Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, runs his eye over this weekend’s NRL action as the competition prepares to play behind closed doors.

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v North Queensland Cowboys @ ANZ Stadium
Thursday 19th March, 8:05pm AEDT

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak1Valentine Holmes
Nick Meaney2Kyle Feldt
Remis Smith3Justin O’Neill
Will Hopoate4Esan Masters
Christian Crichton5Ben Hampton
Brandon Wakeham6Scott Drinkwater
Lachlan Lewis7Michael Morgan
Aiden Tolman8Josh McGuire
Jeremy Marshall-King9Jake Granville
Dylan Napa10Jordan McLean
Josh Jackson11Gavin Cooper
Joe Stimson12Coen Hess
Adam Elliot13Jason Taumalolo
Dean Britt14Reece Robson
Renouf To’omaga15John Asiata
Raymond Faitala-Mariner16Mitchell Dunn
Jake Averillo17Francis Molo

Played 34, Bulldogs 19, Cowboys 15

Last Meeting: Round 24, 2019: Cowboys 15 def. Bulldogs 8

Final Thoughts: The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs attack looks exactly like it did in 2019. That’s isn’t good. The Dogs scored just 13 points per game last season and struggled their way to two points in the 2020 opener. While the defensive effort was encouraging, you need to find a try or two every week to pick up the competition points.

Not much better than the Bulldogs in 2019, the North Queensland Cowboys at least showed promising signs in attack last week. Scott Drinkwater is proving to be an excellent halves partner for Michael Morgan. Meanwhile, Valentine Holmes will be better for the run this week. With the advantage in the middle and superior spine to manufacture points, the Cowboys should win this one comfortably.

Tip: Handicap – Cowboys -2.5 @ $1.90

St George-Illawarra Dragons v Penrith Panthers @ Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
Friday 20th March, 6:00pm AEDT

Matthew Dufty1Caleb Aekins
Jordan Pereira2Josh Mansour
Brayden Wiliame3Dean Whare
Timoteo Lafai4Brent Naden
Zac Lomax5Brian To’o
Corey Norman6Jarome Luai
Ben Hunt7Nathan Cleary
James Graham8James Tamou
Issac Luke9Apisai Koroisau
Paul Vaughan10Zane Tetevano
Tyson Frizell11Viliame Kikau
Tyrell Fuimaono12Isaah Yeo
Blake Lawrie13James Fisher-Harris
Trent Merrin14Stephen Crichton
Josh Kerr15Billy Burns
Billy Brittain16Moses Leota
Jacob Host17Liam Martin

Played 34, Dragons 20, Panthers 14

Last Meeting: Round 18, 2019: Panthers 40 def. Dragons 18

Final Thoughts: The St George-Illawarra Dragons blew it last week not once, but twice, late in the match. Two dropped balls cost them victory, and now, they’re preparing to face a Penrith Panthers outfit brimming with confidence.

Typically slow to start, the Panthers clawed their way back from 12-0 to beat the defending premier Sydney Roosters in Round 1. Viliame Kikau came off the bench and worked through an injury to dominate the left edge and score the winner. Meanwhile, Nathan Cleary controlled the right side and shouldered the load left by James Maloney rather impressively. To add hope for this Round 1 upset being a sign of things to come, Jarome Luai looked the goods next to Cleary in the halves. The Panthers playing well isn’t a surprise. They’ve had the squad to compete for years but struggled for consistency. For that reason, we’re a little cautious about getting right behind them this week.

Tip: Tri Bet – Either Team By 8 Or Less @ $2.00

Brisbane Broncos v South Sydney Rabbitohs @ Suncorp Stadium
Friday 20th May, 8:05pm AEDT

Jamayne Isaako1Latrell Mitchell
Corey Oates2Dane Gagai
Kotoni Staggs3James Roberts
Darius Boyd4Braidon Burns
Jesse Arthars5Campbell Graham
Anthony Milford6Cody Walker
Brodie Croft7Adam Reynolds
Thomas Flegler8Tevita Tatola
Jake Turpin9Damien Cook
Payne Haas10Thomas Burgess
David Fifita11Jaydn Su’A
Jamil Hopoate12Cameron Murray
Patrick Carrigan13Liam Knight
Herbie Farnworth14Mark Nicholls
Andrew McCullough15Ethan Lowe
Rhys Kennedy16Hame Sele
Ethan Bullemor17Alex Johnston

Played 31, Broncos 21, Rabbitohs 9

Last Meeting: Round 23, 2019: Rabbitohs 22 def. Broncos 20

Final Thoughts: This new Anthony Seibold vs Wayne Bennett rivalry isn’t going to be the same behind closed doors, is it?

Suncorp Stadium is one of the most reliable home ground advantages in the NRL. However, that may not be the case with 30,000 Queenslanders no longer there to cheer on their side.

The two teams can’t be split at $1.90 each in the head-to-head market, and it’s not hard to see why.

