North Queensland v Brisbane
Plenty of reasons why this match at Dairy Farmers Stadium on Friday night is a must see and is your Match of the Round. A Queensland derby; D. Lockyer's' record breaking NRL appearance; the return of Jonathan Thurston and all when we are 3 weeks out from the semis with both clubs sitting inside the top 4. No wonder it will be a sell-out.
Big games like this are typically where the youngsters get a little too excited and the veterans stay nice and calm throughout. This means that kids like Tariq Sims, Ray Thompson and essentially the entire Broncos backline will be jumping out of their skin. A highlight among many in this match will be the opening 20 minutes when young Sims launches himself at everything in a Brisbane jersey, but the visitors launch back when the time is right.
My tip: Brisbane 24-20
Penrith v Wests
Interim Panthers coach Steve Georgallis seems like he is enjoying himself. His team are playing an improved style of football and have won a few games since he took over: but now it looks like he is just messing about whilst the boss is away. With the current Panthers CEO busy writing strongly worded emails to the NRL, Georgallis is enjoying his final weeks before a monster farewell party.
Blooding 19 year old Harry Seijka at number 6, Michael Jennings named at fullback, Kevin Kingston dropped to the bench for rookie Nafe Seluini? Safe to assume the Panthers have nothing to play for anyway, so why not mess around with the ingredients... The Tigers, meanwhile, are settling nicely for another run at the title and will dispatch the Panthers quickly and quietly.
My tip: Wests 24-10
NZ Warriors v Newcastle
In the Round 10 meeting between these clubs, the Warriors pulled off a mini upset of Newcastle at Ausgrid stadium with an impressive defensive performance. Led by Lance Hohaia and James Maloney, the visitors trailed for most of the match before destroying the Knights in the final 10 minutes to win comfortably. Hard to see a different result on Saturday at Mt Smart Stadium.
New Zealand would be aiming for one thing and one thing only; to push for a possible home semi final in week 1 of the playoffs. Newcastle will give it everything but home ground advantage and the Warriors class is too much to overcome. An exciting battle of the halves will take place as Shaun Johnson continues his impressive rookie season, as does the Knights' Ryan Stig. A cracker.
My tip: New Zealand 24-18
Gold Coast v Melbourne
A tough one for the Titans. Crowds dwindling, their season in complete ruins, their coach stuck in hospital for three weeks, their halfback joining him... and finally, a wooden spoon beckoning to stir this boiling pot of misery. But before the nightmare ends and they can start fresh for 2012, the league leading Melbourne Storm are on their way up the coast to rub salt in the wounds.
Tough to see how the home side will score any points at all against the NRLs best defence especially with a spine that have never played together. Preston Campbell will finish his career at halfback and will turn up bravely, as he always has, in this match on Saturday night; but the Storm tighten their grip on the minor premiership and win for the first time ever at Skilled Park.
My tip: Melbourne 30-8
Parramatta v Manly
The Eels fighting spirit was broken last Monday night. 10 weeks of being bent over a proverbial barrel will do that to a football team and Stephen Kearney's men simply had nothing left to give. Hard not to feel sorry for Parra, actually, but this is something Des Hasler and the visiting Sea Eagles will not do on Saturday night as they travel out west to continue a 65 year old rivalry.
In fact, fingers crossed that Hasler rips another dressing room door off its hinges, Kieran Foran gets right up in the face of Jarryd Hayne and a few die hard Eels fans still hold a grudge against their former favourite son, Jamie Lyon. Alas, we can only hope for all of the above as the truth will be something closer to a dominant performance by the visitors as they coast to another win.
My tip: Manly 30-12
Canberra v South Sydney
What to make of the Rabbitohs.... well, an outstanding fortnight of footy seems to have convinced bookies that they can head down to our nation's capital and come away with the biscuits. They are early favourites to brave the frosty and freezing temperatures on Sunday afternoon in Canberra and if the Raiders don't get too far ahead, this is exactly what the Bunnies will do.
Canberra will get off to a good start but when Chris Sandow and Dave Taylor finally warm up, Souths come roaring back to win and keep their very thin hopes of a top 8 finish alive. Greg Inglis up against Joel Thompson will be a highlight, or it could be a complete mis-match depending on the Raiders' potential improvement from last week's debacle in Newcastle. Smart money on a mis-match.
My tip: South Sydney 32-26
St George Illawarra v Eastern Suburbs
So the reigning premiers, in the thick of a losing streak, head back to the scene of their recent capitulation against South Sydney to try to turn their slump around. Wollongong still seems to be a graveyard for opposition teams, especially according to the bookies who have given the visiting Roosters a 16.5 point start. Punters must be convinced that the Dragons can't possibly lose to the Roosters, can they?
No. Even with Jamie Soward most likely rested from this game, Saints will have enough in them to power to a good lead through their defence and then hold on in the final 20. This is something they have not been able to do recently but against the Roosters, they will not have to worry. Ben Creagh and Beau Scott lead from the front whilst Darius Boyd and Matt Cooper reignite the Dragons left side as Saints win for the first time in a month.
My tip: St George Illawarra 24-6
Cronulla v Canterbury Bankstown
As the sun sets on these two clubs' 2011 efforts, a review shows they've had very similar years. The Sharks and Bulldogs both went on winning runs throughout the season and both believed they were genuine hopes of make the top 8. Their crashes have also been similarly horrific but the Sharks have never been accused by their fans of giving up - even when their fans number only a few hundred.
This Monday night at Toyota Stadium, these brave hundred will again return to club headquarters to witness a battle of two very good forward packs. Tolman and Kasiano v Snowden and Douglas will be a highlight whilst away from the ruck and physicality, Nathan Gardner and Ben Barba put on a dazzling display of footwork to entertain the masses. Dogs at the death.
My tip: Canterbury Bankstown 22-20
NRL Match Previews - Round 23
North Queensland v Brisbane