The following are previews with betting tips for Round 26 of the 2023 NRL season. Best bets for the round are also provided.
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With a bye in the last round and only one game remaining in their regular season, Parramatta face a huge task to keep their slim finals hopes alive as they face a 2022 grand final rematch against a Panthers squad firming for another minor premiership. The reigning premiers have been in dominant form, with a powerful last-start victory over the Titans their eighth consecutive win. Meanwhile, Parramatta’s finals hopes have crumbled in the last fortnight with disappointing losses to Brisbane and the Roosters.
Jack Cogger and Zac Hosking will be retained at hooker and second-row for Penrith with Mitch Kenny and Scott Sorensen still sidelined. Brian To’o will return on the wing after he was rested last week in an otherwise unchanged squad. For Parramatta, Brad Arthur’s only change comes with Shaun Lane’s return on the bench, displacing Brendan Hands.
The Panthers have been consummate professionals this season, weathering the absence of multiple key players over the season and drawing on their wonderful squad depth to stay at the top of the table all season. Parramatta’s slim finals chances mean the club will be playing for pride, but expect an intense physical performance from Brad Arthur’s troops. The Eels certainly have the courage to go with Penrith’s forwards, but the class and play-making prowess of the Panthers back-line should get them the win.
Betting Tip: Panthers -19.5 @ $1.88 (BoomBet)
With a top-four spot almost guaranteed and only a slim chance of advancing to second on the competition ladder, the Warriors will be looking to build momentum for their first finals game since 2018. They will face a dangerous St George squad who have built into some great form despite a number of narrow losses in recent games after a courageous performance against Melbourne last week.
The Kiwis have named an unchanged squad heading into this game, but livewire Te Maire Martin could be a late inclusion to return from injury after he was named in the reserves. For the Dragons, Zac Lomax will return at centre in an otherwise unchanged squad.
This game will be a good gauge of any complacency in the Warriors’ camp given the Dragons pushed Melbourne hard last week. Expect a disciplined performance from Andrew Webster’s troops. Warriors to get the win.
Betting Tip: Dragons +17.5 @ $1.87 (bet365)
The Dolphins conceded yet another agonisingly close defeat to a spirited Wests outfit last week, losing by one point from a penalty goal after kicking a field goal minutes earlier. They will face a desperate North Queensland outfit sitting one win outside the top-eight on points differential and after a woeful last-start loss to Cronulla and facing the reigning premiers in round 27, a finals appearance is slipping away for the Queensland club.
Wayne Bennett will receive some welcome reinforcements with the return of Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Connelly Lemuelu and Kenny Bromwich at fullback, second-row and lock respectively. Meanwhile, the Cowboys will be without second-rower Jeramiah Nanai in a huge blow, with Heilum Luki coming into the starting side as cover. Kyle Laybutt will also come in at centre, pushing Murray Taulagi back to the wing as Kulikefu Finefeuiaki also joins the bench.
This game is a must-win for the Cowboys if they have any chance of making the finals. The Dolphins have produced some wonderful football in recent weeks for some agonisingly close losses, but the lack of defensive combinations and experience in key playmaking positions puts them at a significant disadvantage. Cowboys to get the points.
Betting Tip: Dolphins +9.5 @ $1.90 (Playup)
Melbourne were forced into a dogfight against St George last week but came away with a solid 10-point victory as the Victorian club firms for a top-four berth. They will face a struggling Titans squad who were put to the sword by Penrith last week in a disappointing 26-point loss.
The Storm will rest hardworking stalwart Josh King, with Nelson Asofa-Solomona named at lock and Alec MacDonald joining the bench in Craig Bellamy’s only change. Ryan Papenhuyzen is also a chance of returning from a long-term knee injury after he was included in the reserves in what would be a huge boost. In good news for the Gold Coast, Kieran Foran and Jojo Fifita will return at five-eighth and wing respectively in an otherwise unchanged squad.
With a slim chance they can fall from the top-four, expect a focussed performance from Melbourne after they let the Dragons get within two-points at one stage last week. The Victorian club has been woefully inconsistent by their high standards this season. Storm to get the win.
