NRL Round 1 Preview and Tips


Rabbitohs v Roosters

Thu 6 Mar, 8:05pm, ANZ Stadium

Rabbitohs: Greg Inglis, Nathan Merritt, Beau Champion, Bryson Goodwin, Lote Tuqiri, Dylan Walker, Adam Reynolds, George Burgess, Issac Luke, Sam Burgess, Chris McQueen, Ben Te’o, John Sutton (c). Interchange: Ben Lowe, Joe Picker, David Tyrrell, Luke Burgess, Joel Reddy, Kyle Turner
Roosters: Anthony Minichiello, Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend, Sam Moa, Boyd Cordner, Sonny Bill Williams, Frank Paul Nuuausala. Interchange: Daniel Mortimer, Aidan Guerra, Mitchell Aubusson, Dylan Napa, Kane Evans, Kurt Kara

FINALLY!! The NRL season is back and traditional rivals the Rabbitohs and the Roosters will once again kick off the new season to the delight of many a fan.

The Roosters arrive with the premiership trophy in their possession whereas the Rabbitohs have nothing but lament after failing to make the Grand Final altogether in what looked to be such a promising season.

I’m sure the Rabbitohs will be using that disappointment to spur them on in 2014 and what better way to start than by rolling the reigning premiers?

Initially I was very keen on the Rabbitohs for this game but since having to deal with a few injury problems to key players, I am a bit hesitant. Five eighth Luke Keary won’t be back in the side for a while after tearing his pectoral in the Auckland Nines. His replacement, Dylan Walker subsequently tweaked his hamstring a few days ago but has still been named to play alongside halfback Adam Reynolds who is working to overcome a knee issue. At least if anything happens to either Walker or Reynolds before kickoff, lock John Sutton will be able to slot back into the halves where he played the 2013 season with great impact.

The Roosters go into the match with virtually the same line up that contested the Grand Final and certainly look a bit better positioned, however I think there will be slightly more fire and enthusiasm amongst their Southern Sydney opponents who will be keen to make amends from the outset this year.

So with that in mind I’ll be tipping the Bunnies to win but certainly won’t be placing any bets for this one.

Instead I’ll sit back and simply enjoy the opener to the new season and in particular, I’ll enjoy watching the big boppers in Sonny Bill Williams and Sam Burgess go head to head. Sparks will fly!

Rabbitohs fans, be sure to cheer on Nathan Merritt who requires just one more try to become the highest try scoring Rabbitoh of all time.

Mike’s Tip: Roosters

Mike’s Suggested Bet: Rabbitohs +2.5 @ $2.00 (Pinnacle Sports)

Mike’s Best Bet: None


Bulldogs v Broncos

Fri 7 Mar, 8:05pm, ANZ Stadium

Bulldogs: Sam Perrett, Mitch Brown, Josh Morris, Chase Stanley, Corey Thompson, Josh Reynolds, Trent Hodkinson, Aiden Tolman, Michael Ennis (c), James Graham, Frank Pritchard (c), Tony Williams, Dale Finucane. Interchange: Josh Jackson, Pat O’Hanlon, Tim Browne, David Klemmer, Moses Mbye
Broncos: Ben Barba, Daniel Vidot, Jack Reed, Dale Copley, Lachlan Maranta, Josh Hoffman, Ben Hunt, Josh McGuire, Andrew McCullough, Corey Parker (c), Alex Glenn, Sam Thaiday, Matt Gillett. Interchange: Ben Hannant, Martin Kennedy, Todd Lowrie, Jarrod Wallace, David Hala

When the 2014 NRL draw was released I’m sure Ben Barba immediately had a look through it to see when he would have to face his former side the Bulldogs. He didn’t have to look past round 1 to find that he would be returning to his old home in no time and he knows full well the crowd will be baying for his blood.

So you think it sounds a little over the top? Try telling that to the Bulldogs faithful who watched helplessly as Barba almost single handed turned the 2012 minor premiers camp into a place of unrest that ultimately lead to the side clawing their way into the finals only to be knocked out in the first week in an unenthusiastic manner.

