The opening fortnight of the season has been a wild ride. Round 3 of the 2023 NRL premiership is jam-packed with crunch games and blockbusters – the latter headlined by a Roosters-Rabbitohs grudge match. 

NRL Tips – Manly Sea Eagles V Parramatta Eels

19:50 (AEDT), Thu 16th Mar @ 4 Pines Park, Sydney

History: Played 147: Sea Eagles 87, Eels 56, draws 4

Last meeting: Round 21, 2022 – Eels 36 d Sea Eagles 20 at 4 Pines Park

Team News: Back on deck after sitting out Round 2 with the bye on the back of their big season-opening win over Canterbury, Manly welcomes Josh Schuster back at five-eighth with Cooper Johns going to the reserves. Parramatta is coming off consecutive four-point losses to Melbourne and Cronulla but is unchanged. The Eels’ back-row remains depleted by injury and suspension, but strike winger Maika Sivo escaped a ban – good news with Sean Russell (shoulder) ruled out for the season.

What We Like: There’s a major overs trend in this rivalry and in Manly’s matches at 4 Pines Park, making a 41.5 total points line an attractive one to take on. Tom Trbojevic has scored in 18 of his last 26 NRL games as is $1.91 in the Anytime Tryscorer stakes, while Maika Sivo ($1.98) has scored six tries in seven matches against Manly.

Final Thoughts: Parramatta won both clashes between the clubs last year, but last year’s runners-up are still regrouping from off-season departures and early-season absentees. It’s a small sample size but the Anthony Seibold version of Manly looks nice and settled already, and they should be able to cover a small line at home.

Best Bet: Handicap – Sea Eagles -2.5 @ $1.90

NRL Tips – Newcastle Knights V Dolphins

18:00 (AEDT), Fri 17th Mar @ McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle

History: First meeting

Team News: Plenty of changes for Newcastle following the carnage of their gutsy 16-14 win at Leichhardt last Sunday. Tyson Gamble starts a five-eighth for Kalyn Ponga, Phoenix Crossland fills in for hooker Jayden Brailey, Jack Hetherington will start at prop for the suspended Jacob Saifiti and Brodie Jones lines up in the second-row for Tyson Frizell. All big downgrades. Meanwhile, debutants Ryan Rivett and Dylan Lucas join Mat Croker as new faces on the bench. The 2-0 Dolphins are the toast of the NRL after upsets of the Roosters and Raiders. They have lost hooker Jeremy Marshall-King to suspension, which sees Kodi Nikorima make his club debut. Ray Stone is back on the interchange after a one-week layoff.

What We Like: It’s hard to see where the Knights’ points are going to come from against the rugged Dolphins outfit – consider the hosts to score under 17.5 points ($1.90) or even 10 points or less ($3.75). With three tries already this season, Dally M leader Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow is a steal as a $2.18 Anytime Tryscorer and very tempting as an option to score two or more ($7.25).

Final Thoughts: Another week and another new experience – their first away game – for the Dolphins should ensure there’s still a bit of kick yet in the newcomers’ bright start to life in the NRL. They get an obvious leg up against the severely depleted Knights, who probably would have named the four players unavailable this week as the four they’d least like to lose. There’s been a fair bit of defensive resolve from the Knights in the opening two rounds but it would be hard to blame them for breaking this week.

Best Bet: Handicap – Dolphins -4.5 @ $1.90

NRL Tips – Sydney Roosters V South Sydney Rabbitohs

20:05 (AEDT), Fri 17th Mar @ Allianz Stadium, Sydney

History: Played 229: Rabbitohs 120, Roosters 104, draws 5

Last meeting: Elimination Final, 2022 – Rabbitohs 30 d Roosters 14 at Allianz Stadium

Team News: The Roosters responded to their shock defeat to the Dolphins with a scratchy but important 20-12 win over the Warriors. Their heavy injury toll gets some relief with Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Victor Radley returning, while Brandon Smith (ribs) has been passed fit after an early exit last week. Likewise, Souths – who were perhaps flattered by a late flurry in a 16-10 loss at Penrith last Friday – welcome Tevita Tatola and Hame Sale back into the engine-room. Daniel Suluka Fifita and Jed Cartwright make way.

What We Like: The Either Team by 10 or Less option in the Tri-Bet at $1.81 looks a safe bet, while Roosters recruit Jaxson Paulo bagged two tries last week and will be eager to score on his former club at $2.75. Meanwhile, Souths spearhead Latrell Mitchell ($2.45) has scored four tries in six games against his ex-teammates at the Roosters.