Betting Tip: Storm -19.5 @ $1.91 (bet365)
The Roosters continued their late-season revival, claiming their third consecutive win in a dominant victory over Parramatta last week. They will face a Wests Tigers squad buoyed by just their fourth win of the season last week against a severely undermanned Dolphins outfit in rookie coach Benji Marshall’s first official game running the team.
Sam Walker will make his long awaited return from a knee injury at halfback in a welcome boost. An injury to James Tedesco will see Joey Manu shift to fullback with Corey Allan coming into the centres. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves will also return at prop after he was a late withdrawal last week in a welcome boost to an otherwise unchanged line-up.
Despite their victory last week, the Tigers will enter this match as severe underdogs. The Roosters sit just one win outside the top-eight on points-differential, but facing the eighth-placed Rabbitohs next week, they have a golden opportunity to make the finals – but both games are a must-win for the club. Roosters to get the win.
Betting Tip: Roosters -15.5 @ $1.90 (BoomBet)
Brisbane have dispelled any hint of their late-season form slump last year with a dominant 44-point win over Parramatta in round 24 before enjoying a bye last week. They face a difficult away trip to Canberra. The Raiders have underperformed in recent weeks and last produced a 12-point victory over the lowly Bulldogs.
Brisbane will be without captain Adam Reynolds in a big blow with Jock Madden set to come in as his replacement. Corey Oates will also return on the wing in a welcome boost to an otherwise unchanged squad. Meanwhile, Canberra are unchanged but could welcome Jack Wighton back into the halves late after he was named in the reserves.
Brisbane will enter this match as firm favourites but should be highly cautious of a Raiders outfit capable of producing big performances in front of their home-crowd. With club legends Jack Wighton and Jarrod Crocker set to depart at the end of the season, expect a big performance from Canberra. Despite their captain’s absence, Brisbane have performed admirably with Jock Madden at halfback. Expect a tight game but Brisbane should come away with the win.
Betting Tip: Broncos -10.5 @ $2.10 (bet365)
Canterbury were disappointed with a narrow loss to the struggling Raiders last week with rookie head coach Cameron Ciraldo facing a massive task to rebuild the club. Their opposition in Manly were left shattered after a narrow loss to the Warriors all but ended their finals hopes with a number of controversial refereeing calls impacting the game.
Kurtis Morrin will join the Bulldogs bench in an otherwise unchanged squad as the club builds some welcome continuity between new halves pairing of Toby Sexton and Matt Burton. For Manly, a season-ending injury to Reuben Garrick will see Tolu Koula shift to fullback with Brad Parker coming into the centres. Ben Trbojevic’s return in the second-row will push Kelma Tuilagi to the bench with Gordon Chan Kum Tong also named to make his NRL debut off the pine in an otherwise unchanged squad.
Manly will enter this match as firm favourites and coach Anthony Seibold will be expecting a big response from his troops after the bitter disappointment of last week. Both teams will be playing for pride but expect the big-game experience and leadership of Daly Cherry-Evans and Jake Trbojevic to get Manly over the line.
Betting Tip: Sea Eagles -4.5 @ $1.91 (bet365)
Sunday night will bring a blockbuster showdown between Newcastle and Cronulla after the Knights continued their purple patch of form and now on the hunt for their eighth consecutive win after dominating the Rabbitohs last week. The Sharks have surged back into form with three consecutive wins against Souths, Titans and North Queensland giving them some momentum heading into the finals.
Newcastle’s only change comes with the return of halfback Jackson Hastings in a massive boost for the team. Meanwhile, Cronulla have named an unchanged squad in welcome news for the continuity of their squad as they face a tough finals series in the absence of key players in Dale Finucane and William Kennedy.
Given their recent form, Newcastle will enter this match as firm favourites. Newcastle have combined an old-school toughness and determination with fantastic play-making combinations spearheaded by an in-form Kalyn Ponga at fullback. This match could go either way but expect Newcastle to come away with the win.
Betting Tip: Knights -3.5 @ $1.91 (bet365)
Broncos -10.5 @ $2.10 (bet365)