Bulldogs Coach Des Hasler has informed the media that the players won’t be focusing on Barba any more than the next Broncos player. Knowing Hasler’s mentality this would be true and I’m sure he’ll be trying to get his cattle to try and pick up where they left off at the end of 2012 without dwelling on the past.

The home town fans are no doubt going to be very vocal which is often a big factor towards lifting teams to victory at the back end of early round games. Fitness issues in the first 3 or 4 rounds often separate the wheat from the chaff and I wouldn’t like to be a Broncos player fronting up to a noisy home crowd when you’re gasping for air some 1000kms from home.

The Bulldogs already know their combinations well but Broncos Coach Anthony Griffin has decided to throw Josh Hoffman into five eighth next to Ben Hunt. I’ve got nothing against these two, and I’m a big Josh Hoffman fan (at fullback) but this combination may need some time to get acquainted under the pressure of NRL conditions.

I really like the Bulldogs to notch up 2 competition points in their opening match and Sportingbet are offering refunds up to $100 if you back the Doggies and they score 12 or more points but lose the game. I’ll be taking some of that even if the game is played out in wet conditions.

Mike’s Tip: Bulldogs

Mike’s Best Bet:


Panthers v Knights

Sat 8 Mar, 4:30pm, Sportingbet Stadium

Panthers: Matt Moylan, Josh Mansour, Dean Whare, Jamal Idris, Dave Simmons, Jamie Soward, Peter Wallace, Brent Kite, Kevin Kingston (c), Tim Grant, Lewis Brown, Elijah Taylor, Adam Docker. Interchange: James Segeyaro, Nigel Plum, Tyrone Peachey, Sam McKendry, Jeremy Latimore
Knights: Darius Boyd, James McManus, Dane Gagai, Joey Leilua, Akuila Uate, Michael Dobson, Tyrone Roberts, Kade Snowden, Kurt Gidley (c), Willie Mason, Beau Scott, Robbie Rochow, Jeremy Smith. Interchange: Travis Waddell, Chris Houston, Alex McKinnon, Adam Cuthbertson, David Fa’alogo

The Knights travel to Penrith with the glaring omission of halfback Jarrod Mullen thanks to the hamstring injury he picked up during the Auckland Nines.

To many, it seems to have been the death knell for the Knights this week but those pessimists certainly aren’t giving halfback Tyrone Roberts, and stand in five eighth Michael Dobson any credit.

Roberts is one of my main picks across the NRL of players I’m expecting to have a break-out season and as long as his number 6 offers him a shoulder to lean on, I have confidence the halves can guide the Knights to a steady victory.

The Panthers will have plenty to say about that as they have their first chance in the NRL to show off some of their new recruits with the likes of Idris, Wallace, Soward and none other than Brent Kite leading the charge from the front.

A key man to watch will be James Segyaro; we know how lack of fitness can strike teams in round 1 towards the end of the first and second halves of matches, and this is when Segyaro can take the field and look to catch some tired forwards napping in defence.

If this becomes a tight try scoring encounter, I trust Kurt Gidley more in the goal kicking department more than I do Jamie Soward (assuming these two are their sides designated kickers.) The goal kicking will have a big bearing on the final score and should see the Knights fall over the line. There are still question marks over the Knight’s abilities to apply pressure when playing away from home, which means I can’t see the Knights posting a runaway score line, but I can see them clinching a close contest.


Mike’s Tip: Knights

Mike’s Suggested Bet: Knights 1-12 @ $3.60 (PalmerBet)

Mike’s Best Bet: None



Sea Eagles v Storm

Sat 8 Mar, 7:00pm, Brookvale Oval

Sea Eagles: Brett Stewart, Cheyse Blair, Jamie Lyon (c), Steve Matai, Peta Hiku, Kieran Foran, Daly Cherry-Evans, Josh Starling, Matt Ballin. Brenton Lawrence, Anthony Watmough, Justin Horo, Glenn Stewart. Interchange: Jesse Sene-Lefao, James Hasson, Jamie Buhrer, Dunamis Lui

