Round 1 of the 2017 NRL season kicks off on Thursday night from Cronulla. The opening round of the season has delivered some tantalisingly close match-ups with no team being greater than $3.00 outsiders. With the wet weather around, expect some sloppy at times rugby with turnovers a plenty. Sit back and relax as the season is finally upon us!
Cronulla Sharks v Brisbane Broncos
The NRL Season is back for 2017 and it begins with a blockbuster match between two teams that are expected to feature heavily throughout the year. The Premiers get to start things off with a home match and they will be hoping to pick things up from where they left off. Ironically enough, these are the two sides that feature in the recent WCC over in England, so fatigue between the two teams is expected to be equal. Both were also losers in their respective matches, although the Sharks showed a lot more promise than the Broncos. Alarm bells were beginning to sound as a near full-strength Brisbane team failed to create attacking momentum, while also looking fragile in defence. These fixtures are never the most important to the Australian teams but the way in which the Broncos executed on the day left many wondering if their Premiership credentials have dipped a little. Either way, both teams will be up for a very tough contest and the Sharks have plenty to play for. This is the first time that they will be playing a competition as reigning Premiers, while they also aim to become the first team since in almost 20 years to win back-to-back titles. Their success last year was built around rigid defence and you can expect plenty more in this match. The biggest question mark will be how they cover the loss of Michael Ennis at hooker and how much this impacts their credentials. All will be answered during the next 80 minutes.
Sharks = Gerard Beale has been named at fullback, although Valentine Holmes (injury) is a slight chance of playing. Edrick Lee has been named to debut for the Sharks on the wing, while Jayden Brailey will make his NRL debut at hooker.
Broncos = Tautau Moga has been named in the centres to make his debut for the club, ahead of David Mead. Korbin Sims has been named to start at prop, with Josh Maguire moving to lock.
Overall = Sharks 15 Broncos 19
Last 5 Matches = Sharks 4 Broncos 1
At Southern Cross Group Stadium = Sharks 56% Broncos 42%
The Broncos will head into this game as slight favorites which isn’t too surprising, with their poor form in England almost cancelled out by the players that are missing from the Sharks. Having Holmes unavailable at fullback and the rookie Jayden Brailey making his debut at hooker casts doubt over how effective their spine will be. It will more than likely take them a few weeks to find a positive working relationship, while the Broncos should be able to start fresh with the same players. With the same pack that featured in the UK playing, there is every chance that this is where the Sharks will look to gain their advantage. When comparing the two, there is no doubt that the Sharks have a stronger set of forwards that will be resolute in defence. If this can hold true, the Sharks will have every chance of winning this game. Given that they are returning home for the first time since winning the competition and the flaws demonstrated by the Broncos recently, the Sharks look set to cause an upset for the opening game of 2017. It is expected to be close though, the average margin of victory between these two sides sitting at 5.4 points suggests that this game could also be decided by less that a converted try.
Either Team Under 6.5 points @ $2.60
Adding value = Sharks 1-6 @ $5.50 – You could get your season off to a great start with this investment. Of course, if the Broncos win, you lose your bet. As mentioned above, the Sharks are frontrunners for this game and it should be a close encounter.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Melbourne Storm
The Bulldogs are fighting to for plenty of things at the beginning of 2017 and they have a great opportunity to start off on a positive, playing this match at the spiritual home ground of Belmore. They need a complete reversal of form for the Bulldogs to turn around their fortunes, as they became stale in attack towards the end of 2016 and lacked creativity that once dominated their play. They rely a lot on their forwards to produce the power up front and even that was absent. There has been plenty of hype created around their “new” direction in the forwards and it will be interesting to see if their fitness levels have improved. The Storm head into 2017 with the same hype around their performance; all class from a team that has a strong structure to support them. They are expected to again feature heavily in the Finals but first, need to overcome a poor record at this ground. It isn’t often that they play here but it isn’t a happy hunting ground for them. It is a tough ask to begin the season here, although it will be a challenge that this team relishes together. Not only that, they too will need to combat what the Bulldogs throw at them over 80 minutes of play.
Bulldogs = Will Hopoate is named at fullback, with Brett Morris shifting to the wing. Brenko Lee makes his debut for the club in the centres.