The Brisbane Broncos middle was excellent last week. It allowed an uncertain backline to pile up the points and be the first to take the chocolates away from the new Queensland Country Bank Stadium. Meanwhile, the South Sydney Rabbitohs pack surprised a few people in Round 1 – including the Sharks. Tevita Tatola and Thomas Burgess got the Bunnies down the field for Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds to provide the finishing touches.

These two teams are closely matched. While the Broncos have a slight advantage in the middle, the Rabbitohs can claim the same out wide. It’s going to be a ripper.

Tip: Tri Bet – Either Team By 8 Or Less @ $2.00

New Zealand Warriors v Canberra Raiders @ Cbus Super Stadium
Saturday 21st March, 3:00pm AEDT

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck1Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
Adam Pompey2Bailey Simonsson
David Fusitu’a3Jarrod Croker
Adam Keighran4Curtis Scott
Ken Maumalo5Nick Cotric
Chanel Harris-Tavita6Jack Wighton
Blake Green7George Williams
Leeson Ah Mau8Josh Papalii
Wayde Egan9Josh Hodgson
Lachlan Burr10Dunamis Lui
Eliesa Katoa11Joseph Tapine
Tohu Harris12Elliot Whitehead
Adam Blair13Corey Horsburgh
Kodi Nikorima14Siliva Havili
Jamayne Taunoa-Brown15Emre Guler
Isaiah Papali’i16Iosia Soliola
King Vuniyayawa17Michael Oldfield

Played 38, Warriors 19, Raiders 19

Last Meeting: Round 25, 2019: Warriors 24 def. Raiders 20

Final Thoughts: The New Zealand Warriors are traditionally a nightmare for punters. If they’re not disappointing, they’re putting you through a drowning sweat. How are they going to play under these latest circumstances?

Forced to stay in Australia and base themselves out of the Gold Coast, the Warriors are unsettled at best. They’re famously poor travellers as it is. This is a recipe for disaster. Add the fact that it’s the Canberra Raiders coming into town off a convincing Round 1 win over the Gold Coast Titans, and it’s difficult to put too much faith in the Kiwi club.

So, the play is with the Raiders. With Adam Keighran slotting into the Warriors left centre spot for Peta Hiku, there is a potential vulnerability there for the Raiders to exploit. They sent the ball to Jack Wighton on the left when they could last week. Look for George Williams and the right side to find points on Saturday.

Tip: Raiders Total Points – 21 to 30 points @ $2.80

Sydney Roosters v Manly Warringah Sea Eagles @ Leichhardt Oval
Saturday 21st March, 5:30pm AEDT

RoostersSea Eagles
James Tedesco1Tom Trbojevic
Daniel Tupou2Jorge Taufua
Brett Morris3Brad Parker
Joseph Manu4Moses Suli
Matt Ikuvalu5Reuben Garrick
Luke Keary6Dylan Walker
Kyle Flanagan7Daly Cherry-Evans
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves8Addin Fonua-Blake
Jake Friend9Danny Levi
Siosiua Taukeiaho10Martin Taupau
Angus Crichton11Joel Thompson
Mitchell Aubusson12Curtis Sironen
Victor Radley13Jake Trbojevic
Sam Verrills14Lachlan Croker
Isaac Liu15Sean Keppie
Nat Butcher16Morgan Boyle
Lindsay Collins17Haumole Olakau’atu

Played 33, Roosters 15, Sea Eagles 18

Last Meeting: Round 2, 2019: Roosters 26 def. Sea Eagles 18

Final Thoughts: These two last met in Round 2 in 2019. Like last season, both are coming in off a Round 1 loss and looking to avoid an 0-2 start to the season. Also like last season, the Sydney Roosters are favourites and expected to be the first of the two clubs to earn a W in 2020.

If the Roosters play for 80 minutes the same way the did the opening 20 last week, it will be one for favourites backers. The Chooks looked every bit like defending back-to-back premiers in going 12-0 in front of the Panthers. However, they fell to pieces from there to lose the remaining hour 20-2. Trent Robinson will have reminded his players about that once or twice this week…

As for the Sea Eagles, they will be desperate to cross the line on Saturday. The Melbourne Storm kept them scoreless in Round 1. It was a disappointing start to a season that still promises so much .

While the Roosters are nursing a few injuries and perhaps battling for motivation to start another long season, expect them to get the job done here.

