NRL ROUND 1 PREVIEWS AND TIPS
Broncos v Rabbitohs
Thu 5 Mar, 8:05pm, Suncorp Stadium
Thursday night’s clash between reigning Premiers the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Brisbane Broncos is shaping to be one of the most explosive openers in the recent NRL history. With a departure list headed by the likes of Premiership-ring holders Sam Burgess, Ben Teo and Kirisome Auva’a as well as the experienced duo of Beau Champion and Nathan Merritt, the opener for the 2015 NRL season will be an interesting test for a new look Rabbitohs outfit with star signings Tim Grant and Glenn Stewart eager to impress after limited seasons last year for Penrith and Manly respectively.
It will be generation versus generation as the incumbent premiership winning coach Michael Maguire takes on the Old Master Wayne Bennett. After an abysmal 2014 campaign with the Knights, Bennett made short work of any deficiencies in the Broncos roster, with new signings James Gavet and Adam Blair adding much needed starch to an arguably stagnant Broncos pack. Despite losing Queensland and Australian winger Darius Boyd – who was to anchor the Broncos’ young backline at fullback after following Bennett North from Newcastle – the Master coach will be confident of the attacking potency of his backline, with excitement machine Anthony Milford finally set to make his Broncos debut after his controversial departure from The Raiders.
Both coaches will be hoping that superstars Greg Inglis and Ben Hunt fire after stellar 2014 seasons. Hunt looks to emulate Broncos legend Allan Langer at Halfback to push for an Origin berth, while Inglis only needs more of the same after his transition to fullback has all but guaranteed his future induction into Rugby League Immortality.
Whilst the Rabbitohs remain a strong squad for 2015, Bennett has already proven the mantra ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ wrong with his miraculous restructure of the Broncos roster and will have his team chomping at the bit for scalps they missed in 2014. The Rabbitohs will find it very difficult to emulate the soaring heights of the 43 year drought breaking Premiership of 2014, particularly after the loss of so many key players.
Ben’s Tips: Broncos +2.5 @ $2.00 (Palmerbet)
Eels v Sea Eagles
Fri 6 Mar, 7:45pm, Pirtek Stadium
The return of Friday night footy in 2015 will see the Parramatta Eels take on the Manly Sea Eagles in what looks set to become a grudge match after rumours the Eels are chasing the signature of star Sea Eagles five-eighth Kieran Foran. Rivalry between the two clubs has intensified after the defection of former Sea Eagles’ assistant coach Brad Arthur to Parramatta last year and most recently Australian and New South Wales’ backrower Anthony Watmough.
The Eels are looking to start life after Jarryd Hayne on the front foot after naming a new look backline. Along with new signings Beau Champion, Brad Takairangi and Reece Robinson, centre-turned-fullback Will Hopoate has big shoes to fill and Brad Arthur will be hoping the club has done enough to cover Hayne’s shock exit.
The Sea Eagles are similarly looking to turn a new leaf after a wealth of NRL experience in Jason King, Glenn Stewart and the previously mentioned Anthony Watmough departed the club at the end of season 2014. Further compounding the Sea Eagles woes is the injury of Josh Starling, Steve Matai and Jorge Tafua. Manly coach Geoff Toovey will be looking to new recruits Willie Mason, Luke Burgess and Feleti Mateo to bring a different dynamic to his pack after salary cap restraints left Manly unable to compete for the signatures of some of their favourite sons.
PREDICTION: Despite the Sea Eagles’ recent dominance and the departure of Jarryd Hayne, the return of Nathan Peats and Manu Ma’u from long term injury as well as a good recruitment drive should see Parramatta a much better side than this time last year. While Manly are likely to show their signature toughness and discipline, Parramatta should have their measure.
Ben’s Tips: Eels Head to Head @ $2.02 (Pinnacle Sports)
Cowboys v Roosters
Sat 7 Mar, 9:00pm, 1300Smiles Stadium
Talked up as having one of the best rosters in the competition, the North Queensland Cowboys go into their round one match up against the Sydney Roosters touted as one of the major contenders for the 2015 premiership trophy. And with a good off-season recruitment drive which saw the Cowboys pick up Justin O’Neil, Ben Hannant and Jake Granville, so abundant are coach Paul Green’s options that he has made the bold call to omit 2014 signing Lachlan Coote from the side altogether.
