NRL Previews - 2014 Round 23 - Close the Gap

A wonderful NRL initiative and the most inspiring event on the NRL calendar, Close the Gap Round not only highlights the issue around life expectancy rates amongst Indigenous Australians, but helps create cultural awareness. This weekend's purpose is best summed up by a quote from a proud member of the Dunghutti people.

Golden Boot Winner, Clive Churchill Medallist, Member of the Indigenous All Stars and NRL Premiership Winner, Greg Inglis spoke to the Sydney Morning Herald about Close the Gap round:

"By the time I leave this earth I want to see a big change in indigenous health and the communities around Australia"…"It is vitally important to raise awareness and truly understand what close the gap is"


South Sydney Rabbitohs v Brisbane Broncos
Thursday 7:45pm at ANZ Stadium, Sydney Olympic Park

We acknowledge that this match is being held on the traditional lands of The Wangal people, and pay our respect to elders both past and present.

Seems like everyone has an opinion about Souths lately, don't they? Apparently they are predictable, apparently this is their best chance win the competition in recent years. Blah blah blah. The ‘pride of the league' is certainly playing some bloody good footy and that's enough for me, for now. They've won 4 straight and have looked good doing it. In fact, they've looked a little scary since the bye week and young Luke Keary looks to have changed things on his own.

This kid wouldn't stop barking at the Sea Eagles last week. He basically sledged Jamie Lyon for 80 minutes and by gum, it worked. That kind of bastardry will take them a long way and this week, at ANZ Stadium on Thursday night, it will get them past the Broncos. Brisbane have bounced back from some internal rumblings, it seems, and were good enough to trounce the ‘Dogs last week but it may not be enough here. Keary the standout again.

My tip: Rabbitohs 24-14


Parramatta Eels v Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
Friday 7:45pm at ANZ Stadium, Sydney Olympic Park

We acknowledge that this match is being held on the traditional lands of The Wangal people, and pay our respect to elders both past and present.

Plenty of talk about the Eels replicating their famous 2009 run into the grand final whilst across the way, their most hated rivals might be replicating something a bit less memorable and a lot more frustrating for ‘Dogs fans. After winning 7 in a row at one point this year, holding the best defensive record in the comp and sitting atop the ladder, Canterbury have taken quite the fall and are now being shat upon from a very great height. Tough times in Belmore.

Can they turn it around? Can they lift for the most intense rivalry in the NRL? It seems a mountain to climb and you can guess why. Jarryd Hayne is enjoying himself. He was too good for the greatest origin team ever assembled and more recently he's torn apart Titans, Sharks and Raiders in quick succession. Not exactly the NRL's elite, but really, it's like a backyard game of footy for the big fella and he is having a ball. Not even the possible return of Tony Williams to the halves for Canterbury will get them out of trouble here.

My tip: Eels 20-14


Canberra Raiders v St George Illawarra Dragons
Saturday 3:00pm at GIO Stadium, Bruce ACT

We acknowledge that this match is being held on the traditional lands of The Ngunnawal and Ngambri Peoples, and pay our respect to elders both past and present.

Saturday afternoon in the nation's capital and this one has plenty of history - you know the drill. Saints have not won in Canberra since the Menzies Pri-Ministership, they've not beaten Canberra since before the GST existed and somehow, some way, they are favourites here. The only possible reason could be that the bookies pay no attention to history, or, that they've actually watched a Raiders game this year.

The poor Raiders. One win in their past 11 weeks, owners of the worst defensive record in the comp, so they can only hope that Anthony Milford sees plenty of ball here. The Dragons, judging by their performance in a big match at home last week, could well oblige the Canberra pivot. They gave up possession at a frightening rate last week and if their former Raiders in Josh Dugan and Joel Thompson can't rally the troops here, Saints are done for.

My tip: Raiders 21-20


Melbourne Storm v Cronulla Sutherland Sharks
Saturday 5:30pm at AAMI Park, Melbourne

We acknowledge that this match is being held on the traditional lands of The Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation, and pay our respect to elders both past and present.

Saturday evening from south of the border as Cronulla head to AAMI Park to face an un-backable favourite. Good lord, the odds are long for the Sharks here as we all pray for a quick and painless end to 2014 for Paul Gallen and his crew. Speaking of Gallen, he is named to return from injury in this match and let's hope he does. The entertainment value of the Sharks skipper sledging his way through 80 minutes against origin rivals Smith, Slater and Cronk will be off the charts.

