2013 NRL Round 1 Preview

NRL

Finally, after a long few months of waiting, rugby league is returning to our screens for season 2013. There have been a lot of changes in the offseason ranging from players, coaches, TV rights and we even have a new CEO at the helm. For all that occurs, nothing can be substituted for quality rugby league and that is exactly what season 2013 is offering. We are faced with the unusual prospect this year of a few weekends with Thursday night games, meaning that in a normal week, there will only be two days free of live rugby league! So what is the first game of the season? It is the traditional battle between the Roosters and the Rabbitohs.

Sydney Roosters v South Sydney Rabbitohs

What a game this promises to be! Fans will get a first hand look at the return of SBW from rugby union since he walked out on the Bulldogs. Regardless of what opinion you have of him, he is a real talent and Roosters fans will be hoping that they see the best of what he has to offer. The Roosters also welcome a new coach, Trent Robinson, back to the club. Interestingly, Robinson was the defensive coach under Brian Smith when the club last appeared the Grand Final in 2010. He is an unknown quantity, but if the Roosters trial form is anything to go by, they will be hard to stop. Of course, they do have to perform consistently and show marked improvement on their 2012 form. This pundit is definitely tipping an improved season for the Roosters and the evidence is in the season preview. The Roosters will certainly be tested in this game though as they face a Rabbitohs team hoping to go one better than 2012 and reach the Grand Final. There are plenty positives that have Rabbitohs fans talking up their chances this season, but perhaps this is put down to the drought of premiership success since 1971. The hype for the Rabbitohs is around the quality players they posses, not only in key positions, but all around the park. They just have to make sure that they play consistently and don’t believe in their own hype. Like the Roosters, the Rabbitohs have very high hopes heading into this season and you can also read about them here. So apart from this game kicking off the season, what does it hold in store? You can be sure that this will be a very physical game with the odd “push and shove” thrown in. It will be a very tough contest that could see the winner emerge in the final few minutes of the match. But lets take a closer look at this fixture.

Sydney Roosters

A lot has been written about the Roosters, but one thing is for sure, they have recruited very well. Along with SBW, they have also made the useful acquisition of 5/8 James Maloney from the Warriors. Maloney is an underrated talent who is yet to reach the heights in this game that he is capable of. He will be a great influence on young halfback Mitchel Pearce and have calming effect on the team as a whole. In the forwards, the Roosters have a lot of young players that are returning from a few previous campaigns. They have had a similar side for a number of years now and the development that they have put into their youngsters may just be about to pay off. Going into this match, everyone was unsure of where SBW would play. That is now settled and he will come off an extended bench. It is also surprising to see Luke O’Donnell named on the bench as well. O’Donnell has been overseas for some time now and before he left, he was an 80 minute (representative) player. Perhaps Robinson is going to ease him back into the speed of the game. It would not be surprising to see him not return to the bench once he takes the field. The only shock at this stage is the naming of unknown Sam Moa at starting prop ahead of Martin Kennedy. It will be exciting for Roosters fans to see Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Daniel Tupou named on the wings. They have speed to burn and will be hard to handle when they scoot from dummy half early in the tackle count.

South Sydney Rabbitohs

The hype surrounding the Rabbitohs is warranted when you have a look at their roster. It oozes class from all areas and most importantly, they have depth to work with. The hopes of the side will rest heavily on the shoulders of Greg Inglis, who has amazingly grown during the offseason and returning the ball from the fullback position at around 109kg! He will be the main man for the Rabbitohs, but they will also look to their hooker Isaac Luke to get things moving up the middle of the park. This guy is a very talented player and can find easy metres out of dummy half. He is dynamic in defence and is sure to be in the middle of a stoush on the field. But Nathan Peats has been named on the extended bench, so expect Luke to get a rest at some point in the match. It is confusing to see captain Michael Crocker, named on the bench. Starting in his place in the back row will be Chris McQueen. How long he remains on the bench is uncertain, but his inclusion, along with George Burgess and Jeff Lima, will be a certain boost once the initial heat wears off. Their real strength in this game will be in their forwards. If they can live up to their expectation and dominate the Roosters, they will go a very close to winning this game. They can ill-afford to switch off either like Rabbitohs teams of the past.

