Monday 21 August 2017 / 10:52 AM

NRL ROUND 23 PREVIEW

RABBITOHS V BULLDOGS — 7.50pm (AEST), Thursday, August 10 @ ANZ Stadium

The Storyline: The first true dead-rubber match of the 2017 season is upon us, with both teams completely eliminated from contention.

The Stat: These offences are bad — both ranking bottom-five in tries, run metres, try-assists and line-breaks, and that’s just categories where they both are at the bottom. Fans of expansive footy beware.

It’s a big game for: Gauging fan interest. How big of a crowd will a Thursday night game between two struggling (but heavily-supported) sides draw? Will 5,000 people show up? A far cry from what you could expect if they were going strong.

Last time they met: Round 7, behind the confident play of Josh Reynolds and a strong second half, the Dogs beat the Bunnies by the strange score of 24-9

The Verdict: Brick walls find the Bulldogs boring, and Souths have been a mixed bag all year — this one could be anything. Souths did win last week, but they were outplayed for 76 minutes and got lucky that the Dragons chilled out for the last four. Maybe they hope to lull the Dogs to sleep, but even then I’m struggling to see where they get points from. I’ll cover my eyes and say… Bulldogs 1-12

NRL – TEAM TALK: NRL ROUND 23

EELS V KNIGHTS — 6pm (AEST), Friday, August 11 @ ANZ Stadium

The Storyline: The best fortnight for Newcastle in three years has sparked an energy that looks to end another losing season with genuine promise. That new-found form might not last too long, as they travel down to ANZ to take on the red-hot Eels who are in season-best touch with eyes firmly on a top-four spot.

The Stat: Six wins in a row for the Eels now, the best form-line in the league.

It’s a big game for: Cam King has been growing each week since taking over the hooker role, and was rewarded with a new contract. The Eels need as much value as they can get out of that spot, so turning that positivity into strong play and staying the path is a must.

Last time they met: Despite the early loss of Kieran Foran (ahh, the memories), Parramatta held off a typically gallant Knights outfit 20-18, with debutant Bevan French crossing to capture the lead back in Round 12 of 2016.

The Verdict: Newcastle are playing with undeniable spirit, and let’s hope they’ve turned the corner for good. But Parramatta have bigger aspirations, and can’t be messing around with teams at the bottom of the ladder. Big opportunity to grab two points, some vital for-and-against and continue the great form. Anything less would be a huge setback. Eels 13+

NRL – ROUND 23 TEAM LISTS

BRONCOS V SHARKS — 7.50pm (AEST), Friday, August 11 @ Suncorp Stadium

The Storyline: Close on the ladder, but far apart in form. One of two top-four matchups featured on this week’s slate, the sluggish Sharks look to bounce back after falling to the Raiders. In their way stands the Broncos, fresh off a dominant showing where they made quick work of the Titans, notching up a half-century without breaking a sweat

The Stat: Cronulla captain Paul Gallen will become the 29th player to achieve the 300-game milestone, and the 11th to do so with one club.

It’s a big game for: Hunt impressed in his first game at hooker, looking comfortable and active, running in three tries for good measure. But he didn’t start, and was behind a pack running rampant. This week will be a far more accurate test.

Last time they met: The opening game of the 2017 season, with the Broncos mounting a comeback behind Milford’s magic to take the cake, 26-18.

The Verdict: It feels as though the Sharks are going to flip the switch anytime now. The longer it takes, the more we’ll start to worry. At the very least, they need to look a little more invested in the contest and remain persistent when things don’t go their way. From a results standpoint, Brisbane at home should have too much energy for the Sharks. Telling match-up nonetheless. Brisbane 1-12

NRL – GALLEN TO LINE UP FOR 300TH GAME

DRAGONS V TITANS — 3pm (AEST), Saturday, August 12 @ UOW Jubilee Oval

The Storyline: The Dragons are out of the eight after losing to two bottom teams in consecutive weeks. With the Saints’ season on life support, the Titans, fresh off their 54-point whipping from the Broncos may fall victim to circumstance yet again.

The Stat: With only two wins from their last eight games, the St George Illawarra slump is real. Has to be broken this week.

It’s a big game for: Saints strike weapons. The Dragons need to find ways to score, often squandering too much good field position. The Titans’ defence is vulnerable, as was put on full display last week, so they need to take advantage.

Last time they met: Round 17, where it was the Titans taking out the upset, 20-10.

The Verdict: If the Dragons don’t click soon, it feels as though they might collapse at any moment. That’s particularly worrying as the Titans will come out with energy and throw the ball around with nothing to lose. Still, with a chance to reclaim their spot from the Panthers in two weeks’ time, the Dragons simply have to take this one out. If they can’t beat the Titans this week, they don’t belong in the race. Dragons 13+

NRL – GOLDEN POINTS: NRL ROUND 22

STORM V ROOSTERS — 5.30pm (AEST), Saturday, August 12 @ AAMI Park

The Storyline: Can anyone challenge the Storm? The second top-of-the-table blockbuster sees first meet second as the Roosters head down to Melbourne.