Storm: Billy Slater, Sisa Waqa, Will Chambers, Mahe Fonua, Young Tonumaipea, Ben Hampton, Ben Roberts, Jesse Bromwich, Cameron Smith (c), Bryan Norrie, Kevin Proctor, Ryan Hoffman. Ryan Hinchcliffe. Interchange: Kenny Bromwich, Tohu Harris, Jordan McLean, George Rose, Mitch Garbutt, Slade Griffin, Joel Romelo


Manly begin their quest for a 10th straight finals berth and what better way for their journey to begin than at Brookvale Oval against modern day rivals the Melbourne Storm.

Both sides are short priced favourites to contest the 2014 finals series and anyone who has watched the NRL for the last decade would know why.

The Storm will start the season somewhat on the back foot with star halfback Cooper Cronk missing due to injury. The halves were already suffering with the loss of Gareth Widdop to the Dragons in the off season and now the Storm must front up with Ben Hampton and Ben Roberts wearing the 6 and 7 respectively.

Many have publicly bagged Roberts after poor showings for Parramatta in 2012 and ‘13 but in a winning environment I can certainly see the potential for Roberts to play well. Obviously Craig Bellamy sees it as well, plus it’s not as if we are talking about a rookie here; Roberts has played in the NRL for the past 8 seasons which included 5 games for New Zealand in 2006 and 2007.

So it’s not as if the Sea Eagles are fronting up to a team completely destitute of talent in the halves, but they are definitely fronting up with superior halves and when playing at home, that goes a long way towards earning them the best favouritism quote of $1.55 (Sportsbet).

One major factor going against the Sea Eagles in this match is their lack of depth in the forwards. Josh Starling replaces the perennially injured Jason King in the front row with just 7 first grade games to his name, and the Sea Eagles bench doesn’t boast more than 50 between Hasson, Lui and Sene-Lefao

With so much weakness littered throughout both teams, I won’t be punting on this one.

For the funsters I would suggest just backing Manly outright and if you’re really game take them at the line of -6.0 on offer from Luxbet.


Mike’s Tip: Sea Eagles

Mike’s Suggested Bet: Sea Eagles Head to Head @ $1.55 (Sportsbet)

Mike’s Best Bet: None



Cowboys v Raiders

Sat 8 Mar, 8:00pm, 1300 Smiles Stadium

Cowboys: Michael Morgan, Kyle Feldt, Brent Tate, Kane Linnett, Antonio Winterstein, Johnathan Thurston (c), Robert Lui, Matt Scott (c), Ray Thompson, James Tamou, Gavin Cooper, Jason Taumalolo, Joel Riethmuller. Interchange: Rory Kostjasyn, Tariq Sims, Glenn Hall, Scott Bolton, Ashton Sims, Zac Santo
Raiders: Anthony Milford, Reece Robinson, Jarrod Croker, Matt Allwood, Edrick Lee, Jack Wighton, Terry Campese (c), Dane Tilse, Glen Buttriss, Brett White, Josh Papalii, Joel Edwards, Shaun Fensom. Interchange: Josh McCrone, Jarrad Kennedy, Paul Vaughan, Shannon Boyd, Mark Nicholls

Coaches Paul Green and Ricky Stuart front up to the 2014 season in charge of their new teams, The Cowboys and the Raiders respectively.

There seemingly hasn’t been a negative word said about Paul Green since his appointment as Cowboys coach and the banana benders in the far north are resting a lot of hope on his shoulders.

The reception of Ricky Stuart in the Nation’s Capital has been mixed; some believe Stuart could be the best thing to come to Canberra since beer whilst others are already claiming he will be the worst signing since Matt Orford.

Time will tell but I’m on the side of the Cowboys to open their 2014 account in what will be an enthusiastic home crowd.

My thoughts behind this stem from the way they ended the 2013 season and there will be a special energy amongst the Nth Qld players that only comes from teams that finish their previous season in unfulfilling style that sees them come out in round one with far more hunger than their opposition. South Sydney demonstrated the same thing against the Roosters on Friday night.