Final Thoughts: Arguably the marquee regular-season match every year and this one pertains as much spice and drama as ever following their wild 2022 elimination final. That match at Allianz was the Rabbitohs’ fifth win from their last six against the Roosters, who had won in a final-round showdown at the venue’s reopening a week earlier. Personnel- and form-wise there’s not much in it and this derby routinely produces the unexpected. The total points line is set at 39.5, but the last six inner-Sydney derbies between the clubs have produced 42.5-plus and the over might be the best play again.

Best Bet: Total – Over 39.5 Points @ $1.90

NRL Tips – Gold Coast Titans V Melbourne Storm

15:00 (AEDT), Sat 18th Mar @ Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast

History: Played 25: Storm 19, Titans 6

Last meeting: Round 21, 2022 – Storm 32 d Titans 14 at AAMI Park

Team News: The bad news for the 1-1 Titans following their 32-18 loss to the Dragons is Sam Verrills is out with a shoulder injury. Chris Randall wears the No.9, while Brian Kelly is back from a late-2022 suspension at centre with Phil Sami moving to the wing and Jojo Fifita dropping out. Joesph Vuna and debutant Iszac Fa’asuamaleaui, little bro of Tino, join the Gold Coast bench. The depleted Storm went missing for the majority of a 26-12 loss to the Bulldogs last Saturday. Nelson Asofa-Solomona joins their jam-packed casualty ward but Tui Kamikamica and Tariq Sims return in a much-needed forward-pack boost. Justin Olam’s early return is equally well-timed and Xavier Coates is also back, while talented young half Jonah Pezet has been named to debut in the No.14. The Storm struggled with Tyran Wishart filling in for Cam Munster at five-eighth in Round 2.

What We Like: The Storm have averaged 28.5 points per game in winning their last eight against the Titans; back them to clear the 23.5 total points line ($1.85). The 41.5 total match points line should come under fire, too. Eliesa Katoa had a field day running off Jahrome Hughes in the second half against the Bulldogs and is the best Anytime Tryscorer value at $4.30.

Final Thoughts: The Storm rarely play as poorly as they did last weekend two games in a row, while they will field a considerably stronger line-up in Round 3 despite NAS’s injury. Meanwhile, there were some concerning signs about the way the Titans leaked points against the Dragons – harking back to some of their more forgettable outings in 2022. A Storm cover looks likely despite the strong performances of home underdogs against the line so far this season. The loss of Verrills is big.

Best Bet: Handicap – Storm -6.5 @ $1.90

NRL Tips – North Queensland Cowboys V Warriors

17:30 (AEDT), Sat 18th Mar @ Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville

History: Played 45: Warriors 23, Cowboys 22

Last meeting: Round 23, 2022 – Cowboys 48 d Warriors 4 at Queensland Country Bank Stadium

Team News: The Cowboys and Warriors have both started the season with a home win in Round 1 and an away loss in Round 2. The fallout from the Cowboys’ derby defeat to the Broncos sees Scott Drinkwater and Peta Hiku out suspended. Tom Chester will play his second NRL game at fullback, while Gehamat Shibasaki plays his first game for the club at centre. Head knocks have ruled Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Jackson Ford out of the Warriors’ line-up following a valiant 20-12 loss to the Roosters. Diminutive fullback Taine Tuaupiki has been named for an NRL debut, while Bayley Sironen – the activated 18th man last week – is on the bench with Mitch Barnett shifting to the second row and Bunty Afoa elevated to prop.

What We Like: The Warriors’ two games have both gone well under the total points line. It’s 41.5 points here – the clubs’ last five clashes have produced 44 or more but the Warriors look a different proposition defensively. Kyle Feldt has an amazing 13 tries in 11 games against the Warriors, including a hat-trick and three doubles; he’s $1.82 to dot down and $5.20 to score two or more.

Final Thoughts: The Warriors have improved drastically under Andrew Webster – looking at any of the club’s recent trends is largely pointless. The Cowboys have performed nowhere near their 2022 standard as yet, falling off in the second half of both matches so far. Both are similarly disadvantaged by suspension/injury absentees and although the Cowboys are the clear head-to-head pick, if the Warriors reproduce the defensive effort of the past two rounds they’re a good bet with a big start.

Best Bet: Handicap – Warriors +9.5 @ $1.90

NRL Tips – Brisbane Broncos V St George Illawarra Dragons

19:35 (AEDT), Sat 18th Mar @ Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

History: Played 44: Broncos 24, Dragons 20

Last meeting: Round 25, 2022 – Dragons 22 d Broncos 12 at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium

Team News: Brisbane is the NRL’s hottest team after backing up a road upset of the Panthers with a Reece Walsh-inspired 28-16 home win over the Cowboys. The Broncos’ only change sees Jesse Arthars – who has featured in both games – come in to start on the wing for Corey Oates (broken jaw). Forced to cool their heels with the Round 1 bye, the under-fire Dragons overcame a slow start to beat the Titans 32-18 with Tyrell Sloan starring. They’ve named an unchanged 17, though Toby Couchman has to pass concussion protocols.

