We’re truly on the home stretch of the NRL regular season now, with Round 23 the third last chance for each team to improve their ladder position. We get underway on Thursday night at 7:50pm, when the South Sydney Rabbitohs (5th) welcome the Penrith Panthers (1st) to Accor Stadium. It is of course an understrength Panthers team with Cleary, Luai and Fisher-Harris all missing…but that should only make this matchup all the more juicy. Instead of looking for a Rabbitohs upset, it’s truly difficult to split these teams on paper.

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Team News

The Rabbitohs have three changes from last week. Campbell Graham is back from a 6-week injury layoff, forcing Izaac Thompson out of the team and Jaxson Paulo back to the wing. Lachlan Ilias returns after being a late scratching last week, with Dean Hawkins dropping out. Finally, Dan Suluka-Fifita returns to the team at prop, with Hame Sele dropping to the bench and Davvy Moale out of the 17. Latrell Mitchell is under an injury cloud but is expected to play.

The Panthers also have three changes. At the back Dylan Edwards and Taylan May both return to the team after being late outs last week. Charlie Staines drops to the bench as utility, and Sunia Turuva and Robert Jennings lose their spots in the 17. Scott Sorensen is the other out, replaced on the bench by J’Maine Hopgood.

Betting Odds

Rabbitohs $1.60 v Panthers $2.35 - Bet now at Ladbrokes!


Despite saying I can’t spit them on paper up above, I think it is fair to have the Rabbits as favourites. Playing at home never hurts, and their form is clearly superior. Both teams played in shutouts last weeks, with the Rabbits impressively eating the Eels and the Panthers unable to get through a Storm defensive line that has been pretty average lately. Having said that, I’m expecting a tight tussle with the Panthers getting some key players back and still full of talent. The pricing favours the Panthers for value, so a Panthers stack seems like a comfortable fit to me.


Love It - Brian To’o $12,120

To’o might be my most recommended player this season, and it hasn’t necessarily been going well. By every measure I can come up with, he’s consistently too cheap for a player averaging 50+ over the last two seasons and 40+ in 2022. Was 2021 a big outlier? It was probably an unsustainable spike year, but I think something in the high 40s is a natural settling point for such a good tackle-breaker, so I’ll keep investing while he’s cheap. With the comparable Rabbitohs scorers coming in more expensive, my first choice is To’o, followed closely by his teammates in May and Crichton who are at a similar price and can also be projected for 40+.


Love It - Viliame Kikau $14,350

The big Fijian is a popular fantasy play, but at times the interest can drop off a bit when he endures a few quiet games in a row. This happens fairly often, given he’s a noted boom or bust scorer. While his recent run hasn’t been particularly bad, a 3-game average of 41 lends itself to a slightly depressed price, and hopefully ownership will follow suit. It’s not an easy matchup, but it’s almost impossible to predict when the big games are coming so I’m going to get in early.


Love It - Jaeman Salmon $10,080

I didn’t really want to highlight Panthers players in all 3 slots, but Salmon has forced my hand. His 2 weeks at the five-eight position have returned scores of 51 and 41, which is a stark contrast to his sub-30 average in the position when playing at Parramatta. It’s dangerous to trust a 2-game sample, but almost all statistical categories have shown significant improvement. More tackles, tackle breaks, run and kick metres suggest his base scoring is just far better as a more mature player in the Panthers system. If the smattering of attacking stats come along, he’s at least a ~35 player, and could even be the 40+ player that he’s been the last two weeks (although I doubt it’s quite that high). Clearly too cheap.


Hate It - Tevita Tatola $17,590

I picked on Tatola last week, and despite scoring a 50 he was nowhere near good enough value t these elevated price tags. I have no choice but to target him again (with a fade), because the recent scoring continues to be unsustainable when propped up by 4 tries in the last 6 weeks. He’s clearly in sensational form, but he’s never been anything better than a 40-45 scorer, and at the price he needs to be a 50+ operator to represent even middling value. That’s an easy pass for me.


Hate It - Lachlan Ilias $11,780

Ilias is a victim of a few variables this week which make me wary of playing him much at all. Firstly, he’s had a couple of little injury issues of late, including missing last week’s game. Secondly, despite clearly improving throughout his rookie season, he is still very inexperienced, and I think unlikely to thrive in such a tough matchup. And finally, he has two strong options in his price range at the HH position with which to compete. He’s more expensive than both Salmon and Havili, and therefore has to outperform both from a raw points perspective to become a strong play, not the mention having to beat the more premium options for value. I don’t like his chances of emerging from the HH pack and will look for him in easier upcoming matchups instead.


Who Knows - Campbell Graham $13,290

On a normal week I’d be all over Graham at this kind of price tag, as he’s an uber-talented centre who can average 45+ when going well. That means the price gap between he and Dylan Edwards is a sizeable discount given they have similar scoring profiles over the last couple of seasons. However, coming back from injury and matching up against a strong Panthers defensive edge gives plenty of pause, and makes me think a more conservative projection (and exposure) is wise. I’ll be playing a lot more of the Panthers OBs, but Graham will probably rise to the top of the Rabbits options at the position.

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