That’s not to say the Raiders wouldn’t be feeling unfulfilled after last year, but they need to build into a side that can challenge for the premiership. They won’t simply become one just because they sacked players that disturbed the team’s Zen and signed a new coach.

And when you talk about teams needing time to build, it applies also when you field a new halves combination, as Stuart will be doing by throwing the talented Jack Wighton into his first five eighth role. At least this says Stuart sees Campese for what he is, and what he has been for years now; a halfback.

If you’re not already, keep an eye on Johnathan Thurston late in the first and second halves when some of the Raider’s big boppers start feeling the Townsville heat; Thurston will pick off the ones blowing like race horses and I expect plenty of left side movements that will have him putting Kane Linnett over the line.

Verdict: Green’s machine to down the Green Machine.


Mike’s Tip: Cowboys

Mike’s Suggested Bet: Kane Linnett to Score a Try at Anytime @ $2.25 (Sportingbet)

Mike’s Best Bet: None



Dragons v Tigers

Sun 9 Mar, 3:00pm, ANZ Stadium

Dragons: Adam Quinlan, Brett Morris, Dylan Farrell, Gerard Beale, Jason Nightingale, Gareth Widdop, Michael Witt, Jack de Belin, Mitch Rein, Dan Hunt, Leeson Ah Mau, Ben Creagh (c), Trent Merrin. Interchange: Bronson Harrison, Kyle Stanley, Joel Thompson, Tyson Frizell, Mike Cooper
Tigers: James Tedesco, Marika Koroibete, Keith Lulia, Chris Lawrence, Pat Richards, Braith Anasta, Luke Brooks, Aaron Woods, Robbie Farah, Martin Taupau, Liam Fulton, Bodene Thompson, Adam Blair. Interchange: Cory Paterson, Ava Seumanufagai, Sauaso Sue, James Gavet

It’s the moment many Wests Tigers fans have been waiting for; Round one of a new season with a new halfback in young Luke Brooks. Judging by the pre season hype, Brooks, in what will be just his 2nd NRL match, is going to set up 10 tries and score 5 of his own.

Yes, it sounds ridiculous, but so does the hype. I would simply hate to see a young career with so much potential become ruined by unwarranted pressure, as it has done to so many who have gone before Brooks. And don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see the young fella succeed!
As I mentioned in my season preview, I don’t hold a whole lot of hope for the Tigers this season and can’t bring myself to tip them here against the Dragons.

The Dragons have been busy recruiting throughout the last 9 months but unfortunately retained their embattled coach. He surprised me somewhat by opting for Michael Witt as halfback rather than Sam Williams but maybe Steve Price knows something we don’t for him to be sending Williams to play for the Cutters.

So all in all, we might need to just sit back and observe this game and see just how beneficial the Dragons’ new recruits will be. I’m sure Josh Dugan is raring to go and keen to put his off field dramas of 2013 behind him but I don’t have any real predictions on how the rest of the side will work together under Steve Price.

Dragons to win, but no bets other than for fun.


Mike’s Tip: Dragons

Mike’s Suggested Bet: Dragons Head to Head $1.92 (Sportsbet)

Mike’s Best Bet: None



Eels v Warriors

Sun 9 Mar, 6:30pm, Pirtek Stadium

Eels: Jarryd Hayne, Semi Radradra, Will Hopoate, Willie Tonga, Vai Toutai, Corey Norman, Luke Kelly, Tim Mannah, Nathan Peats, Fuifui Moimoi, Ben Smith, Manu Ma’u, Kenny Edwards. Interchange: Joseph Paulo, Peni Terepo, Darcy Lussick, Kelepi Tanginoa, David Gower, Mitch Allgood
Warriors: Sam Tomkins, Glen Fisiiahi, Dane Nielsen, Carlos Tuimavave, Manu Vatuvei, Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson, Sam Rapira, Nathan Friend, Ben Matulino, Jayson Bukuya, Simon Mannering (c), John Palavi. Interchange: Jacob Lillyman, Suaia Matagi, Sione Lousi, Feleti Mateo, Jerome Ropati

The Eels bring their wooden spoon back to Pirtek Stadium and with it they bring a new coach and some new players with the promise of a new beginning.