The Stat: How’s this for domination — Melbourne currently lead the league in tries scored and least tries conceded. Let that sink in.

It’s a big game for: Melbourne’s prop rotation. Bellamy has tinkered with it plenty throughout the year, and has seemed to settle with Glasby acting as a defensive foil for Bromwich and the immense size of McLean and NAS off the bench. The Roosters have a sizeable pack themselves, so whether he makes any changes, as well as how they perform, will be of interest.

Last time they met: Round 16, where Mitchell Pearce got his Origin redemption, slotting a golden point field goal to ice the game. Don’t read into that too much though, Melbourne was without Slater, Cronk and Smith.

The Verdict: Poised, methodical, consistent. The Storm machine hasn’t disappointed once in 2017. To beat them, you have to outplay them. As is the case with everyone else, we’ll see what the Roosters have by how they match up with the best. Storm 1-12

NRL – ROUND 23 TEAM LISTS

PANTHERS V COWBOYS — 7.30pm (AEST), Saturday, August 12 @ Pepper Stadium

The Storyline: Welcome to the top eight, Penrith. Now the real games begin. They get a great introduction to the top tier meeting the Cowboys, who will give us a genuine idea of what the Panthers really have.

The Stat: Whilst Penrith have clawed their way into the eight, they’ve only won one game against a playoff team all season (Manly). On the other hand, the Cowboys have only beaten two of the current finals sides since JT went down: Parramatta (who weren’t in the eight at that point), and their opponents this week.

It’s a big game for: Rating the Cowboys’ defence. By the numbers, they border upon elite, ranking top five in least tries conceded (3.1) and missed tackles (30.3). The Panthers can get hot, so if they put that fire out confidently there’s something there.

Last time they met: Round 16, Kyle Feldt soared over Josh Mansour to snap up a gorgeous Michael Morgan cross-field kick, providing Ethan Lowe the chance to win the game in the final minute. He split the sticks, Cowboys winning 14-12.

The Verdict: By all traditional measurements, the Cowboys are the better team here. There is no denying the momentum feels on the side of the Panthers, but tipping them would be overlooking the giant mismatch in mid-field where the Cowboys, spearheaded by Jason Taumalolo, are far superior. This is shaping up to be a ripper. These two sides have had some fascinating games in recent times, Pepper Stadium will be packed, and the Panthers’ season is on the line. But it won’t be enough. Cowboys 1-12

NRL – GREEN HIT WITH $10,000 FINE

WARRIORS V RAIDERS —  2pm (AEST), Sunday, August 13 @ Mt Smart Stadium

The Storyline: Can the Raiders keep winning? After impressing in last week’s upset against the Sharks, this week looks even more promising as they head across the ditch to take on the struggling Warriors.

The Stat: Some perspective on the Warriors’ struggles — they’ve now lost five straight games and posted a 1-10 away record. But this is nothing new, their record in the post-Origin period since 2012 now sits at eight wins from 41, the worst mark in the league.

It’s a big game for: The key to Canberra’s win over Cronulla was the activity of Josh Hodgson from dummy-half. His involvement is crucial, and the Raiders need him to hit those marks every game from here on out.

Last time they met: Canberra cruised to a 20-8 victory in Round 7 after a hard-fought first half.

The Verdict: The Warriors are on the brink of falling apart, whilst Canberra are making a mad dash at the finish line. It would be the most Warriors win ever. Raiders 13+

HOFFMAN DISCUSSES PLAYING FUTURE

TIGERS V SEA EAGLES — 4pm (AEST), Sunday, August 13 @ Leichhardt Oval

The Storyline: Manly have returned to the winner’s circle after their dreadful fortnight. This Tigers match-up offers a chance to steady the ship and return to stringing wins together.

The Stat: These are two of the most offence-oriented teams in the premiership — the Eagles are fifth in tries conceded and third in missed tackles, whilst Wests are third and first in those categories. Could be a basketball score.

It’s a big game for: Manly’s attack is good. Their defence is bad. Even in their relieving win over the Roosters they gave up 18 points in the first 30 minutes. The need to tighten the screws significantly to have chance in the playoffs. The Tigers aren’t the best, but it’s a start.

Last time they met: The teams met less than a month ago, with the Sea Eagles putting away a spirited Tigers side 28-16 at Lottoland in Round 19.

The Verdict: The Tigers have put in some of their best performances of the year in the last four weeks. These teams aren’t too dissimilar is style — both play fast, expansive footy and rely on their attack to carry their weak defence. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they aren’t built to survive a battle with a high-powered offence. Manly get a confidence boost and solidify their finals spot. Manly 13+

NRL – RECRUITMENT WATCH: WESTS TIGERS

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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