NRL Round 23 Saturday Preview

Wests Tigers v Gold Coast Titans @ Campbelltown Stadium

 A Blockbuster awaits at Campbelltown Stadium as local boy Jarryd Hayne returns looking to snuff out a resurgent Wests Tigers. Hayne had a promising debut as the Titans gave up 2 crucial competition points to the Warriors in front of a bumper home crowd going down 24-14.The Tigers are charging towards the finish line and will go in search of their 4th straight win in front of what is sure to be a raucous home crowd. Last weeks 26-14 win over the Cowboys was the Tigers best of the season and they get a chance to move back into the Top 8 with a win on Saturday afternoon. 

 The Titans have slipped to 10th after last week’s loss and need a win here to keep their season alive. With both the Warriors and Panthers having favourable runs home the Titans can ill afford to lose more ground on their rivals. The Titans have a good record against the Wests Tigers winning 9 of 16 overall. They were convincing winners back in Round 3 running out 30-18 winners. They have often given the Tigers problems in the air and I expect them to test smaller players Jordan Rankin and David Noafalomu under the high ball. Jarryd Hayne at five-eight is an interesting move given his lack of knowledge of the teams structures. Whilst the combination with Ash Taylor could prove dynamic, the young halfback needs to not be overawed and take control like he has been for the majority of the season. 

 Wests Tigers head into the clash with an unchanged line up and riding a wave of confidence and momentum. Without the injured Luke Brooks, halves partner Mitchell Moses was outstanding in last weeks win. However there were plenty of unsung heroes in the win. The Tigers forward pack won the battle up front with the likes of Woods, Sue, and Tim Grant really carrying the ball with vigour. It was the Tigers aggressive defence which was the catalyst for the in though. They really rattled Jonathan Thurston and got in the Cowboys face and put them off that game. Knowing the Tigers pretty well I have question marks over whether they can keep this up and teams will be looking at different ways to combat this rushing defence. 

 Verdict - I think this will be a terrific game. On a dry track at Campbelltown expect plenty of open, thrilling football. I think the Titans will cause the Tigers plenty of problems like they always seem to do. However the Tigers are difficult to beat at their suburban home grounds. Titans to lead at halftime but the Tigers to pip them late. Tigers by 2. 

 New Zealand Warriors v South Sydney Rabbitohs @ Mount Smart Stadium

 The Warriors will be looking to further cement their position in the Top 8 with a home win over the  struggling Rabbitohs on Saturday night. The Warriors are going for 3 straight victories after crucial triumphs against top 8 rivals the Panthers and Titans. The Rabbitohs meanwhile are staring right down the barrel of 10 straight losses. Coming off a heartbreaking 15-14 golden point loss to the Storm, Souths will be looking to build on what was a much improved performance. 

 The Warriors have the advantage of being able to name an unchanged team from the one that won impressively on the Gold Coast last week. They will need to reverse a recent curse against the Bunnies losing their last 4 straight. Despite this they retain a relatively commanding advantage of 18 victories from 29 overall encounters between the pair. Games are usually high scoring when these 2 teams meet and the Warriors will fancy their chances of racking up a score at home. While people love to talk about the Warriors attack, it has been their defence over the last 2 months, which has been the key to their revival. Conceding an average of just 16 points a game over the last month the Warriors are putting themselves in a position to win every game.

 The Rabbitohs are also unchanged for this clash as they make the trip across the ditch. Last week they made only 4 errors and completed at close to 85%, which would have pleased Michael Maguire after some error riddled performances going into the game . I expect this to be a really physical encounter up front with the 3 Burgess boys coming up against the big boppers from New Zealand. Souths desperately need a win or two before the season is out to put a little bit of light on what has been a terribly disappointing campaign. 

 Verdict - I Think Souths can build on last weeks display and provide a contest here for most of the game. However I also think not getting the win in Melbourne night have been mentally draining for a team with little to play for now. A trip across the Tasman might be tough after a trip to Melbourne. I think Souths might be mentally and physically struggling. The Warriors have too much to play for here, I can't see them getting beaten. Warriors by 14. 

 St George Illawarra Dragons v Cronulla Sharks @ Kogarah.

 The Sharks will be looking to rebound from their shock loss to the Raiders, as they travel to Kogarah for the local derby on Saturday Night. The Sharks 16 match unbeaten run was resoundingly bought to an end as they were comprehensively beaten 30-14 at Shark Park. The side looked tired and I think will feel a weight lifted off their shoulders with the loss. The Dragons are coming off 5 straight losses and are next to no hope of making the finals. 

 The Sharks welcome back veteran hooker Michael Ennis for the clash after he was sorely missed in last weeks defeat. Joseph Paulo and Ricky Leutele also return to the bench as the Sharks look to keep pace with the Storm in the race for the minor premiership. The Sharks have the second best attack in the competition and they will fancy their chances of putting on a big score against their bitter rivals. Earlier this season way back in Round 2 the Sharks embarrassed the Dragons willing 30-2 at Shark Park. With the Dragons having the 2nd worst attack in the league Cronulla need to prove they are serious title contenders with a solid defensive display against an anaemic attack. 

 The Dragons finally get a much needed boost with the return of Josh Dugan, Joel Thompson and Tyson Frizell for the clash. Without the trio last week the Dragons tried hard in going down 12-8 in wet conditions against the Broncos. Once they throw the structure out the window in the last 10 minutes the Dragons looked dangerous, after looking ponderous for 70 minutes. It is a crucial game for Benji Marshall as he looks to rebound from a shocking performance last week. Marshall is unlikely to be at the Dragons next season, but will still want to remain in the NRL. Kurt Mann has been a try scoring machine of late scoring 8 in his past 7 scores. He was dropped after an infamously poor performance against the Sharks in Round 2 and will be looking at some redemption here. 

 Verdict - The Dragons will no doubt be boosted by their returning trio and I expect them to fire up early in this clash against their local rivals. However after half time I see this turning into one way traffic. The Sharks need a complete performance to start reasserting themselves in this title race. They have too much class here and too much to play for. Sharks by 20