Storm = Young Tonumaipe’a is named at fullback to cover for Billy Slater (injured), with Cameron Munster named at 5/8. Felise Kaufusi and Kenny Bromwich are the new second rowers, with Tohu Harris (injured) unavailable.
Overall = Bulldogs 21 Storm 16
Last 5 Matches = Bulldogs 5 Storm 0
At Belmore Sports Ground = Bulldogs 56% Storm 0%
The Storm head into this game as favorites and rightly so given the improvement that is needed at the Bulldogs before they can be seriously considered. Improving their attack is the most pressing issue and the Storm are certain to have a defensive structure that is very sturdy. A major factor counting against the Storm is their poor record at Belmore, as well as the Bulldogs. They appear to be a bogey team of theirs, with the last victory for the Storm over the Bulldogs coming back in Round 3, 2013, while the last time they won on the road against them was in a Semi Final in 2012. In saying that, since the “Back to Belmore” started in 2015, the Bulldogs have lost all three games there; and they have not lost 4-consecutive games here since the 1960’s. That being said, plenty depends on how these two sides play and for starters, the Bulldogs need to run the ball more. Their forwards need a man in the middle getting them running onto the ball at speed; a strength that has worked well for them in the past. With the Storm now missing Proctor and Harris in their pack, they may find themselves under more pressure than intended. In equal measure, they have proven class across the park that ensures that they are ready for each match and capable of rising above most challenges. Take them on faith, before the Bulldogs prove what level they’re at, with it surprising to see the visiting team win by more than 2 converted tries.
Storm 1-12 @ $2.90
Sit on the fence = Either Team Under 6.5 points @ $2.70
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Wests Tigers
This game would’ve been a normal opening round fixture had Robbie Farah not left the Tigers and signed with the Rabbitohs. Now, the relentless talk leading up to this match will be how both teams handle it and whether or not Farah will have a target on his back. Both sides will attempt to move beyond this and control nothing other than their performance over 80 minutes. Each side will also be aiming to improve upon last season and feature in the Finals. For the Rabbitohs, it is a matter of having support offered to the key players over 80 minutes. They will already be without Adam Reynolds for the first month or so and they will be tested from the beginning. No doubt, greater responsibility falls on the shoulders of Farah and he will be up for the challenge. He has plenty to prove after the Tigers pushed him aside and there is no doubt that he still has a few solid years of football left in him. The young Tigers team also has a point to prove; they narrowly missed the Finals in 2016, yet there is plenty to be excited about. Their young playmakers are forming one of the best and most lethal combinations in the competition; nevertheless, teams will be ready to pile plenty of pressure on them over 80 minutes. If they are going to reach their potential, this is a match that they would be aiming to win.
Rabbitohs = Luke Kelly is named at halfback for Adam Reynolds (injured), with Robbie Farah to debut at hooker and Damien Cook to start from the bench. Siosifa Talakai is named in the centres, shifting Bryson Goodwin to the wing. Zane Musgrove starts at prop ahead of George Burgess.
Tigers = Jamal Idris is named to make his club debut in the centres, with Jordan Rankin named on the wing. Matt McIlwrick is named at hooker with Matt Ballin (injured) out for this match.
Overall = Rabbitohs 15 Tigers 13
Last 5 Matches = Rabbitohs 2 Tigers 3
At ANZ Stadium = Rabbitohs 53% Tigers 43%
Many are doubting the Tigers credentials in this match and it is surprising to see the two teams so far apart in betting markets. Most of the concern around the Tigers is whether or not their young guns are fit and if their forward pack has the power to match the Rabbitohs. You cannot move past the absence of Adam Reynolds though, without questioning how the home team will perform. Thankfully, they now have Farah and his experience to lead them through, what would normally be, a difficult hole to fill. Looking across the park, they also have more capable players and increased power coming off the bench. Run metres were not a strong point of the Rabbitohs last year and regardless of what the Tigers do to nullify their opponents, plenty of pressure will come here. That’s not to discredit the Tigers completely but, they have enormous potential this season and are only going to get better with each match. For now though, this is a learning curve that they will have to go through in order to finish higher up on the ladder this season.