Tip: Halftime/Fulltime – Roosters/Roosters @ $2.00

Cronulla Sutherland Sharks v Melbourne Storm @ Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
Saturday 21st March, 7:35pm AEDT

William Kennedy1Ryan Papenhuyzen
Sione Katoa2Suliasi Vunivalu
Josh Morris3Marion Seve
Jesse Ramien4Justin Olam
Ronaldo Mulitalo5Josh Addo-Carr
Shaun Johnson6Cameron Munster
Chad Townsend7Jahrome Hughes
Andrew Fifita8Jesse Bromwich
Blayke Brailey9Cameron Smith
Aaron Woods10Tui Kamimaica
Briton Nikora11Felise Kaufusi
Wade Graham12Kenny Bromwich
Jack Williams13Dale Finucane
Connor Tracey14Tino Faasuamaleaui
Braden Hamlin-Uele15Max King
Toby Rudolf16Nelson Asofa-Solomona
Scott Sorensen17Tom Eisenhuth

Played 39, Sharks 15, Storm 24

Last Meeting: Round 17, 2019: Storm 40 def. Sharks 16

Final Thoughts: The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks picked up right where they left off in 2019. Inconsistent, frustrating, but just good enough to compete most weeks. Looking like an attacking juggernaut for a brief moment in the second half against the Rabbitohs, too many poor periods and lapses in concentration ultimately cost the Sharks a real chance at victory. Anything like that again this week and the Storm will put them to the sword.

There is no better team at starting an NRL season strong and banking up wins than the Storm. They’ve mastered the early-season dominance at home and on the road. With Cameron Smith proving to still be a maestro from behind the ruck, he’s going to find the same gaps the Rabbitohs exploited when defenders were slow to get to A and spread the ball from there. Expect the Sharks to keep it close, but not close enough given the smarts of this Storm team.

Tip: Margin – Storm 1-12 @ $2.88

Wests Tigers v Newcastle Knights @ Leichhardt Oval
Sunday 22nd March, 4:05pm

Corey Thompson1Kalyn Ponga
David Nofoaluma2Edrick Less
Joseph Leilua3Enari Tuala
Adam Doueihi4Gehamat Shibasaki
Robert Jennings5Hymel Hunt
Benji Marshall6Kurt Mann
Josh Reynolds7Mitchell Pearce
Josh Aloiai8David Klemmer
Billy Walters9Jayden Brailey
Alex Twal10Daniel Saifiti
Luke Garner11Lachlan Fitzgibbon
Luciano Leilua12Mitchell Barnett
Elijah Taylor13Herman Ese’ese
Thomas Mikaele14Connor Watson
Paul Momirovski15Jacob Saifiti
Zane Musgrove16Tim Glasby
Chris Lawrence17Aidan Guerra

Played 28, Tigers 15, Knights 13

Last Meeting: Round 23, 2019: Tigers 46 def. Knights 4

Final Thoughts: Both the Wests Tigers and Newcastle Knights are riding high after Round 1 victories. However, neither played exceptionally well. The Tigers were two dropped balls away from losing to a lowly-ranked Dragons team while the Knights, albeit a convincing win, weren’t challenged by the Warriors.

It’s difficult to get a read on the two teams so early in the season. The difference comes in the spine, though. Benji Marshall dominated for the Tigers last week, but he put the team on his back. In Mitchell Pearce, Kalyn Ponga and Jayden Brailey, the Knights have superior players in key playmaking positions. In an otherwise even contest, the Knights trio look set to be the difference.

Tip: Head-to-head – Knights @ $1.95

Gold Coast Titans v Parramatta Eels @ Cbus Super Stadium
Sunday 22nd March, 6:15pm

Phillip Sami1Clint Gutherson
Anthony Don2Maika Sivo
Kallum Watkins3Michael Jennings
Brian Kelly4Waqa Blake
Dale Copley5Blake Ferguson
Tyrone Roberts6Dylan Brown
Ash Taylor7Mitchell Moses
Jarrod Wallace8Reagan Campbell-Gillard
Mitch Rein9Reed Mahoney
Sam Lisone10Junior Paulo
Kevin Proctor11Ryan Matterson
Bryce Cartwright12Shaun Lane
Jai Arrow13Nathan Brown
Nathan Peats14Brad Takairangi
Jai Whitbread15Marata Niukore
Tyrone Peachey16Kane Evans
Moeaki Fotuaika17Peni Terepo

Played 19, Titans 11, Eels 8

Last Meeting: Round 22, 2019: Eels 36 def. Titans 12

Final Thoughts: The Gold Coast Titans went about as expected in Round 1: Poorly. Their edge defence remains the worst in the NRL after finishing in the same position last season. Ash Taylor’s return to regular first-grade football is one he will want to forget by Sunday evening. Meanwhile, the Parramatta Eels were unexpectedly poor in their struggle to an 8-2 win over the Bulldogs. Disjointed in attack, the points most tipped never flowed for the Eels.

Surely eager to put to be any ideas of this group repeating 2018’s terrible start to what ended up a wooden spoon season, expect the Eels to take their opportunity to claim two points against a poor opposition. The Eels attack thrives in the channels. Shaun Lane and Ryan Matterson should have a field day on the edge. If they can’t win this once convincingly, the doubts over the Eels being premiership contenders will grow a little louder.

Tip: Handicap – Eels -7.5 @ $1.90