The following are previews with betting tips for Round 1 of the 2018 NRL season.
Dragons v Broncos
Thu, Mar 8, 7:50pm
The 2018 season of the NRL Premiership competition will launch an action-packed round one with the Dragons taking on the Broncos on Thursday night. After a poor finish to their respective 2017 seasons, both clubs have welcomed new personnel and will aim to start their 2018 campaign on the front foot with a win.
The Dragons’ star signings in Ben Hunt and James Graham have been named in the starting side at halfback and prop respectively, with Tariq Sims winning the race for a hotly contested back-row position. The Broncos will also welcome new faces to their run-on side with rookie Jamayne Isaako set to play on the wing and controversial signing Matthew Lodge in the front-row. Kodi Nikorima will start at halfback while Andrew McCullough also makes his return from a knee injury at hooker.
Both teams are starting 2018 with a new halfback and the performance of both Kodi Nikorima for the Broncos and Ben Hunt for the Dragons will be essential in the result of the game. Spine combinations take time to develop and with relatively untested attacking and defensive combinations, both teams may struggle to execute. Expect the Brisbane forwards to give their former halfback in Hunt a thorough defensive workout but a Dragons pack led by new-recruit James Graham will answer in kind. Both teams will field dangerous forward rotations, but the Broncos’ all-forward interchange may give them the edge in the physical contest. It will be a tough match to pick but expect the Broncos’ signature discipline to get them over the line.
Betting Tip: Broncos Head to Head @ $2.00 (Neds)
Knights v Sea Eagles
Fri, Mar 9, 6:00pm
After yet another wooden spoon last year, a new-look Knights outfit will be eager to turn a new leaf and push for a successful football season. Their opposition in Manly were a surprise packet in 2017, sitting just two wins outside the top four at season’s end. While they will have continued to develop under coach Trent Barrett, a salary cap controversy and the loss of five-eighth Blake Green may blunt their success.
Newcastle coach Nathan Brown has overseen an enormous recruitment drive that has snared Mitchell Pearce, Aidan Guerra, Jacob Lillyman, Slade Griffin, Chris Heighington, Kalyn Ponga, Tautau Moga, Connor Watson and Herman Ese’Ese – all of whom have been named to play. Conversely, Manly have only named two new recruits with Lachlan Croker and Joel Thompson in their line-up.
The Knights primary concern in 2017 was a lack of experience, and while that issue is remedied by the influx of new signings, their form in their first top-grade outing will be difficult to predict. Expect Manly to struggle without Blake Green after a salary cap scandal prevented the club from signing a big-name replacement. Knights to get the win.
Betting Tip: Knights Head to Head @ $1.92 (Ladbrokes)
Cowboys v Sharks
Fri, Mar 9, 7:50pm
The Cowboys learned to embrace the underdog tag in 2017 after they made the grand final without stars Jonathan Thurston and Matt Scott. Both co-captains will make their return in round one to lead a North Queensland outfit tipped by many to win the competition, but they will face a Sharks outfit still burning from their one-point loss to the Queensland club in the first week of the 2017 finals series.
The Sharks star signings in Matt Moylan and Josh Dugan will take the field at five-eighth and centre respectively with rookie Sione Katoa also set to debut on the wing. Meanwhile, the Cowboys have replaced injured fullback Lachlan Coote with Ben Hampton as new signing Jordan McLean starts at prop. Javid Bowen will also come into the centres for the injured Kane Linnett.
It was a herculean effort for the Cowboys to make the grand final last year, but the Queenslanders might just be capable of something special with the addition of Thurston, Scott and McLean. Expect the Cowboys to put in a big performance in Jonathan Thurston’s 300th NRL game. The Sharks will not lie down but they may struggle to adjust to the absence of James Maloney with Matt Moylan playing five-eighth. North Queensland to get the win
Betting Tip: Cowboys -5.5 @ $1.93 (Bet365)
Tigers v Roosters
Sat, Mar 10, 4:30pm
While both the Roosters and Tigers finished their 2017 campaigns at opposite ends of the ladder, a number of new signings for both clubs will have fans hoping for a massively improved season. The Chooks were solid in 2017, but lacked the firepower to match the competitions’ best, while Wests placed third last. The joint-venture club showed good signs last year but expect further improvement with Ivan Cleary’s restructured roster sure to provide results.
The Roosters superstar duo in Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco will both start with regular prop Dylan Napa relegated to the bench. The Tigers have named new signings, Pita Godinet, Russell Packer, Benji Marshall, Josh Reynolds, Robbie Rochow, Alex Twal, Corey Thompson and Ben Matulino in a massive overhaul of their squad.
It may be some time before either team reaches top form but the Roosters’ high-standards will carry through from their 2017 season. Ivan Cleary is certainly capable of pushing his squad to the kind of form that will threaten the competition heavyweights, but it will be some time before their attacking and defensive structures are on-song. Roosters to get the points.