The Roosters’ off-season recruitment has been similarly effective, albeit not as comprehensive. Bad-boy Blake Ferguson will relegate Premiership and World Cup winner Shaun Kenny-Dowall to the wing, while Matt McIlwrick comes in as hooker to cover for the injured Jake Friend. While both are solid acquisitions, the Roosters may struggle to cover the loss of Premiership winners Anthony Minichiello and Sonny Bill Williams.
Paul Green will be looking to finally extract the full potential out of his Cowboys outfit, and in his second year at the club, he looks set to do exactly that. Trent Robinson will be looking for a fresh start in 2015 after the Premiership hangover experienced by his side throughout last year’s season.
With one of the most dangerous looking rosters in the competition and the likes of Jonathan Thurston, Matt Scott and Jason Taumalolo fit and firing after a big off-season, the Cowboys will be looking to extend their 12 game winning streak on their home ground in Townsville. While the Roosters have the makings of a top side this year, they may struggle to adjust to life after Sonny Bill Williams. With a reshuffled forward pack and a rookie fullback in Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, there are too many unknowns in this Roosters team to back them to win.
Ben’s Tips: Cowboys -2.5 @ $1.97 (Pinnacle Sports)
Knights v Warriors
Sat 7 Mar, 4:30pm, Hunter Stadium
Under former Knights coach Rick Stone, the men from Hunter Valley are looking towards the future following the departure of Wayne Bennett from Newcastle. Stone will be looking for simplicity from his squad after an abysmal 2014 campaign earned the ire of Newcastle fans, and he will be under pressure to ensure his second stint at the Knights turns a new leaf for the club.
Having taken the reins at the Warriors midway through 2014, Andrew McFadden will be hoping the professionalism of new recruits Ryan Hoffman and Bodene Thompson brings the consistency the Auckland club has been missing in recent years, while the Golden Boot recipient Shaun Johnson is set to lead the Warrior’s attack.
Stone has played a conservative hand with a reliable squad, even leaving out incumbent Kangaroos winger Sione Mata’utia, while McFadden has been forced to name rookies such as Solomone Kata and Tuimoala Lolohea after a slew of backline injuries.
PREDICTION: While the Knights look to be on the right track after the departure of Wayne Bennett, they remain in a rebuilding phase and their off-season recruitment has not had an impact on an aging roster. Conversely, with Andrew McFadden’s first full pre-season with his squad and a good recruitment drive, the potential of his Warriors outfit is massive, particularly considering the Warriors’ Kiwi representatives’ performance in the Four Nations.
Ben’s Tips: Warriors Head to Head @ $1.95 (Pinnacle Sports)
Titans v Tigers
Sat 7 Mar, 7:00pm, Cbus Super Stadium
The cocaine drug scandal has ensured the Titans a disrupted off season, and new coach Neil Henry will be missing representative forwards Greg Bird and Dave Taylor as well as hooking option Beau Falloon. Josh Hoffman will be disappointed to miss out on the No.1 Jumper, with William Zillman getting the nod for custodian. A slew of other injuries mean Henry has named an inexperienced bench, though all eyes will be on rookie Kierran Mosely starting at Hooker, who impressed for the Indigenous All Stars in the preseason.
The Tigers are similarly lacking in forward experience after a number of players departed the club, including Adam Blair, Bodene Thompson, Braith Anasta, Liam Fulton and Blake Austin. After the controversy over the sacking of Mick Potter and mounting tensions in the club, new coach Jason Taylor will be looking his new look spine to provide attacking spark in 2015. With James Tedesco coming off injury and relatively inexperienced halves in Mitchell Moses and Luke Brooks, the Tigers will have to rely heavily on captain and hooker Robbie Farrah.
The round 1 clash between the Titans and Wests Tigers is hard to pick. Both teams were cellar dwellers in the bottom four last year, though given the significant injury toll at the Titans and the loss of star forwards Greg Bird and Dave Taylor, expect a young, exciting Tigers outfit to be too much to handle.
Ben’s Tips: Tigers -5.5 @ $2.00 (Palmerbet)
Panthers v Bulldogs
Sun 8 Mar, 4:00pm, Sportingbet Stadium
Sunday’s clash between the Penrith Panthers and Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs will be personal for the former after they were bundled out of the preliminary finals by Des Hasler’s 2014 Grand Finalists. Having both produced miraculous campaigns in 2014 to make it deep into the finals, this round 1 clash will be an interesting litmus test for each teams in their search for the Premiership trophy.
