NRL Round 23: Saturday Match Previews & Betting Tips
By hook or crook the Sharkies are back in the 8 – can they consolidate by beating the Warriors? Nathan Brown is on the way out but can the Knights coach get his side closer to the finals when they face the Tigers? The Roosters are on a rampage and look to take a step closer to a top two guarantee when they meet the Dragons in Kogarah.
Cronulla Sharks v New Zealand Warriors – Pointsbet Stadium – 3:00pm
Cronulla rode their luck to keep to somehow re-enter the top eight with a bunker mistake allowing them to squeeze home 18-12 over their rivals St George Illawarra. It was hardly an inspired performance from the Sharks, who dominated possession and chances yet couldn’t put away an injury-ravaged Dragons who were playing for pride.
Their attack wasn’t helped with yet another Matt Moylan hamstring injury, but for a side with finals aspirations their inability to convert field position into points is a sign John Morris’s side is far from the finished article. Prop Aaron Woods showed the ability which at one time made him a representative walk-in with the best game of his year, scoring the game’s first try to go with 146 run metres and 30 tackles without a miss.
There couldn’t be much criticism laid at the Sharks pack who dominated their depleted counterparts – but Cronulla need to drastically improve their completions (a lowly 69% last week) and attacking fluidity to ensure they maintain their top eight spot.
Bronson Xerri’s game-winning try from a Shaun Johnson bomb raised eyebrows being given despite Wade Graham knocking it on but shows they at least have a backline strike weapon who can create something from nothing. Paul Gallen is leaving nothing in the tank with retirement drawing near and Cronulla will be desperate to keep their winning feeling going another week.
The Warriors’ finals chances came to an emphatic end last round, a 42-6 thrashing by the Roosters ending their unlikely hopes of a September charge. They got off to a positive start with a smart Blake Green kick finding ex-Chook Roger Tuivasa-Sheck for the game’s opening points but it was all downhill from there.
It wasn’t a diabolical performance like the one shown against Canberra recently – the Warriors simply got outclassed by a superior opposition. A serious knee injury to centre Gerard Beale further impacted an already weakened backline and meant Chanel Harris-Tavita was shifted from five-eighth to centre, with bench utility Kodi Nikorima filling in at pivot.
The original plan was for Nikorima to spend time at hooker covering for makeshift dummy-half Jazz Tevaga and with plenty of thought in Nikorima’s best position being at hooker, coach Steve Kearney was deprived of the opportunity to experiment. Tevaga’s biggest impact unfortunately was an illegal one, smashing Cooper Cronk off the ball to earn a sin bin and jeers from the SCG crowd.
Tuivasa-Sheck had flashes of magic but was unable to do anything in stemming the tide led by counterpart James Tedesco. The Warriors’ season won’t go beyond round 25 but there’s still time for their younger players to gain NRL experience and Ken Maumalo remains in contention for NRL leading tryscorer. It’s been a frustrating season for the Kiwis yet they can share the misery in making another dent in Cronulla’s flatlining season.
• The Sharks have won 3 straight at home while the Warriors are winless in their last 3 games on Aussie soil.
• They’ve also won 4 from their last 5 home games against the Warriors.
• Bronson Xerri has 4 tries in his last 4 games. The Sharks’ average win margin in their last 4 home games is 10.75 points.
Best bet: Sharks -7.5 - $1.90* (Unibet)
Value bet: Bronson Xerri anytime tryscorer - $2.10* (TAB)
Wests Tigers v Newcastle Knights – Campbelltown Stadium – 5:30pm
Tigers punters must be pulling their hair out with Wests looking likely to stretch their lengthy finals drought another painful season. Their 32-12 defeat to Manly last week means there’s plenty needed to go the Tigers’ way to reach September but given their cratering form, it’s not looking great.
Starved of possession, the Tigers couldn’t withstand Manly’s high-pressure attack with two consecutive tries before halftime changing the match’s complexion from an arm wrestle into a relative cakewalk. Luke Brooks got a late consolation try but the halfback was outplayed by Daly Cherry-Evans and with Benji Marshall looking the bigger threat ball in hand, it was a disappointing night for the one-time Dally M contender.
Ryan Matterson was the best on a losing side once again and with so many recent selection changes in his side, the ex-Rooster’s shift from the edge to middle has been highly effective. Jacob Liddle has been touted as the heir to the Tigers’ hooker gig but in his first start in over a year, the youngster suffered a significant knee injury to end his season inside only six minutes.
Elijah Taylor once again filled in at dummy-half and with Robbie Farah a longshot to return, the door is open for the outcast Josh Reynolds to make a return to first grade. The big-money Reynolds is being shown the door by coach Michael Maguire and could put himself in the shop window with an effective cameo role as a pinch-hitting hooker.
