Expert breakdown of NRL round 23 matches

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Expert breakdown of NRL round 23 matches

By Christian Nicolussi, Adam Pengilly, Dan Walsh and Nick Wright

Roosters (14) v Sea Eagles (10)

Thursday 7.50pm, Sydney Cricket Ground

Wasn’t it only a month ago these two teams met? This time, there might only be one of them who can make the finals with the Sea Eagles desperate to stay in the hunt before a daunting fortnight against the Panthers and Warriors. Matt Lodge will face his old club only a few weeks after being granted a release by the Roosters, with Anthony Seibold’s Manly missing Christian Tuipulotu after the Jack de Belin hip-drop tackle. Sean Keppie is also out from last week’s gutsy win over the Dragons, with Ray Vaega and Ben Trbojevic named in the 17. Siua Wong joins the Roosters’ side in place of Egan Butcher (concussion) as they try to extend their good record against Manly, which includes winning six of their last nine. Roosters by 2.

Adam Pengilly

Titans (12) v Warriors (3)

Friday 6pm, Cbus Super Stadium

Just when you think you’ve got the Titans pegged as all flash, no substance and second-half write-offs, they turn around and comprehensively outplay the Cowboys, ending a six-game winning streak and keeping one of the NRL’s hottest teams scoreless for the second half — the first such shutout for the Gold Coast in 18 months.

Honestly, who knows with them? Kieran Foran continues to defy his body and conventional wisdom to keep hopes of an unlikely finals berth alive, while Jayden Campbell is a potential game-changer off the bench. That said, the Warriors are coming off the bye and bidding for a deserved top four finish. If they’re at their best, the Kiwi side will be too strong. Warriors by 10.


Dan Walsh

Panthers (1) v Storm (4)

Friday 8pm, Bluebet Stadium

These heavyweight bouts never disappoint. Jahrome Hughes produced one of the great halfback performances last weekend, and the Storm welcome the return of Nelson Asofa-Solomona, but the Panthers’ defence has been brilliant, and Nathan Cleary will strip fitter for the couple of runs back.

Nathan Cleary, Reece Walsh, Kalyn Ponga, Nicho Hynes and Jahrome Hughes.

Nathan Cleary, Reece Walsh, Kalyn Ponga, Nicho Hynes and Jahrome Hughes.Credit: Getty

Even without Cleary, Penrith gave Melbourne a wake-up call in their own backyard not that long ago. Being a warm day in Sydney, expect a fast track and the home side to lap it up. Panthers by 10.

Christian Nicolussi

Cowboys (8) v Broncos (2)

Saturday 3pm, Queensland Country Bank Stadium

Two brilliant fullbacks, two similar halves pairings and two in-form forward packs are sure to add another enthralling chapter to this Queensland rivalry.

Scott Drinkwater has been instrumental to the Cowboys’ run, despite last week’s speed bump against Gold Coast.

Scott Drinkwater has been instrumental to the Cowboys’ run, despite last week’s speed bump against Gold Coast.Credit: Getty

Cowboys custodian Scott Drinkwater and Broncos wunderkind Reece Walsh have been among the most electric players of 2023, combining elusive ball running with intelligent play making decisions with ball in hand. Drinkwater’s 23 try assists and 26 line break assists from just 17 appearances has inspired North Queensland’s surge back into finals reckoning, while only a three-week suspension has kept Walsh from emerging as a genuine Dally M Medal contender (18 try assists, 21 line break assists and 13 line breaks). Their respective abilities to link with the halves have orchestrated passages of attacking masterclasses behind a pair of all-star forward packs. So who can edge ahead? Despite the Cowboys’ desperation to bounce back from a shock loss to the Titans and stay in the finals hunt, we are tipping a suspension to centre Valentine Holmes to be enough to make Brisbane’s right-edge too tough to handle. Broncos by 4.

Nick Wright

Dolphins (13) v Knights (9)

Saturday 5.30pm, Optus Stadium

Can Anthony Milford’s return to the Dolphins starting line up reignite the side’s faint finals chances? Not this time.

Newcastle have emerged from darkness to be one of the form sides in the competition, winning their past four games after a narrow loss to Penrith. It has not just been that those wins have come, but that their past two have come against Melbourne and Canberra — two outfits well in the hunt for the top four. Kalyn Ponga’s shift back to fullback for the Knights has been a masterstroke and he has been pivotal in his team’s winning run, notching seven try assists, five line breaks and 26 tackle busts from those victories. Adding an extra element to a rare trip to Perth is the fact the Newcastle skipper was born in Western Australia. And with just one point separating them from the top eight his side will simply have too much to play for. Knights by 14.

Nick Wright

Rabbitohs (6) v Sharks (7)

Saturday 7.35pm, Optus Stadium

Latrell Mitchell will be better for the return run the other night and give it to Cronulla who are busted, suddenly lacking confidence and now needing to weigh up whether to move their best player, Nicho Hynes, out of position.

Latrell Mitchell returned from the injury that kept him out of Origin last week in Tamworth.

Latrell Mitchell returned from the injury that kept him out of Origin last week in Tamworth.Credit: Getty

Souths terrorised Cronulla’s left edge in round one, and will no doubt send plenty of traffic that way again, especially if Matt Moylan returns to the halves. Tyrone Munro could be a late inclusion on the right wing. Souths will need to be careful to not clock off straight after half-time, which they have now done twice in the past fortnight. The Sharks did well with little ball against Penrith, but how much juice do they have left in the tank? Rabbitohs by 12.

Christian Nicolussi

Eels (11) v Dragons (16)

Sunday 2pm, CommBank Stadium

Back-to-back losses — conceding 70 points in the process — have the Eels in real danger of missing the finals with the Broncos, Roosters and Panthers on the horizon after this clash.

Parramatta get Dylan Brown back this weekend.

Parramatta get Dylan Brown back this weekend.

Dylan Brown is back from suspension and owes his teammates, while Brad Arthur has shuffled his pack and named mid-season recruit Joey Lussick at No.9. The Dragons have improved of late; Zac Lomax and Tyrell Sloan both showed flashes of brilliance last week against Manly. Still, Parramatta too strong and with too much to play for. Eels by 12.

Dan Walsh

Raiders (5) v Tigers (17)


Sunday 4.05pm, GIO Stadium

Well, this can’t be any crazier than the last time these two sides met at Campbelltown earlier this year, when the Tigers fought back from 18-0 down with 12 minutes left to lead 19-18 and then lose to a controversial penalty trying to smother a match-levelling field goal attempt. It was the same game Ricky Stuart rested Jarrod Croker from his 300th so he could celebrate it at home. The Tigers’ record against the Raiders reads like a horror novel — they’ve lost nine of their last 10, including some frightful thrashings: 60-6, 52-10, 46-6, 48-12 and 56-10. There’s no Croker again, his place taken by Nick Cotric in a backline reshuffle including Jordan Rapana at fullback, while the Tigers have lost Stefano Utoikamanu and Shawn Blore. If the Tigers want any chance of avoiding the wooden spoon, they might need to win this. Raiders by 12.

Adam Pengilly

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