NRL Round 23 - Sunday Preview

Newcastle Knights v Penrith Panthers @ Hunter Stadium

 Penrith travel to Newcastle with a chance to go 7th after fellow top 8 rivals Wests Tigers and the Warriors slipped up on Saturday. The Panthers will be looking to find some consistency after their convincing 38-18 win over the Roosters last Monday night at Pepper Stadium. Newcastle `are running out of chances to claim just their second win of the season after they folded late against the Bulldogs last Saturday, going down 28-14.

 Penrith coach Anthony Griffin has not been afraid of making the big calls this season with 3 of the biggest stars of Ivan Cleary's reign at Penrith in Jamie Soward, James Segeyaro and Elijah Taylor all dropped to reserve grade mid season. All 3 now find themselves at different clubs as Griffin instead places his faith in youth. The promotion of Matt Moylan to captain, and the reliance on young tyros Nathan Cleary and Bryce Cartwright in the halves, has been part of Griffin's youth policy that is starting to pay dividends. While Penrith have been inconsistent they can put a gap between themselves and their Top 8 rivals with a win this afternoon. While they remain front runners in that they seem to play their best football when not under pressure, there is enough talent in this team to be competitive at the very least if they make the finals. 

 The Knights welcome back Mitch Barnett and Tyler Randell into the starting line up for their 2nd last home game of the season. The Knights hold a commanding record of 23 victories compared to 16 losses over the Panthers overall, however that might mean nothing today as they appear over matched in this clash. Jarred Mullen produced his best performance of the season at five-eight last week and he is capable of doing some damage against a Panthers defence that can leak points,

 Verdict - Penrith has a lot more talent then Newcastle and should win pretty comfortably. `Newcastle have been a lot better at home so I expect this game to be competitive enough for an hour or so. Both sides are defensively poor so look for plenty of points to be scored on a dry track. Penrith by 14. 

 Sydney Roosters v North Queensland Cowboys @ Sydney Football Stadium

 The Cowboys will be looking to rebound from last week's shock loss to the Wests Tigers when they take on the Roosters at the SFS on Sunday. The Cowboys were ambushed at Leichhardt Oval and looked well below their best in slipping to a 26-14 defeat which left them on the outside of the all important Top 4 looking in. The Roosters put in one of their poorest performances of the season as they were flogged by Penrith at Pepper Stadium 38-18. Without Mitchell Pearce the Roosters appeared directionless from the start as they dumped to their 16th loss of a forgettable campaign. 

 The Cowboys have Ray Thompson replacing Jake Granville at hooker as they enter this crunch match up. Johnathan Thurston will surely be better for the run after he had a rare off day at Leichhardt Oval last week. No doubt the Roosters will be looking to relocate the tactics of the Tigers, be rushing up at cutting down Thurston's thinking time. While Thurston was off his game I have no doubt Paul Green will be looking at his star studded forward pack to stop the rot. The Tigers were more physical last week and won the battle up front. The Cowboys have a rotten record overall against the Roosters winning just 10 of 33 contests. 

 The Roosters welcome back 2 of their superstars for the clash with Mitchell Pearce and Jared Wearea-Hargreaves returning from injury. After 3 straight minor premierships the Roosters have had a nightmare campaign. They desperately need to use this last month to build some momentum heading into what will be a hard and long pre-season for the Bondi men. The Roosters have a size advantage out wide and I expect them to try and get some high balls to Shaun Kenny Dowell and Daniel Tupou with Mitchell Pearce back running the show. 

 Verdict – It’s hard to tip the Cowboys with much confidence based on their display last week. I expect the Roosters to be far from easy beats here especially at home. With Pearce and Hargreaves back I expect the Roosters to be physical in this encounter. However Thurston and company know they can't afford another loss if they want to make the Top 4, so for that reason I am leaning towards the Cowboys. Cowboys by 4.