Betting Tip: Tigers +11.5 @ $1.92 (Ladbrokes)
Rabbitohs v Warriors
Sat, Mar 10, 7:00pm
After a disappointing premiership campaign last year, both the Warriors and Rabbitohs will be looking to play more consistent football in 2018. The Rabbitohs will welcome new coach Anthony Seibold, taking over the reins from Michael Maguire while Stephen Kearney will head into his second year at the helm for the Kiwis and looks to have made a number of positive changes in the off-season.
The Warriors have brought in a number of experienced players to balance their roster with Adam Blair, Blake Green, Peta Hiku and Tohu Harris all named in the starting side. For the Rabbitohs, Greg Inglis will return at centre with Dane Gagai and Richie Kennar set to make their club debut and form a new centre-wing combination. Mark Nicholls will also start in the front row.
A playing group’s response to a new coach is difficult to predict. With a limited recruitment drive, fans will hope Anthony Seibold has the coaching nous to get his team back in finals contention. With the Warriors’ pre-season emphasis on fitness and the acquisition of defensive stalwarts Adam Blair and Tohu Harris, Stephen Kearney will expect discipline and consistency from his squad, while Blake Green is sure to take pressure off Shaun Johnson. It is a tough one to pick but expect the Warriors to get the points.
Betting Tip: Total Match Points Over 42.5 @ $1.91 (Topbetta)
Bulldogs v Storm
Sat, Mar 10, 9:00pm
The Bulldogs are one of many clubs that have overhauled their playing and coaching staff in the off-season. New coach Dean Pay will face a tough first assignment in the reigning premiers the Melbourne Storm, who look dangerous as ever despite losing superstar Cooper Cronk.
A shoulder injury has seen Billy Slater omitted from the squad, with Cameron Muster to take the custodian role and Ryley Jacks and Brodie Croft forming a new halves combination. Ryan Hoffman will also return to his old club in the second row as Nelson Asofa-Solomona starts at prop to cover the departed Jordan McLean. The Bulldogs will start new signings Aaron Woods and Kieran Foran at prop and halfback respectively with Moses Mbye shifting to his new position of fullback.
The Storm will go into the match as heavy favourites, and while the ‘Dogs seem to be heading in the right direction with the changes to their squad they shouldn’t be in a position to threaten the reigning premiers just yet. Melbourne only lost four games last year but with Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk they may not be quite as dominant. Storm to get the win.
Betting Tip: Total Match Points Over 37.5 @ $1.91 (Ladbrokes)
Panthers v Eels
Sun, Mar 11, 4:10pm
The Eels’ were one of the big surprises in 2017 with the Parramatta outfit placing fourth on the competition ladder. Free of off-field distractions, the Eels have been a dangerous force under Brad Arthur and play a very physical, energetic game. Their opposition in the Panthers had an inconsistent 2017 but will hope star signing James Maloney brings some class to their outfit.
New-recruit Kane Evans will play on the bench for the Eels while Jarryd Hayne returns to his old club in the centres. Bevan French has won the three-way race for the fullback jumper, but do not be surprised to see Hayne drop back into the custodian role at any stage in the game. For Penrith, James Maloney will slot into five-eighth while Viliame Kikau takes a back-row position.
Despite a season plagued by off-field controversy and injuries, the Eels still managed to make the top four. Further, they were one of the few teams to beat the Storm so expect the Panthers to struggle. Both teams may not be at their best, but the Eels signature intensity and physicality should get them the win.
Betting Tip: Eels Head to Head @ $1.95 (William Hill)
Titans v Raiders
Sun, Mar 11, 6:30pm
The Titans welcomed new coach Garth Brennan to their club after a disappointing 2017 season, and his first assignment will be Ricky Stuart’s Raiders who had a similarly poor season last year. After an enormously successful 2016 – in which they placed 2nd on the competition ladder – Canberra suffered from second-year syndrome in 2017. The club was struck a terrible blow when hooker Josh Hodgson suffered a season-ending knee injury in the off-season and have scrambled to find replacements to cover the key absence in their squad.
New signing Sam Williams will return to his old club at halfback, relegating Blake Austin to the bench. Siliva Havili will also make his club debut at hooker. Meanwhile, the Titans have named Jai Arrow, Bryce Cartwright, Michael Gordon and Leilani Latu to make their club debut in their starting side with Mitch Rein also included on the bench.
The Raiders are still trying to discover the secret ingredient of their 2016 season, and while their new halves combination find their feet, expect them to play a power game through their enormous forward rotation. The lighter, more mobile Titans pack will attempt to shift the ball to fatigue their larger opposition but expect the Canberra club to out muscle their opposition.
Betting Tip: Total Match Points Under 44.5 @ $1.92 (Topbetta)
Rabbitohs v Warriors Total Match Points Over 42.5 @ $1.91 (Topbetta)