NRL Round 23: Friday Match Previews & Betting Tips

The Cowboys are counting the days until their miserable season ends – but can they spring an ambush to the Panthers? Wayne Bennett is back in Brisbane but he’s got a crisis on his hands with the battling Bunnies needing a win over the Broncos.

James Baxter
Tue, 20 Aug, 12:00 AM

North Queensland Cowboys v Penrith Panthers – 1300 SMILES Stadium – 6pm

If the Cowboys were aiming to silence the criticism of their season’s collapse at Newcastle, their effort may as well have served as an amplifier. North Queensland was rotten in their 42-6 surrender and they might be grateful for how badly off the Titans are in preventing further scrutiny into what is going wrong for the 2017 Grand Finalists.

Facing a Knights side with six straight defeats, the Cowboys played their opposition back into form and the pain was made worse with their one-time prodigy Kalyn Ponga having a blinder. Without Jason Taumalolo, North Queensland’s pack had very little and it appears there might be no way back for the Cowboys this year. Coen Hess – a former Queensland representative who appeared to have the world at his feet – epitomised how stagnant the Cowboys have become this season. Admittedly playing out of position as a centre, Hess led the side with errors and missed tackles as the Knights took pleasure in targeting him in the defensive line.

Their only points came from a wily darting run from halfback Jake Clifford and a woeful 69% completion rate continually sabotaged the tiring Cowboys whenever they did actually get possession. With so many absences coach Paul Green has his hands tied in mass changes so it'll come down to whether his side has enough in them to finish the season with a fight and climb from their lowly 15th position.

 

A week is a long time in footy. Penrith was riding high after an upset win over Cronulla pushed them into the top eight. Just one round later and the Panthers are again outside the eight and copping a coaching blast after a 24-12 loss to Brisbane. The match had significant finals ramifications and while the Broncos now have one foot in the finals door, Penrith is kicking themselves.

A particularly sloppy start in Brisbane ensured the Panthers were chasing the game, at one stage completing at less than 50% and failing to capitalise on Brisbane suffering two sin separate sin bins. When the momentum did swing their way Penrith couldn’t find a way through some gruelling Brisbane goal-line defence and all too often James Maloney and Nathan Cleary came up empty with their attacking kicks.

Coach Ivan Cleary backed his side to find a way back into the top eight post-game but also labelled their attitude in a must-win game as “immature” and the way their defence opened up for prop Payne Haas to run 40m to score the sealing try would have left a sour taste in their mouths.

Penrith at its best is worthy of a top-eight berth but a failure to consistently play to their peak means their current ninth position is fair – near enough isn’t good enough. With time running out, Penrith will be hungry to step up and prove their coach wrong by showing a mentality more like their Cronulla ambush than their Brisbane disappointment.

 

Key Stats:

• The Cowboys have a recent 1-8 record with their last home win coming over 3 months ago.

• It’s also been over 2 months since they were first to 20 points, while Penrith has averaged over 21 points in their last 6 matches.

• Winger Brian To’o now has 7 tries in his last 8 games.

 

Tip: Panthers

Best bet: Brian To’o anytime try scorer- $2.00* (TAB)

Value bet: Race to 20 points - Panthers - $2.25* (Sportsbet)

Brisbane Broncos South Sydney Rabbitohs – Suncorp Stadium – 7:55pm

Brisbane’s finals destiny is truly in their control after a massive 24-12 at home to Penrith moving them to seventh spot. Payne Haas showed why he’s NRL’s best young prop with a man of the match effort having everything, from a long-range try, monster hits, speed and some incredible hustle in fielding dangerous James Maloney kicks.

It was a physical match with Jake Turpin and Tevita Pangai Junior copping judiciary charges and sin bins. Brisbane’s attack looked far more convincing than some of their recent outings with Jamayne Isaako showcasing the speed and finishing ability which saw him pegged as a future rep star last year with two tries and a scintillating 70-metre line break.

Brisbane’s goalline defence was also impressive, with Penrith only having two tries to show on the night despite lengthy spells camped on Brisbane’s line. Coach Anthony Seibold remains a man under pressure and his bizarre defence of maligned five-eighth Darius Boyd to reigning Clive Churchill Medallist five-eighth Luke Keary earned him ridicule, but in a must-win game, his side looked the goods.

Brisbane was pencilled in as Premiership contenders instead of scraping their way into the eight pre-season, but it’s been quite the turnaround from spells this year where they looked far away from even making September. It’ll be an intriguing clash with Seibold’s ex-side collapsing and the ascendency with the Queenslanders – a win and they’ll be looking an even better shot at finals footy.

 

If alarm bells were ringing at Redfern, they’re now deafening with the Bunnies freefalling after a shock 14-6 loss to Canterbury. At one time a minor premier contender, Souths are now out of the top four entirely and will do well to reclaim fourth position once the regular season ends.

Their latest defeat told a familiar tale, with injuries hampering their backline – Braidon Burns once again an early casualty -, forwards – Sam Burgess aggravating a nagging quad injury – while their best player Damien Cook is lacking the spark he had prior to a gruelling Origin campaign. Coach Wayne Bennett has seen and done it all in his career, so when he publicly says his side’s situation is “getting close to terminal” it’s a bold challenge to a side who may have run their race early.

To go tryless against a Bulldogs side who, whilst in great form, were wooden spoon candidates not long ago is extremely alarming. The attack in desperation was amplified by a dismal completion rate and a forward pack who again found themselves beaten by a hungrier opposition.

The most frustrating aspect of the Bunnies collapse for their punters is the talent is still there, and with John Sutton’s imminent retirement the motivation shouldn’t be a question. But unless they find a way to turnaround their energy and form - starting in Bennett’s old Brisbane stomping ground – Souths are at serious risk of a week one finals elimination.

 

Key stats:

Souths won their last clash against the Broncos 38-6 in round 8 but have lost their last 3 matches against the Broncos at Suncorp.

Brisbane have a 5-1-1 record recently compared to Souths’ 3-4.

Corey Oates has his best career strike rate against Souths – when starting as a winger he’s scored every time against them (12 tries in 8 games).

 

Tip: Broncos

Best bet: Broncos +1.5 - $1.91* (Bet365)

Value bet: Corey Oates anytime tryscorer - $2.10* (TAB)

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