Speaking of entertainment, if Melbourne are serious about this one (and of course, history has shown that they are hardly ever serious after losing a match at the death), the score could be anything. Look for big games from the Storm forwards as they set the platform early. Ryan Hoffman and Kevin Proctor in particular will enjoy running at young Fa'amanu Brown and late in the second half, things could get ugly for the visitors.

My tip: Storm 30-6


Wests Tigers v Sydney Roosters
Saturday 7:30pm at Leichhardt Oval, Lilyfield (Sydney)

We acknowledge that this match is being held on the traditional lands of The Cadigal and Wangal peoples, and pay our respect to elders both past and present.

Whatever is happening at Concord Oval this week, it won't be enough to set things right for the embattled Tigers. A Mick Potter magic show? A Robbie Farah bonding session? Skills work? Fitness training? You just can't see a world where the Tigers can bounce back from losing by 60 in Townsville last weekend to be ready to face the defending premiers on Saturday night. Even the ‘eighth wonder of the world' that is Leichhardt Oval won't get them out of trouble here.

But, somehow, you know they will try their hardest. The Tigers might be completely out-gunned at nearly every position, but you get the feeling that the players will stick together as they have done over the past few horrific weeks. If the chooks give half a stuff, they will have a field day. Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney would have noticed already that Cory Paterson and Chris Lawrence can't keep up with Michael Jennings and SKD. And if you thought the Cowboys' back rowers had a field day last week, watch Boyd Cordner and FPN unleash the beast here.

My tip: Roosters 32-10


Newcastle Knights v New Zealand Warriors
Sunday 2:00pm at Hunter Stadium, New Lambton (Newcastle)

We acknowledge that this match is being held on the traditional lands of The Awabakal and Worimi Peoples, and pay our respect to elders both past and present.

Not again! Surely! If the Newcastle Knights somehow pull off another miracle at Hunter Stadium this weekend, I'll pub crawl from Sydney to Newcastle for old boys' day. For the 3 of you reading this - you're welcome to join me. The Knights upset the reigning premiers a few games back after a week of turmoil and then, against Melbourne last week, scored two tries in the final moments to cause another unbelievable upset.

Speaking of upset, we won't mention that Newcastle were on the right end of a 7-0 second half penalty count against Melbourne... but we digress. This week, they host the Warriors on Sunday afternoon and are, again, outsiders. With the visitors boasting the return of Shaun Johnson this week and the fact that they are up to their eyeballs in a race for a home semi-final, they'll be too good here. NZ get off to a good start and hold on.

My tip: Warriors 23-16


Gold Coast Titans v Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
Sunday 3:00pm at Cbus Super Stadium, Robina (Gold Coast)

We acknowledge that this match is being held on the traditional lands of The Yugambeh People, and pay our respect to elders both past and present.

And so the Neil Henry era begins for the Titans and this bloke has a CV to die for. The architect of Queensland's Origin attack; the architect of the Titans success earlier this year, pre injury debacle; the architect of the Cowboys' run to the semi-finals over the past two years, before diabolical officiating destroyed his career in Townsville. Now, Henry gets his shot to audition for another coaching role and his first test is a tough one.

A challenge to get his crew ready for a very angry Manly team… And they will be angry. The Eagles were effectively pushed around by Souths last week. Their forward pack looked slow and small and completely over-powered and if they are to get back to the winners circle on Sunday afternoon in Robina, it's their pack who will have to step up. They will. Especially with DCE and Kieran Foran yelling at them for 80 minutes. Manly bounce back.

My tip: Sea Eagles 24-14


Penrith Panthers v North Queensland Cowboys
Monday 7:00pm at Sportingbet Stadium, Penrith

We acknowledge that this match is being held on the traditional lands of The Mulgoa Tribe of the Darug People and pay our respect to elders both past and present.

A beauty to finish ‘Close the Gap' round on Monday night as the Panthers host the resurgent Cowboys. North Queensland have won 4 on the trot, including 2 away wins and now travel to Sydney's west to face a Penrith team with a bunch of superstars sitting on the sidelines. The bookies can't split them. The visitors forward pack looks fantastic on paper and played like it last week, but on the road this week, it's a big test.

Look for another huge game from Panthers hooker and former Cowboy James Segeyaro as he continues to ignite the home side; and this will get them home. Yes, I'm tipping against a team that won by 60 last week but more importantly, this is your match of the round. A classic from the foot of the mountains as Johnathan Thurston faces Jamie Soward and the Cowboys monster back row of Jason Taumalolo, Tariq Sims and Glenn Hall take on the surprise pack of Isaah Yeo and Adam Docker.

My tip: Panthers 19-18

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