What We Like: Both teams’ games went over the total points line last week and this shapes as another high scorer, particularly given the Broncos’ electric attacking form. Walsh is $2.25 to score for the second week in a row, while Herbie Farnworth ($2.10) has been in sparkling touch. Dragons winger Mikaele Ravalawa ($2.35) got over last week to improve his career record to 44 tries in 64 games, while he has four in four games against the Broncos.

Final Thoughts: The Saints channelled the groundswell of criticism directed their way positively in their first outing of the season, but it was at home against the Titans. The 2023 Broncos at Suncorp is a different proposition and although there’s a chance of a lull after two brilliant performances – and the Dragons have won six of their last seven against the Broncos – the visitors are best avoided here despite getting a double-digit start.

Best Bet: Result / Total Double – Broncos & Over 43.5 Points @ $2.30

NRL Tips – Canterbury Bulldogs V Wests Tigers

16:05 (AEDT), Sun 19th Mar @ Belmore Sports Ground, Sydney

History: Played 42: Bulldogs 25, Knights 17

Last meeting: Round 15, 2022 – Bulldogs 36 d Tigers 12 at CommBank Stadium

Team News: Canterbury bounced back from a flat loss to Manly with a rousing 26-12 upset of Melbourne at AAMI Park, with young centre Jacob Kiraz a clear man-of-the-match. The Bulldogs are unchanged with Tevita Pangai Jr still a week away. Wests Tigers are on the ropes thanks to insipid, error-strewn home losses to the Titans and Knights. There’s a stack of changes with Starford To’a and Junior Tupou coming in for injured duo Tommy Talau and Daine Laurie, and Charlie Staines shifting to fullback. Brandon Wakeham replaces bench hooker Jake Simpkin, while injured forwards Shawn Blore and Fonua Pole return but Isaiah Papali’i has been slapped with a one-match ban. All eyes are on John Bateman, whose absence so far is shrouded in mystery but has been named in the reserves.

What We Like: The Tigers’ attack has been a shambles, so it’s easy to make a case for the visitors to score under 15.5 points ($1.92). Jacob Kiraz notched a scorching brace against the Storm and is $1.82 to find his way over again this week. The Bulldogs could really flex their attacking muscles here and are a juicy $2.90 to score 31 points or more.

Final Thoughts: Teams who have been subjected to the level of derision the Tigers have in the past fortnight generally find some backbone and a way to, if not win, then make a gallant statement. But it’s hard to see radical improvement coming from the Tigers after what they’ve produced so far. The Bulldogs clicked impressively in Melbourne and have their tails up, playing with flair and confidence the Tigers could only dream of right now. The Bulldogs have won only one of their last nine at Belmore, but expect them to do what the Tigers couldn’t: capitalise on a sold-out suburban home ground.

Best Bet: Handicap – Bulldogs -9.5 @ $1.90

NRL Tips – Canberra Raiders V Cronulla Sharks

18:15 (AEDT), Sun 19th Mar @ GIO Stadium, Canberra

History: Played 79: Raiders 40, Sharks 39

Last meeting: Round 10, 2022 – Raiders 30 d Sharks 10 at Suncorp Stadium

Team News: Canberra is winless after being edged out late on the road in back-to-back games by the Cowboys and Dolphins. Josh Papalii, Xavier Savage and the suspended Jordan Rapana remain sidelined, so the starting side is unchanged. Trey Mooney replaces the injured Ata Mariota on the Raiders’ bench. Cronulla has navigated a tough start to its 2023 draw without Nicho Hynes to go 1-1, responding to a loss to Souths with a thrilling win over Parramatta. The Sharks’ starting side is also change with only one adjustment – Jack Williams for Connor Tracey – on the bench.

What We Like: Only one team managed more than 28 points in 11 games staged at GIO Stadium in 2022 – the under 43.5 total points appeals here with the Raiders’ attacking struggling to click while they show plenty of grit in defence. Consider the back-row value in the Anytime Tryscorer market courtesy of Hudson Young ($3.25) and Briton Nikora ($4.10).

Final Thoughts: A crunch game for the hosts, who are traditionally slow starters and desperate to avoid going 3-0. Much less pressure on the Sharks, who scored the upset last week without their captain and chief playmaker. The Sharks have arguably got more value out of the makeshift Moylan-Trindall combination that the Raiders have from established duo Wighton and Fogarty. The Raiders will also need to be on high alert for fullback Kennedy. But Canberra is a different proposition at home and have been close enough to winning both games on the road to justify backing them as a home underdog.

Best Bet: Handicap – Raiders +3.5 @ $1.91