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
|Dallin Watene-Zelezniak||1||Valentine Holmes|
|Nick Meaney||2||Kyle Feldt|
|Remis Smith||3||Justin O’Neill|
|Will Hopoate||4||Esan Masters|
|Christian Crichton||5||Ben Hampton|
|Brandon Wakeham||6||Scott Drinkwater|
|Lachlan Lewis||7||Michael Morgan|
|Aiden Tolman||8||Josh McGuire|
|Jeremy Marshall-King||9||Jake Granville|
|Dylan Napa||10||Jordan McLean|
|Josh Jackson||11||Gavin Cooper|
|Joe Stimson||12||Coen Hess|
|Adam Elliot||13||Jason Taumalolo|
|Dean Britt||14||Reece Robson|
|Renouf To’omaga||15||John Asiata|
|Raymond Faitala-Mariner||16||Mitchell Dunn|
|Jake Averillo||17||Francis Molo|
History: 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.
St George-Illawarra Dragons v Penrith Panthers @ Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
|Matthew Dufty||1||Caleb Aekins|
|Jordan Pereira||2||Josh Mansour|
|Brayden Wiliame||3||Dean Whare|
|Timoteo Lafai||4||Brent Naden|
|Zac Lomax||5||Brian To’o|
|Corey Norman||6||Jarome Luai|
|Ben Hunt||7||Nathan Cleary|
|James Graham||8||James Tamou|
|Issac Luke||9||Apisai Koroisau|
|Paul Vaughan||10||Zane Tetevano|
|Tyson Frizell||11||Viliame Kikau|
|Tyrell Fuimaono||12||Isaah Yeo|
|Blake Lawrie||13||James Fisher-Harris|
|Trent Merrin||14||Stephen Crichton|
|Josh Kerr||15||Billy Burns|
|Billy Brittain||16||Moses Leota|
|Jacob Host||17||Liam Martin|
History: 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.
Brisbane Broncos v South Sydney Rabbitohs @ Suncorp Stadium
|Jamayne Isaako||1||Latrell Mitchell|
|Corey Oates||2||Dane Gagai|
|Kotoni Staggs||3||James Roberts|
|Darius Boyd||4||Braidon Burns|
|Jesse Arthars||5||Campbell Graham|
|Anthony Milford||6||Cody Walker|
|Brodie Croft||7||Adam Reynolds|
|Thomas Flegler||8||Tevita Tatola|
|Jake Turpin||9||Damien Cook|
|Payne Haas||10||Thomas Burgess|
|David Fifita||11||Jaydn Su’A|
|Jamil Hopoate||12||Cameron Murray|
|Patrick Carrigan||13||Liam Knight|
|Herbie Farnworth||14||Mark Nicholls|
|Andrew McCullough||15||Ethan Lowe|
|Rhys Kennedy||16||Hame Sele|
|Ethan Bullemor||17||Alex Johnston|
History: 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.
New Zealand Warriors v Canberra Raiders @ Cbus Super Stadium
|Roger Tuivasa-Sheck||1||Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad|
|Adam Pompey||2||Bailey Simonsson|
|David Fusitu’a||3||Jarrod Croker|
|Adam Keighran||4||Curtis Scott|
|Ken Maumalo||5||Nick Cotric|
|Chanel Harris-Tavita||6||Jack Wighton|
|Blake Green||7||George Williams|
|Leeson Ah Mau||8||Josh Papalii|
|Wayde Egan||9||Josh Hodgson|
|Lachlan Burr||10||Dunamis Lui|
|Eliesa Katoa||11||Joseph Tapine|
|Tohu Harris||12||Elliot Whitehead|
|Adam Blair||13||Corey Horsburgh|
|Kodi Nikorima||14||Siliva Havili|
|Jamayne Taunoa-Brown||15||Emre Guler|
|Isaiah Papali’i||16||Iosia Soliola|
|King Vuniyayawa||17||Michael Oldfield|
History: 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.
