Canberra Raiders v Melbourne Storm
Canberra Stadium, 5:30pm local time
RAIDERS: Josh Dugan, Blake Ferguson, Jarrod Croker, Shaun Berrigan, Reece Robinson, Terry Campese (c), Josh McCrone, David Shillington, Travis Waddell, Learoyd-Lahrs, Josh Papalii , Bronson Harrison , Shaun Fensom. Reserves (from): Glen Buttriss, Joel Thompson, Dane Tilse, Brett White, Trevor Thurling
STORM: Billy Slater, Matt Duffie, Dane Nielsen, Justin O’Neill, Anthony Quinn, Gareth Widdop, Cooper Cronk, Jesse Bromwich, Cameron Smith (c), Bryan Norrie, Sika Manu, Ryan Hoffman, Todd Lowrie. Reserves (from): Ryan Hinchcliffe, Kevin Proctor, Siosaia Vave, Michael Greenfield, Sisa Waqa, Rory Kostjasyn
IT”S SET TO BE A WET AND WINDY AFFAIR in the nation’s capital following days of rainfall in the surrounding areas. But the biggest storm is yet to come with the Melbourne side heading to Canberra Stadium to take on the Green Machine. There are high hopes in Canberra for the local side, a side that is welcoming back captain Terry Campese from injury. Campese needs to fire if the Raiders are going to be a serious contender in 2012 and there should be no better first up test than playing a Melbourne Storm side that boasts players of the highest calibre including the big three in Cam Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk. The Storm are largely unchanged from last year with the biggest loss being second rower Adam Blair. Blair is replaced by Ryan Hoffman who returns to the club after a stint in the UK. Hoffman was part of the team when they played in the 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 Grand Finals and he knows how to run off Cooper Cronk on the right hand side of the field and pick off holes in flimsy defences.
I’m tipping the Storm in this one. They have beaten the Raiders 17 times out of 19 clashes but I don’t think they’ll have it all their own way. The Canberra side usually run high on emotion in front of their home crowd in round 1 and the likes of Terry Campese and Josh Dugan will be playing out of their skins to give their supporters a show, and hopefully a season to remember.
Chance of winning: Raiders 39%, Storm 60%, Draw 1%
Mike’s Tip: Melbourne Storm
Mike’s Best Bet: None
Penrith Panthers v Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
Centrebet Stadium, 7:30pm local time
PANTHERS: Lachlan Coote, David Simmons, Michael Jennings, Brad Tighe, Michael Gordon, Travis Burns, Luke Walsh, Sam McKendry, Kevin Kingston, Tim Grant, Luke Lewis (c), Cameron Ciraldo, Nathan Smith. Interchange: Dayne Weston, Chris Armit, Nafe Seluini, Clint Newton, Blake Austin, Danny Galea
BULLDOGS: Ben Barba, Steve Turner, Josh Morris, Jonathan Wright, Bryson Goodwin, Josh Reynolds, Trent Hodkinson, Aiden Tolman, Michael Ennis (c), Sam Kasiano, Frank Pritchard, Dene Halatau, David Stagg. Interchange (from): James Graham, Greg Eastwood, Corey Payne, Joel Romelo, Kris Keating, Martin Taupau
COACHES IVAN CLEARY AND DES HASLER FACED OFF in the Grand Final of 2011 in charge of the Warrriors and Sea Eagles respectively. For their first game in 2011, Cleary is at the helm of the Panthers and Hasler the Bulldogs. Cleary has his work cut out for him improving this Panthers team that failed miserably last year. I’m looking for big improvements from Michael Jennings after he had a 2011 season which was lacklustre at best. Through the week the club’s general manager and former NSW coach Phil Gould said that Jennings had been the number one trainer in the club during the off season. On the down side there have been rumblings that Michael Gordon is so disappointed at not being chosen at fullback over Lachlan Coote that he is threatening to leave the club.
The Bulldogs have plenty of improving to do themselves but it’s hard to guess what Des Hasler has planned for this season. Will he make a direct assault on the 2012 premiership or does he use this season to shape his team the way he wants it for 2013? The players will have to be playing out of their skins to impress Hasler because I get the feeling he won’t hesitate wielding the axe in order to get the team he ultimately wants.
It’s this particular motivation that should see the Bulldogs get on top of the Panthers in round one and I’m tipping a good old fashioned ‘dog’ fight.
Chance of winning: Panthers 41%, Bulldogs 58%, Draw 1%
Mike’s Tip: Bulldogs
Mike’s Best Bet: None
Starting Bank: $2000, Current Bank $2000
(Team lists sourced from nrl.com.au)