NRL Tips Round 1

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Updated: March 5, 2015

Here’s our preview and Tips for Round 1 of the NRL

BRONCOS V RABBITOHS – THURS 5 MAR, 7.05PM AEST (8.05PM AEDT) SUNCORP STADIUM

What a great way to kick-off the season. There is belief and expectation in Brisbane with the return of guru coach Wayne Bennett and some key off-season signings in Anthony Milford and Adam Blair. But they meet the defending champions who after throwing the premiership monkey off their back 152 days ago, haven’t put a foot wrong in the pre-season. They’ve won the Auckland 9′s and the World Club Challenge and despite history suggesting going back-to-back is borderline impossible, they head into round 1 as premiership favourites with good reason. So what have they lost? Well the best player in the competition last year Sam Burgess for starters. He’ll be missed but the addition of Glenn Stewart does bring priceless experience and nous. The Bunnies have had Brisbane’s number in recent times and the formline suggests that will continue tonight. Not by much though. Expect the Broncos to run them close with plenty of intrigue around the battle of the two new captains in Greg Inglis and Justin Hodges.

ATHLETES TALK: Rabbitohs by 8

EELS V SEA EAGLES – FRI 6 MAR, 7:45PM (AEDT), PIRTEK STADIUM

Brisbane may be launching the season with a Thursday thriller but Sydney gets some Friday fun when Parramatta host arch-rival Manly. This game has so many layers to it, none more so than the immediate match-up of new Eels recruit Anthony Watmough against his old team. That first hit-up will be worth the entry price alone. Every year there are reports of a depleted Manly team but one look at their team on paper shows very little evidence of that. It is Choc (pun intended) full of class and none more so than in that backline. But the drama surrounding the future of halves Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran is sure to have taken its toll. With that in mind and the home ground factor I’m swaying towards the Eels – but only just! Remember though – there is no Jarryd Hayne and they rarely win without him!

ATHLETES TALK: Eels by 2

KNIGHTS V WARRIORS – SAT 7 MAR, 4:30PM AEDT (6.30PM NZ TIME), HUNTER STADIUM

A battle of one of the great enigmas in sport – the New Zealand Warriors – against a team on the rebuild under an old/ new coach in Rick Stone. Newcastle had a 2014 they’d rather forget and I sense that’s just what they’ll do. There is plenty of points-scoring ability in that backline and the forward pack has a working class look about it. The fact end of season Kangaroos tourist Sione Mata’utia can’t crack a starting spot highlights their riches in the outside backs. The addition of Ryan Hoffman make the Warriors look far more mobile than seasons gone by but their woes on the road are notorious. An improved Knights should get the job done here.

ATHLETES TALK: Knights by 8

TITANS V WESTS TIGERS – SAT 7 MAR, 7:00PM (AEDT), CBUS SUPER STADIUM

This is a huge line in the sand occasion for the Titans. With some of their biggest names unavailable due to the off-field drama the club is facing, there will be just as much attention paid to the size of the crowd as there will be to the size of the scoreline. The Titans still boast a significant line-up though. Don’t be fooled! But the Wests Tigers will fly north under the stewardship of a new coach in Jason Taylor who will bring calm to the mayhem of the past two seasons. There are high hopes that James Tedesco can remain injury free and string together enough football to deliver on the promise he has shown. With a young, exciting halves pairing in Mitchell Moses and Luke Brooks, steered by the experience and skill of Robbie Farah, the Tigers could be the great improvers of 2015. Expect them to get off to a flying start.

ATHLETES TALK: Tigers by 10

COWBOYS V ROOSTERS – SAT 7 MAR, 8:00PM AEST (9.00PM AEDT), 1300 SMILES STADIUM

This game has been billed as a possible Grand Final preview. Yep! Already those three words are being string together in succession. But it may not be that far off the mark. Both look like serious contenders on paper but how often have we said that before about the Cowboys, only to see their early-season form disappoint. The Roosters bring serious firepower and the addition of Blake Ferguson will be intriguing. If he brings the sort of form he left the NRL with – look out! Home ground advantage and the Cowboys’  imposing record in Townsville could be the decisive factor here.

ATHLETES TALK: Cowboys by 4

PANTHERS V BULLDOGS – SUN 8 MAR, 4:00PM (AEDT), PEPPER STADIUM

And the hits just keep on coming! A replay of the preliminary final won by the giant-killing Bulldogs, but this time on Panthers heartland. The Panthers have retained the core of that team that rode a meteoric rise in 2014. Boom back-rower Bryce Cartwright is back from injury and rising star fullback Matt Moylan will be better for another pre-season under his belt. There is plenty to like about the Bulldogs. The addition of Michael Lichaa from the Sharks as a direct swap for Michael Ennis will add creativity around the ruck and complement the Reynolds/ Hodkinson halves pairing. But the big signing will be wearing the number 1 jersey. Brett Morris has joined his brother Josh in the kennel, enhancing what is already one of the best backlines in the NRL. Serious contest this one. The Panthers get the nod, with a field goal, and only because it is at home.

ATHLETES TALK: Panthers by 1

SHARKS V RAIDERS – SUN 8 MAR, 6:30PM (AEDT), REMONDIS STADIUM

The Sharks have ben shopping in the off-season and that should reap some early rewards against a Canberra side that will again struggle in 2015. There is plenty of muscle in the Raiders pack but the Sharks will more than match them. The return of Andrew Fifita is a major boost for Cronulla, while the players caught up in the ASADA drama will now play without that saga hanging over their head. The Auckland 9′s are hardly a guide to the real thing but the Sharks were very good in that. Ben Barba’s transition from fullback to five-eighth remains a work in progress but the pre-season has been full of promise. The Sharks will win this and win it well.

ATHLETES TALK: Sharks by 16

DRAGONS V STORM – MON 9 MAR, 7:00PM (AEDT), JUBILEE OVAL

The Dragons had a 2014 to forget and let’s be honest, they don’t look as strong this year as they did then. It’s hard to know what to make of them. They take on a Melbourne team that has lost a couple of key forwards and has their inspirational skipper Cameron Smith miraculously ahead of schedule in his recovery from recent surgery. Blake Green has joined them in the halves but that’s about the only change to a team seemingly on the wane. But here’s what they do have: the big three – Smith, Slater and Cronk and with that trio, anything is impossible. Especially against the Dragons.

ATHLETES TALK: Storm by 10

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