Rabbitohs -3.5 @ $1.90
St George-Illawarra Dragons v Penrith Panthers
The Dragons are hoping that 2017 will be remarkably different to 2016 and get the chance to start off with a win at home. Unfortunately, it will not be as easy as that, coming up against a Panthers team that has very high expectations and credentials for the title. Plenty needs to go right for the Dragons to gather enough momentum to make a Finals charge but before a whistle has sounded, they would be confident in their own ability. Problem is, there is no clear indication of where their attack will generate from and if their defensive structure has improved. If the Charity Shield is anything to go by, it will be a long season for the Red V. The Panthers will be ready to fire and have a pretty impressive roster at their disposal. They have attacking weapons and plenty of size to rely upon when defending. Maturity was an issue for the young Panthers team last year and they will undoubtedly benefit from another good year in 2016. Combine this with their preseason just passed and they’ll be ready for the Dragons. They challenge ahead for them will be playing to their own level and setting a standard, rather than play to the level that the Dragons produce.
Dragons = Josh McCrone is named at halfback, forcing Jai Field to start from the bench. Cameron McInnes and Paul Vaughan will make their club debuts from hooker and prop respectively.
Panthers = Dean Whare is named on the wing for Josh Mansour (inured), while Te Maire Martin rejoins the team at 5/8, pushing Bryce Cartwright to the backrow. James Tamou will make his club debut at prop.
Overall = Dragons 18 Panthers 12
Last 5 Matches = Dragons 2 Panthers 3
At UOW Jubilee Oval = Dragons 63% Panthers 50%
Early season hopes are high that the Dragons can jag a win or two against teams taking them lightly; yet betting markets are suggesting anything but a Dragons win. Being strong favorites for a game they should win this soon in the season will test the maturity of the young Panthers team. The home team will be hoping that their record at this ground and over their opponents in general will come into play. Regardless, expect the Panthers to set a high intensity from the beginning of this match and pressure the Dragons attacking options. Excitement is high at Penrith and rightly so given their potential. The Dragons need to tighten up their attack if they’re to limit their opponents scoring opportunities. With rain forecast, it could reduce the amount of points scored, irrespective, the Panthers should be capable of holding out what comes their way in defence.
Panthers 13+ @ $2.55
Play it safe = Panthers -7.5 @ $1.90 – As mentioned above, rain is predicted and if this does worry you, then consider investing on the Panthers to cover the line and nothing else. This way, even if they do jump out to a dominating victory or get home by two converted tries, you are collecting your winnings.
North Queensland Cowboys v Canberra Raiders
The Cowboys must be feeling blessed that they get the opportunity to open their season at home, where they not only have a great record, but a very dominant one over the Raiders. The last time they won in Townsville was in 2006, when a 19-year-old Todd Carney slotted a FG for a 1-point victory. It is remarkably different now, with both sides expected to feature high up on the competition ladder in 2017. The Cowboys were unable to defend their 2015, yet put up a great fight in the meantime; they eventually had fatigue become too big of a factor. The Raiders were the surprise-packet of 2016 and will be hoping to build on their success. Their season fizzled out in the end, with injuries a large cause of their demise. Not that they would like to use that as an excuse but many were left wondering what might have been for this talented outfit. The potential is still there in 2017, although a few things need to be improved from this point on. Most notably would be their performance on the road and winning tight games rather than falling short. This is one of the toughest tests in the NRL and after some puzzling trial form, we will get a good look at how the Raiders are shaping for this coming season.
Cowboys = Antonio Winterstein has been named on the wing but is in doubt and there are three potential replacements waiting for confirmation. Ben Hampton makes his club debut from the bench, while Scott Bolton is named to start in the vacant prop spot.
Raiders = Nick Cotric (NRL Debut) will start on the will, with Elliot Whitehead named in the centres for Jarrod Croker (injured). Clay Priest is named to start at prop for Junior Paulo (suspension).
