NRL PREVIEW – ROUND 23

With three weeks left before the play-offs, the eight matches to be contested during Round 23 will help identity which teams have genuine chances of featuring on grand final day, along with determining the recipient of the dreaded wooden spoon.

BRONCOS V RABBITOHS – SUNCORP STADIUM – THURDAY, 7.50PM
With their top four hopes dashed following another last gasp finish in the most recent instalment of the legendary Queensland derby, the Brisbane Broncos will be out to hit back by extending their winning run over the Rabbitohs to seven consecutive matches. Following a one-week exile Jordan Kahu has been named ahead of Gehamat Shibasaki in the centres, while Josh McGuire returns from suspension at lock. Unable to hold onto top position following the grudge match loss to the Roosters last Friday, the South Sydney Rabbitohs will be out to ensure a guaranteed second chance in the finals with just their fifth win at Suncorp Stadium since 2004. With a number of injuries affecting their backline, Dane Gagai will start at fullback, while Mawene Hiroti has been named to make his NRL debut off the bench following strong form with North Sydney in the Intrust Super Premiership.

SEA EAGLES V TITANS – LOTTOLAND – FRIDAY, 6.00PM
Producing a strong second half to overpower the Bulldogs last Saturday, the Manly Sea Eagles will be looking to round out their appearances at Lottoland this season with a victory to ensure their record of never ‘winning’ the wooden spoon remains intact. In the only change from last week, Lloyd Perrett will play his first match since Round 13 in place of Taniela Paseka. Outplaying the Panthers only to finish on the wrong side of the scoreboard in golden point, the Gold Coast Titans will be hoping to produce just their third ever win on the northern beaches in an effort to build confidence heading towards 2019. After being a late withdrawal last Saturday, Brenko Lee has been named in the centres, while Kane Elgey will face off against his future employer with Michael Gordon unavailable through injury.

STORM V EELS – AAMI PARK – FRIDAY, 7.55PM
Suffering consecutive losses for only the third time since 2015, the Melbourne Storm will be looking for drastic improvement in order to fend off the resurgent form of their lowly opponents. With the playing future of retiring forward Ryan Hoffman in doubt following a hamstring injury sustained in the dying stages of last Sunday, Cheyse Blair has been selected as his replacement on the bench. Dominating the Dragons in an emphatic performance to the mutual delight and bewilderment of their long-suffering fans, the Parramatta Eels will be looking to claim another major scalp as they face off against Melbourne for the first time since last year’s qualifying final loss. In the only major change from last Saturday, Oregon Kaufusi will become the fourth debutant for Parramatta this season in place of Will Smith on the bench.

PANTHERS V KNIGHTS – PANTHERS STADIUM – 3.00PM
Showing little change in leaving it until the last second to snatch victory following the sudden departure of Anthony Griffin last week, the Penrith Panthers will be out to produce a consistent 80 minute showing in their final home match of the season. With James Maloney set for a stint on the sidelines to recuperate ahead of the play-offs, Tyrone May will start in the number six jersey, while James Tamou will return after being a late scratching last week. Making little impact in New Zealand last Friday, the Newcastle Knights will be hopeful of spoiling the Panthers’ top eight preparations by posting their first win at the foot of the mountains since 2013. Retaining the same 17 that went down in Auckland, Nick Meaney is on standby for Kalyn Ponga due to doubts over the star fullback’s fitness.

TIGERS V DRAGONS – LEICHARDT OVAL – SATURDAY, 5.30PM
Capable of finishing the weekend inside the top eight with a win, the Wests Tigers will have no shortage of support on Saturday evening with a sell-out crowd expected at Leichardt Oval. Boosted by the returns of cult figure Mahe Fonua and club stalwart Chris Lawrence, the joint venture will be quietly confident having downed Dragons at Kogarah five weeks ago. Left shell shocked by the Eels in a record loss last Saturday evening, the St. George Illawarra Dragons will be out to stem the flow of losses that threatens to derail their premiership aspirations. Returning to Leichardt Oval for the first time since Paul McGregor played for the joint venture back in 2001, the mammoth task of replacing playmaker Gareth Widdop has been afforded to Kurt Mann, however Darren Nicholls or Jai Field are likely to come into the final 17 confirmed an hour before kick-off.

SHARKS V COWBOYS – SOUTHERN CROSS GROUP STADIUM – SATURDAY, 7.35PM
Bouncing back from the shock golden point loss to Manly by upsetting the reigning premiers in Melbourne last Sunday, the Cronulla Sharks will be hoping to keep their faint top four hopes alive by having the last laugh in the recent rivalry against the Cowboys. Losing Wade Graham due to a knee injury, Scott Sorenson will start in the second row, while Valentine Holmes will celebrate his 100th game for the club after debuting back in 2014. Edging closer towards avoiding the wooden spoon after snatching victory against the Broncos last Thursday, the North Queensland Cowboys will look to continue riding the emotional wave of the Johnathan Thurston farewell tour by recording their first win in the Shire since 2014. Losing Jason Taumalolo with a one-match ban, John Asiata will start at lock, while Francis Molo will play his first match since the start of July off the bench.

BULLDOGS V WARRIORS – ANZ STADIUM – SUNDAY, 2.00PM
Willing in defeat against the Sea Eagles last Saturday, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs will be out to distance themselves from the wooden spoon by maintaining their 75% success rate against the Warriors in regular season fixtures dating back to 2012. In the only change from last week, talented playmaker Lachlan Lewis will return in place of Matt Frawley. Confirming a long awaited return to the play-offs with a proficient performance against Newcastle last Friday, the New Zealand Warriors will have their sights set on securing a home final by downing the Bulldogs in a rare appearance at ANZ Stadium. Opting against changes, Peta Hiku will play his 100th game in the NRL, while Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will bring up 50 games for the Warriors.

RAIDERS V ROOSTERS – GIO STADIUM – SUNDAY, 4.10PM
Finishing on the wrong side of a narrow result for the tenth time in 2018 last Sunday, the Canberra Raiders will have their work cut out against the competition leaders as they chase their first win over a top eight side this season, Switching Brad Abbey and Nick Cotric between wing and fullback once again, Emre Guler will make his first grade debut on the bench replacing Jack Murchie. Accounting for the Rabbitohs in an enthralling contest last Friday, the prospect of inching towards a fourth minor premiership in six seasons should see the Sydney Roosters step up to record their first win in the ACT since 2010. Losing Jared Waerea-Hargreaves for a couple of weeks with a rib injury, Nat Butcher comes onto the bench while further changes could be forthcoming in an attempt to freshen players in the run towards September.

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