That the Panther’s didn’t particularly struggle with their horrendous injury toll last year spells trouble for the Bulldogs after a good off-season sees a majority of the Panthers’ squad take the field for round one – apart from incumbent kangaroos winger Josh Mansour. With a settled spine, Panthers’ coach Ivan Cleary will be hoping his squad can remain fit, and if his hopes eventuate the Panthers should go far into the finals.
The Bulldogs will be similarly dangerous this year as newly appointed Captain James Graham looking for the best out of rising star Michael Lichaa – who comes in at hooker after Michael Ennis’s departure from the club – and winger-turned-fullback Brett Morris. Des Hasler looks to have found his solution for the custodian role after the departure of Ben Barba in Brett Morris, who joins twin brother Josh in the ‘Dogs backline.
After the Preliminary final slug fest in 2014 that ended with the Bulldogs winning by the skin of their teeth, expect a rejuvenated Panthers squad to be out for blood. Having played through parts of 2014 with half a dozen first graders injured, the Panthers will be on the top of their game with only one player absent from the 17. But with good off-season recruitment and monster forward pack, don’t expect the Bulldogs to let them have it.
Ben’s Tips: Bulldogs Head to Head @ $1.84 (Luxbet)
Sharks v Raiders
Sun 8 Mar, 6:30pm, Remondis Stadium
The cellar dwellers of 2014 will be looking to prove a point after the Canberra Raiders take on the last season’s wooden spooners the Cronulla Sharks. Cronulla finally look set to put the ASADA controversy behind them with the return of Shane Flanagan as head coach and showed promising signs in a powerful display at the Auckland Nines. Ricky Stuart will be hoping his second year at the Raiders will bear better fruit that last year as our nation’s capital seeks a return to past glory.
Expect a vastly different Sharks team in 2015 than the side that took out 2014’s wooden spoon. With experienced rake Michael Ennis set to add some starch to their forward pack, the Sharks will look to a streamlined Ben Barba for their attacking spark in 2015 after Todd Carney’s unfortunate bubbler incident last year that saw him move to the Super League.
Questions loom over Ricky Stuart’s recruitment decisions after the Raiders struggled to attract star talent to the nation’s capital. Stuart will be hoping English International hooker Josh Hodgson, Frank-Paul Nuuausala and Blake Austin can spark a return to form for his squad.
Expect a dominant Cronulla outfit to return to their pre-ASADA form in style. With Barba seemingly fit and firing at five-eighth and Michael Ennis’s dominance in the ruck, the Sharks look far removed from the team that placed last in the previous season. The Raiders may struggle to match the Shark’s attacking potency with a new look spine.
Ben’s Tips: Sharks -7.5 @ $1.93 (bet365)
Dragons v Storm
Mon 9 Mar, 7:00pm, Jubilee Oval
Monday night’s clash between the Melbourne Storm and St George Illawarra Dragons shapes as an interesting insight into each team’s future. Questions remain over the Storm’s ageing roster, but Storm Coach Craig Bellamy will be confident in his big three after Cameron Smith has been named to return early from an ankle injury, while reports indicate Billy Slater has had his best pre-season in years.
Despite the mid-year sacking of Steve Price in 2014, new Coach Paul McGregor inspired the Dragons to a late-season form surge, and having had a full pre-season to work with his squad, the New South Wales assistant coach will be confident of his side’s ability to perform.
After the departure of Bryan Norrie and Ryan Hoffman, Storm Coach Craig Bellamy will look to new recruit Blake Green to add some stability from five-eighth that Melbourne have been lacking since now Dragons pivot Gareth Widdop left the club, while former Bulldog Dale Finucane has relegated the reliable Ryan Hinchcliffe to the bench.
Similarly, a heavy recruitment drive at the Dragons will see George Rose, Etonia Nabuli and Dane Nielsen make their debuts, while rookie prop Rory O’Brien will come off the bench.
While Paul McGregor will likely have his squad firing for the Storm clash, expect Storm’s new look forward pack to impress. After an early finals exit last year, the Storm will be looking to start fresh in the 2015 season with a win. While the Dragons have recruited well, questions remain over their pack as McGregor has named George Rose – primarily used as an impact player off the bench – in the starting side. Too many questions remain over the Dragons facing a rejuvenated Storm outfit. Expect Melbourne to come away with the win.
Ben’s Tips: Melbourne Storm 1-12 @ $3.50 (William Hill)