Overall = Cowboys 16 Raiders 17
Last 5 Matches = Cowboys 3 Raiders 2
At 1300Smiles Stadium = Cowboys 85% Raiders 17%
Being the first game of the season, many are still wondering whether or not the Raiders can emulate their form from 2016. If that can be achieved, they will press the Cowboys here. It is not unusual to see teams struggle in the opening round for fitness and ability to build pressure; with this only going to be compounded for the Raiders travelling to Townsville for this match. The Cowboys are a team that is built on class and attack pressure and with several players missing for the Raiders, the level they deliver might just be off their best, especially in defence. It is hard to limit what will be thrown at them over 80 minutes too. With this in mind, the Cowboys attacking prowess could force the score to get out to a large total. The Raiders have already achieved one poor showing in the trials and while that form counts for little, it could demonstrate how it is too early in the season for them to produce their best. The same can be expected of the Cowboys, although that have proven themselves in the past to be a quality outfit that is capable of producing performance that are expected of them. Everyone has high hopes of the Raiders this season and rightly so, but with an 85% winning record at this ground compared with a 17% record, the decision become fairly straightforward.
Cowboys -7.5 @ $1.90
Ride’em home! Cowboys 13+ @ $2.60 = The Cowboys record at this ground is phenomenal; the last 5 times they have hosted the Raiders they have won by an average of 12.4 points, with 2 of those games being by 18 points or more. The Raiders will put up a fight but may eventually grow tired.
Gold Coast Titans v Sydney Roosters
The Titans surprised most with their form in 2016, sneaking into the Top 8 in the closing rounds. Their lack of depth on their roster lead many to thinking that this was beyond them and many again believe the same story. They have the potential to get there if last season was anything to go by but it will again be a really tough ask. They begin their year at home against the Roosters, a team hoping to rise up the ladder after a very poor year in 2016. Injuries and off-field drama limited their accomplishments but they only have themselves to blame. If the Roosters reach their potential though, they could again feature heavily at the business end of the season. They have one of the most promising rosters in the league and have enough experience on their side. The issue for them will be balancing this out together in order to achieve the best from each player. Trent Robinson and Neil Henry are very talented coaches and with this matchup so early in the season, it may come down to which one can have their team mentally prepared for the opening fixture of the season.
Titans = Kane Elgey is named to return from injury at 5/8, while Dan Sarginson will make his club debut in the centres. Kevin Protor will make his club debut in the second row and Tyrone Roberts has been named at hooker.
Roosters = Michael Gordan will make his club debut at fullback, with Blake Ferguson and Latrell Mitchell partnering one another in the centres. Aidan Guerra is named at lock, with Boyd Cordner in the second row. Luke Keary will make his club debut at 5/8, forcing Connor Watson to the bench.
Overall = Titans 8 Roosters 6
Last 5 Matches = Titans 3 Roosters 2
At Cbus Super Stadium = Titans 50% Roosters 50%
Heading up to the Gold Coast holds some apprehension for the Roosters, the last time they won there was Round 6, 2012. Their form this year is expected to be better than last and with that in mind, they head into this game as favorites. The Titans proved many people wrong last year and it will be surprising if they can maintain it into this year as well. It would take a lot of things to come together for them if they were to cause an upset here; as it stands, the Roosters are stronger across the park. There is curiosity around how the Titans will perform though and given this, it is difficult to recommend anything other than a Roosters victory, covering the line. A lot more has to been viewed from these two sides before you can invest confidently on either team but when comparing the two sides, the Roosters have the ascendency. The inclusion of Keary into the halves would only boost their prospects after a trouble-free off-season.
Roosters -2.5 @ $1.85
New Zealand Warriors v Newcastle Knights
The New Zealand Warriors will be hoping that they can enter into a new era that involves consistency when they open their season against the Knights. It has long been a thorn in their side as they have promised so much and delivered little in the way of Finals success. Reflecting on their chances, they have one of the best “spines” in the competition, with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck back to full fitness. Once Kieran Foran returns at 5/8 in Round 3, they hype will intensify. The Knights come into 2017 with far lower expectations, with many suggesting that they will again feature in contention for the Wooden Spoon. The only way is up for them after a disappointing year and pressure will be on Nathan Brown. It is not an ideal setting but they do not have a lot of quality within their team, therefore teams could be guilty of taking them easy. Nevertheless, their trial form was positive and there is every chance that they could cause an upset in the early rounds. It is tough for any side to make the trip across to New Zealand though, with the Knights not tasting victory there since 2012.
Warriors = New captain, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, returns at fullback, moving Tui Lolohea to the wing. Mafoa’aeata Hingano is named to start at 5/8 in the absence of Kieran Foran. There is a slightly new pack, with Charlie Gubb to start at prop alongside Albert Vete.
