Perth hosts Saturday’s double header this week with the Dolphins playing Newcastle and the Rabbitohs playing the Sharks. Western Australia is the one place that the NRL needs a team more than any other, with rabid local support, a strong corporate presence and quality facilities.
Anyone who knows anything about Western Australian sports also knows it’s not a place where long dead NSWRL teams should go begging for resurrection – WA folks don’t want ring-ins, they want their own team. And they should have one.
I’m not going to re-prosecute my thoughts on Melbourne celebrating their 2007 and 2009 premierships which were stripped due to rampant salary cap cheating, you can read all I had to say about it here because this has happened before.
Melbourne rolling out two replica trophies for titles that were removed certainly was something, especially when they were playing the team the beat in one of those cheating years. For those wondering if Melbourne will be in strife for this middle finger to the game – the NRL did nothing about it in 2019, and they’ll likely do nothing about it now. If they were going to, they would have already.
Fresh off a 22-point loss the Roosters start favourite with the bookies for some reason this Thursday at the SCG against the Sea Eagles. The chooks are out of finals thinking and Manly need wins to reach the lower part of the eight. Wonder which team has more to play for.
Speaking of finals dreamers, the Gold Coast host the rested Warriors and simply must win to have a top eight chance. The Titans are four points and points differential from eighth and have a brutal run home featuring Penrith and Melbourne.
New Zealand took the two from the bye and now sit third, with a delightful run home featuring no top eight sides. It would be classic Warriors to balls it up from here though….
Friday primetime is Penrith and Melbourne in Penrith, two teams in great nick who may not be keen on revealing too much so close to the end of the season. Should we just be prepared for a meat and potatoes battle with both sides employing five hit ups and a kick?
Saturday starts with a ripper when the Cowboys host the Broncos, the classic Queensland derby which could pull the handbrake on North Queensland’s run up the table. Brisbane have a two-game space on third and only need a couple more wins to secure a home final in week one. Maybe that will get Kevin Walters some respect for a job well done?
Saturday twilight is the first of a Perth doubleheader with the Dolphins and Knights, with Newcastle on a month long winning streak but still acting calamitous in the back, undermining coach Adam O’Brien and causing headlines by meeting with discarded Titans coach Justin Holbrook. Will that affect the team? You’d think not, but let us see.
The Dolphins have already done enough for season one to be an incredible success and they’ve basically been playing with house money for weeks.
Saturday night on paper should be a good game but with Cronulla’s recent run of disgraceful form, the South Sydney Rabbitohs are the last team they’d want to be facing. Both teams are on 26 points so this one matters – if results go other ways, the loser will be out of the eight.
Sunday has two matchups which appear straightforward but involve mercurial favourites who might just cough up a game. It begins with Parramatta and St George Illawarra in a game the Eels absolutely positively must win, with a final month including the Broncos, Roosters and Panthers with a bye in the final round which may prove decisive.
The Dragons have been playing pretty hard without a win recently and can’t be dismissed out of hand, but in the cold light of day this is a team with finals designs against the team who’s second bottom.
And it’s the team at the bottom who will fancy their chances in the round’s final game when Wests Tigers and Canberra battle in the capital. Ricky Stuart has shaken up his team after a month of poor defence and stodgy attack, with inspirational captain but defensive liability Jarrod Croker being out ‘injured’ a pretty big selection move.
Canberra have a -90 points differential in their home games this year and yes you read that right. Their run of wins means they’re an unlikely shot at the top four, but their for and against of -78 means they simply must win games like this to even make sure of being in the finals at all.
The Tigers are running last and only have three wins, but are still making a nuisance of themselves every week, they’ve been no pushover in the second half of the season.
Canterbury have the bye, cruelly ending their winning momentum after they snuck past the Dolphins last week.
What’s got you talking ahead of round 23, Roarers?