2012 NRL Match Previews - Round 23

Melbourne Storm v Gold Coast Titans
AAMI Park, Friday 7:45pm - live updates

Ya kinda want the semi's to start now don't ya? Any team worth their salt and worth a punt for the premiership is in the 8 and the rest can only hope to be cannon fodder if they sneak in to the finals. So, we should shorten the season and have standalone Origin matches. Cool with everyone? OK. Round 23 kicks off with a Melbourne team that have crawled their way through the rep season, and a Titans team that have finally stood up.

Its been a tough year for John Cartwright and his crew but they have fought back; this latest surge from the Robina boys is timed perfectly. Speaking of surges, they'll need an almighty one this Friday night at AAMI Park to cause an upset and whilst they always play well again the Storm, victory is a different proposition altogether. Things are back to where they should be as Melbourne defend as we know they can and run away late.

My tip:
Melbourne Storm 22-10

South Sydney Rabbitohs v Manly Sea Eagles
ANZ Stadium, Friday 7:45pm - live updates

The timing of this fixture couldn't be more perfect. Along with the swell of momentum and support behind the Bunnies comes the same amount of criticism and most of these are about South Sydney's ability to handle pressure in big games. So, testing themselves against the reigning premiers should answer these questions on Friday night at Bluetongue Stadium. Your match of the round.

The Eagles sit 4th on the ladder and more importantly, at a moment when their back-to-back premiership chances looked thin, have come up with two massive victories in the last fortnight. Over to Perth and up to Townsville, they found ways to win. Now north to Gosford, Manly must be exhausted but as always, will stay in the hunt until the 80th minute and longer if needed. This one decided in the final moments with Souths holding on in a beauty.

My tip:
South Sydney 21-20

Parramatta Eels v Sydney Roosters
Parramatta Stadium, Saturday 5:30pm - live updates

Team 16 up against team 14 scheduled for the 5.30pm Satdi game. The notorious black hole of fixtures every weekend makes this one even more interesting so if you've just finished a horrible day on the punt, get ready to go again as the Bondi boys travel west to Parramatta Stadium. Markets midweek suggest a close one but picking the winner might not be your best bet. The Eels and the Roosters are the two worst defensive teams in the NRL.

What rugby league greatness awaits us in this one? The mind boggles. Parra average 28 points allowed per game this year while the chooks let in about 25. The forecast rain might keep this match restricted to less than a cricket score so get your bets on before the clouds start looming. Jokes aside, the Nathan Hindmarsh Farewell Tour continues so Eels fans should fill the stadium to watch one of the best ever and pay homage as they should.

My tip:
Sydney Roosters 30-24.

North Queensland Cowboys v New Zealand Warriors
Dairy Farmers Stadium, Saturday 7:30pm - live updates

A sad finish to 2012 for the once mighty Warriors but things aren't all beer and skittles in Townsville either. Thurston and the Cowboys have lost two in a row against top 8 teams and are in need of a confidence booster. The first 20 minutes of this match will be a window into the soul of both clubs. Will the Warriors have anything left after a heartbreaking month of disasters? And will the Cowboys be ruthless enough to punish the visitors if they don't?

Saturday night at Dairy Farmers Stadium will be unforgiving to New Zealand, especially with so many changes to their line-up. Cohesion will be an issue, their motivation will be fragile and their defence will be challenged for 80 minutes. A big test of character for the Warriors after getting destroyed at home last week with their season on the line. Too much to overcome for the visitors as the Cowboys put in a big one.

My tip:
North Queensland 32-12

Wests Tigers v St George Illawarra Dragons
Allianz Stadium, Saturday 7:30pm - live updates

The last meeting between these clubs, round 3 this year at Kogarah Oval, was punctuated by the Tim Moltzen story and his defection back to the Tigers after signing with Saints. How quickly we move along in Rugby League. Now, nobody cares and these two teams have shown in recent weeks that they need more than Tim Moltzen to find success. The Dragons came apart last week; at a moment when they could have saved their season.

The Tigers have only just resurrected their season, but still remain in poor shape with an unimpressive defensive record and winning only two of their last seven matches; against the Panthers and the Eels. So, at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night, the Tigers hope to stay in the semi-final picture while the Dragons focus on mathematical equations. Saints rarely win away from Kogarah or Wollongong anymore and the same happens here. Robbie Farah the standout.

My tip:
Wests 20-18

Penrith Panthers v Canberra Raiders
Centrebet Stadium, Sunday 2:00pm - live updates

Aside from Michael Gordon, the Panthers entire roster would all hoping for jobs next year and with their Toyota Cup squad sitting equal third on the ladder, there's plenty of pressure. They'll play well at home with this motivation and bounce back strongly from a big loss in Melbourne last week, you can be sure. One thing we cannot be sure of is the Green Machine. Inconsistency plagues the boys from Canberra so bookies have them as outsiders.

The saying, "you're only as good as your last game" should mean that the Raiders win by 50 but whoever coined this saying should have their brain removed. Forever. I've seen it done overseas. It