Sydney Roosters v Manly Warringah Sea Eagles @ Leichhardt Oval
|James Tedesco||1||Tom Trbojevic|
|Daniel Tupou||2||Jorge Taufua|
|Brett Morris||3||Brad Parker|
|Joseph Manu||4||Moses Suli|
|Matt Ikuvalu||5||Reuben Garrick|
|Luke Keary||6||Dylan Walker|
|Kyle Flanagan||7||Daly Cherry-Evans|
|Jared Waerea-Hargreaves||8||Addin Fonua-Blake|
|Jake Friend||9||Danny Levi|
|Siosiua Taukeiaho||10||Martin Taupau|
|Angus Crichton||11||Joel Thompson|
|Mitchell Aubusson||12||Curtis Sironen|
|Victor Radley||13||Jake Trbojevic|
|Sam Verrills||14||Lachlan Croker|
|Isaac Liu||15||Sean Keppie|
|Nat Butcher||16||Morgan Boyle|
|Lindsay Collins||17||Haumole Olakau’atu|
History: 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.
Cronulla Sutherland Sharks v Melbourne Storm @ Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
|William Kennedy||1||Ryan Papenhuyzen|
|Sione Katoa||2||Suliasi Vunivalu|
|Josh Morris||3||Marion Seve|
|Jesse Ramien||4||Justin Olam|
|Ronaldo Mulitalo||5||Josh Addo-Carr|
|Shaun Johnson||6||Cameron Munster|
|Chad Townsend||7||Jahrome Hughes|
|Andrew Fifita||8||Jesse Bromwich|
|Blayke Brailey||9||Cameron Smith|
|Aaron Woods||10||Tui Kamimaica|
|Briton Nikora||11||Felise Kaufusi|
|Wade Graham||12||Kenny Bromwich|
|Jack Williams||13||Dale Finucane|
|Connor Tracey||14||Tino Faasuamaleaui|
|Braden Hamlin-Uele||15||Max King|
|Toby Rudolf||16||Nelson Asofa-Solomona|
|Scott Sorensen||17||Tom Eisenhuth|
History: 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.
Wests Tigers v Newcastle Knights @ Leichhardt Oval
|Corey Thompson||1||Kalyn Ponga|
|David Nofoaluma||2||Edrick Less|
|Joseph Leilua||3||Enari Tuala|
|Adam Doueihi||4||Gehamat Shibasaki|
|Robert Jennings||5||Hymel Hunt|
|Benji Marshall||6||Kurt Mann|
|Josh Reynolds||7||Mitchell Pearce|
|Josh Aloiai||8||David Klemmer|
|Billy Walters||9||Jayden Brailey|
|Alex Twal||10||Daniel Saifiti|
|Luke Garner||11||Lachlan Fitzgibbon|
|Luciano Leilua||12||Mitchell Barnett|
|Elijah Taylor||13||Herman Ese’ese|
|Thomas Mikaele||14||Connor Watson|
|Paul Momirovski||15||Jacob Saifiti|
|Zane Musgrove||16||Tim Glasby|
|Chris Lawrence||17||Aidan Guerra|
History: 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.
Gold Coast Titans v Parramatta Eels @ Cbus Super Stadium
|Phillip Sami||1||Clint Gutherson|
|Anthony Don||2||Maika Sivo|
|Kallum Watkins||3||Michael Jennings|
|Brian Kelly||4||Waqa Blake|
|Dale Copley||5||Blake Ferguson|
|Tyrone Roberts||6||Dylan Brown|
|Ash Taylor||7||Mitchell Moses|
|Jarrod Wallace||8||Reagan Campbell-Gillard|
|Mitch Rein||9||Reed Mahoney|
|Sam Lisone||10||Junior Paulo|
|Kevin Proctor||11||Ryan Matterson|
|Bryce Cartwright||12||Shaun Lane|
|Jai Arrow||13||Nathan Brown|
|Nathan Peats||14||Brad Takairangi|
|Jai Whitbread||15||Marata Niukore|
|Tyrone Peachey||16||Kane Evans|
|Moeaki Fotuaika||17||Peni Terepo|
History: 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.