Knights = A completely new team for the Knights with plenty of new faces. Dylan Phythian (NRL Debut) is named to start at fullback, with Ken Sio making his club debut from the wing. Josh Starling and Jamie Buhrer will make their club debuts from prop and the second row respectively. Luke Yates and Sam Stone will make their NRL Debuts from the bench.
Overall = Warriors 18 Draw 1 Knights 15
Last 5 Matches = Warriors 3 Knights 2
At Mt Smart Stadium = Warriors 58% Knights 37%
This match appears to be a foregone conclusion given the strength of both teams.
The inconsistency of the Warriors is definitely an issue but the Knights are promising far less this year. Home ground advantage is also heavily favoring the Warriors, with the Knights winning at 37% at Mt Smart Stadium. If the Knights were to cause an upset, it would be the biggest of the opening rounds in recent years. As for the margin, the Warriors attacking power is evident, even before they enter the field. Depending on the momentum and conditions during the match will determine how many they score. Without knowing how the match will play out for the first time this season, the ideal option is to invest on the Warriors covering the line. Even then, I would invest cautiously given their ability to grossly disappoint on more than one occasion.
Warriors -14.15 @ $1.90
Picking up where he left off = Solomone Kata FTS and/or LTS @ $8 – He was a favorite last year for this market, crossing for a total 15 tries in 21 matches. Being the Warriors leading try scorer, he continually lead the way and knew how to find the line. With his trademark power evident, expect the Warriors to get the ball to Kata as much as possible.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v Parramatta Eels
The Sea Eagles are aiming to bounce back from a poor showing in 2016, one that left many wondering if it was the end of an era for the club. In many ways it was and now Trent Barrett has to steer his team in a new direction. The challenge that lies ahead is vast, yet there has been an interesting set of acquisitions by the club aimed at improving their play. Tom Trbojevic now is the incumbent fullback and will need to support the new halves pairing of DCE and Blake Green. Of course, they will be relying heavily upon their forwards to gather plenty of momentum up front. Parramatta will also be happy to put last season behind them and begin with a fresh, new perspective. Their salary cap drama has depleted their club, although they are putting together a tough group of players. They developed mentally last season and will need plenty of focus to work their way into Finals contention. Their biggest challenge appears to be in their spine, getting the youngsters to click together and not completely rely upon their flair. Bevan French is one of the most exciting prospects for the Eels, although they have a gap at hooker, with Kaysa Pritchard to get the first shot at nailing down the position.
Sea Eagles = Brian Kelly will make his club debut, alongside another club debutant, Akuila Uate, who will start on the wing. Curtis Sironen is named to make his club debut in the second row. Interesting to note that Nate Myles will start from the bench.
Eels = Bevan French is named at fullback, while Clint Gutherson and Corey Norman are named in the halves. Kaysa Pritchard gets frist chance at hooker. Josh Hoffman makes his club debut on the wing, with Suaia Matagi makes his first start in Eels colours at prop.
Overall = Sea Eagles 14 Eels 16
Last 5 Matches = Sea Eagles 0 Eels 5
At Lottoland = Sea Eagles 64% Eels 41%
This is an exciting game of football to finish the round off as both teams are out to start 2017 off the right way. The Eels have a strong recent record over the Sea Eagles, with the home team not winning against their opponents since Round 3, 2014. Despite this, the Sea Eagles will head into this game as favorites, on what is expected to be a very slow and heavy field after a deluge of rain over the weekend. This may make conditions difficult and take the match to the forwards. Here, the Sea Eagles appear to have a slight advantage over the Eels, with Barrett forced to name Nate Myles on the bench such is the power in the middle. Of course, they will have to execute accordingly and produce a different effort than they did last year; as many of their pack is the same. The Eels will throw a challenge to the Sea Eagles though and they are a tough team based on what they went through previously. The Sea Eagles may have an edge, but the Eels will fight to the end of this. It will be no surprise to see the Eels cause an upset. With things so even between the two teams, invest around a tight match in tough condition. If you want to declare a winner, the Eels have what it takes to cause an upset in a thrilling contest.
Either Team Under 6.5 points @ $2.90