Coach Brad Arthur has plenty of experience around some of the game’s best coaches and the new line up of players have shown in the off season that they are keen to get 2014 underway.

I’m eager to watch the performance of new found hooker Nathan Peats for the Eels. If he plays half as good as his drive and confidence suggests he will, the Eels will have a fantastic platform to work off. I’d also like to see the Eels adopt a very lateral style of play in attack to employ the services of wingers Vai Toutai and Semi Radradra who can be so strong when running at speed.

The Warriors, as I mentioned in my season preview are simply a team of constant mystery and unfulfilled potential and an all round hard bunch to pick. I would almost swear that sometimes they travel across the Tasman to play in Australia and turn up with a ‘can’t be bothered’ attitude. They need a coach to get the motivational levels soaring, especially when on the road in round 1, and I’m sorry to say that Matt Elliot probably isn’t the best man for the job.

Betting wise, I won’t be firing off any best bets but I was very close to making the Eels to beat the line a solid selection. If this was say a round 4 match with a few week’s form behind it I might be interested in having a wager. Instead I’ll just keep the money in my pocket and leave the betting to those after a bit of fun.


Mike’s Tip: Eels

Mike’s Suggested Bet: Eels +4.5 @ $1.97 (Pinnacle Sports)

Mike’s Best Bet: None



Sharks v Titans

Mon 10 mar, 7:00pm, Remondis Stadium

Sharks: Michael Gordon, Sosaia Feki, Blake Ayshford, Jonathan Wright, Beau Ryan, Todd Carney, Daniel Holdsworth, Andrew Fifita, John Morris, Bryce Gibbs, Matt Prior, Wade Graham, Paul Gallen (c). Interchange: Isaac De Gois, Sam Tagataese, Tupou Sopoaga, Siosaia Vave, Tinirau Arona
Titans: William Zillman, Kevin Gordon, Brad Tighe, Maurice Blair, David Mead, Aidan Sezer, Albert Kelly, Luke Douglas, Beau Falloon, Nate Myles (capt), Greg Bird (capt), David Taylor, Ashley Harrison. Interchange: Matthew White, Luke Bailey, Mark Minichiello, Paul Carter, Ryan James, Brad Takairangi, Ben Ridge

Round 1 concludes with the Titans heading to Remondis Stadium to take on the Sharks who play their first NRL game under stand in Coach Peter Sharp.

Although it looks like ASADA have finished their interview process with the Sharks, the saga goes on nonetheless as the players wait for verdicts to stem from the investigations. I’ll be curious to see if this will have any sort of effect on the club from the word go.

As far as on field problems go for the Sharks, it is doubtful that Todd Carney will front up for the game as the club looks set to give him another week to heal a hamstring injury. This now means the Sharks are without both of their starting halves after halfback Jeff Robson had already been ruled out of the match. Wade Graham now steps into five eighth and new recruit Daniel Holdsworth will play halfback in what will be his first NRL game in 5 years following a stint in England.

Looking at the Titans halves and the new 1 to 7 line up looks very solid. The Titans have lacked an edge in the centres having had Jamal Idris and Brad Takairangi who both lacked speed but now it’s time for new signings Brad Tighe and Maurice Blair to show the side what good centres can actually do.

I’m keen to tip the Titans to win, but with a whole lot of uncertainty surrounding new, round 1 combinations, I won’t be tossing up any best bets.

Yes it is an away game for the Titans, but they showed last year that they aren’t the worst team when on the road.

Keep an eye on Dave Taylor; the boy in a man’s body finished the 2013 in electric fashion and rumours are that he has pulled his head in and trained the house down in the off season.


Mike’s Tip: Titans

Mike’s Suggested Bet: Titans +2.0 @ $1.96 (Pinnacle Sports)

Mike’s Best Bet: None

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