At the very least Reynolds will provide a spark to the Tigers’ attitude which has seemingly crashed with each recent defeat. Any scenario involving the Tigers reaching the finals starts with them defeating Newcastle and after their limp effort at Manly, can the Tigers give their punters something to hold onto after so much recent disappointment?
News of coach Nathan Brown’s impending departure is a shock considering the Knights’ season is somehow alive after they snapped a six-game drought with a breakthrough 42-6 smashing of the Cowboys at home. Round 22 was friendly to the Knights with results going their way and with their for-and-against getting a major boost, suddenly it’s not a longshot for Newcastle to scrape into the finals.
The scenario remains simple – win their final three games and they’re very much in contention. It helped their two most important players were on fire last weekend, Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce were unstoppable in scoring two tries each and as long as the playmaking duo are firing, the Knights are a chance in every game they play.
While the Cowboys were without their superstar Jason Taumalolo, Newcastle’s pack showed no mercy in belting the Cowboys’ big men and it was almost as if the lightbulb went off in Newcastle’s heads as they rediscovered their winning formula – their big men lay the platform, Pearce controls the direction of attack and Ponga provides the sparkle when available.
All of the positive outcomes from their demolition will mean nothing if they stumble this weekend however and even with the Tigers out of form and confidence, Newcastle will be most aware it only takes one week for a team to potentially turn their season around.
• Kalyn Ponga loves the Tigers – he’s scored in each of his last 2 games against them to go along with 4 tries in his last 4 games.
• Wests meanwhile do not love Campbelltown, with a shocking 2-8 record there since 2016.
• The Tigers have also lost 3 of their last 4 second halves, including when these sides met in round 19.
Best bet: Knights second half - $1.88* (Unibet)
Value bet: Kalyn Ponga anytime try scorer - $2.40* (TAB)
St George Illawarra Dragons v Sydney Roosters – Netstrata Jubilee Stadium– 7:30pm
It was heartache once more in 2019 for the Dragons, going down 18-12 to their local rivals Cronulla and desperately unlucky to do so. A dubious Bronson Xerri try with four minutes left was the matchwinner but the Dragons did well to even remain in the contest before that controversial play.
Cronulla dominated possession early on to drain the Dragons, but things soon got much worse with an unprecedented three concussions reshaping their side and wiping out interchanges early. Ben Hunt, Tyson Frizell and Pat Kaufusi all failed to return after head knocks meaning it wasn’t so much a case of Paul McGregor having to put players out of position – it was instead a case of having enough players to field a full complement.
Luciano Leilua became the world’s largest five-eighth and remarkably scored a neat try to get the Dragons level, while Cameron McInnes’s trysaver on Xerri in the second half was the best you’ll see in 2019. The effort was certainly there for the Dragons, whose poor handling and haphazard attack was somewhat understandable with how makeshift their side became. The Dragons are no chance of either the top eight or the spoon – they’re playing for pride and to send off captain Gareth Widdop in the best way possible. Their Cronulla defeat shows this team are at least going down swinging.
It's remarkable when a side wins 42-6 and it feels like they barely broke a sweat. Yet that’s what happened last Sunday with the Roosters thumping the Warriors at the SCG. It was the New Zealanders who got off to a better start with one-time Rooster favourite Roger Tuivasa-Sheck scoring but from there it was one way tricoloured traffic.
Luke Keary was subject to an odd attack from Broncos coach Anthony Seibold indirectly calling him out but despite the media hysteria, Keary let his footy do the talking with another strong game. Cooper Cronk wasn’t at his best and was the only Rooster backline member not to score, although his inadvertent falcon off a bomb to eventually tee up Brett Morris to score will be a season highlight.
With co-captains Boyd Cordner and Jake Friend sidelined, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves became the pack leader and was the best forward on ground with 151 running metres and a beautiful ball to create one of the Chooks’ eight tries. With sides below them dropping points the Roosters are now a game clear in second spot with a significant points difference advantage, with two wins of their last three games likely enough to guarantee two home finals matches. The Dragons have shown they’re not pushovers and the Roosters will be wary of slipping up just when it appears they’re starting to hit their stride at the right time of year.
• The Roosters have 5 straight wins, while the Dragons haven’t beaten a top eight side since round 6.
• Head-to-head also favours the Chooks who have a 4-1 recent record.
• 9 of the Roosters’ last 10 wins over the Dragons have been halftime/fulltime combos.
• Latrell Mitchell has 6 tries in his 5 games against the Dragons.
Best bet: Roosters halftime/fulltime - $1.60* (Bet365)
Value bet: Latrell Mitchell anytime tryscorer/Roosters - $2.01* (TAB)