Recent History

Last 5 games = Roosters 3 Rabbitohs 2

Odds
TAB Sportsbet = Roosters $2.15 Rabbitohs $1.70
Centrebet = Roosters $2.18 Rabbitohs $1.70
Sportsbet = Roosters $2.30 Rabbitohs $1.62
Betfair = Roosters $2.30 Rabbitohs $1.72

Verdict

This is going to be some contest! The closer it gets to kickoff, the more the Roosters jump out at you. But after analyzing both sides and their strengths, it is hard to go past the Rabbitohs and their forward pack. With Isaac Luke dominating the middle of the park, they should have plenty of room for their outside backs, namely Inglis, to be as damaging as ever. That is not suggesting the Roosters will be put to the sword. The winner in this game may only just emerge in the final few minutes. This games screams as a close one and a fixture that will be a great start to the 2013 season.

Suggested Bet
Rabbitohs @ $1.72

Cash in on the close encounter = Rabbitohs 1-12 @ $3 – It will be a very close game and as stated above, the winner may only emerge in the last few minutes. Another school of thought may be taking “Either side Under 6.5” @ $2.50, especially if you cannot make your mind up.

Be specific and reap the reward = Souths 1-6 @ $5.75 – If you are willing to make a specific call on the outcome of this game, the Rabbitohs posses some very good value. If you are considering the Roosters, they’re @ $6, the best of the “Winning Margin” bets.

Brisbane Broncos v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles

Rugby league fans will be shocked to only witness one game on a Friday night, but it does mean that the game will be shown live into most states. After what is sure to be a very exciting opening night down in Sydney on Thursday, NRL fans will turn their attention up north to Suncorp Stadium to witness the Broncos hosting the Sea Eagles. There is a lot of uncertainty about the 2013 chances of both teams heading into this season and we could be given a good insight into them during this clash. Both will have their chances throughout the season to stake their claims and it will be interesting to watch them as they progress. But whether or not they remain as a real contender for the premiership remains to be seen. They will have to do their talking on the field and under the most pressure will be their coaches. Geoff Toovey is relatively inexperienced after only one season at the helm of the Sea Eagles but he served a good apprenticeship under Des Hasler. Anthony Griffin also had a great mentor in Wayne Bennett. He was the man to take them over when he left the club and many suggest that he is created in the same mold as him. Whilst both squads are talented, they have their flaws and are extremely vulnerable. Whichever team can play consistent and dominate football will probably fair better in the long run.

Brisbane Broncos

Since the Broncos acquired the services of veteran halfback Scott Prince, people have been attempting to figure out just how the Broncos will play him. That worry was put to rest when the Broncos named him at 5/8 for this clash. The confusion lied within the halves and included Prince, Peter Wallace and last years 5/8 Corey Norman. Norman was being mentored by Darren Lockyer and was tipped to develop into a very good footballer. A tough finish to 2012 would not have helped his confidence, as would being named at fullback for this game. Wallace is named in the starting team at halfback. It would be unfair for him to miss out on the team sheet altogether considering how well he played at times last year in leading the Broncos around the field. With the side that they have named, it would be very surprising if it were to remain like this for the whole season. Some moves may only just be temporary and one or more of the three players named may find themselves out of the team with a few poor performances. In the forwards, representative prop Ben Hannant is named on the bench and captain Sam Thaiday is starting in his spot. This means that Alex Glenn and Matt Gillett are in the second row. Obviously, Griffin has a purpose behind this decision, but Thaiday probably won’t play 80 minutes here. There is a fairly strong bench as well, with plenty of firepower from other replacement forwards. Let’s just see what style of football the Broncos play to begin with and whether or not it is effective enough to favor those players within their squad.

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles

The Sea Eagles like being in this position more than anybody. People have written them off as a genuine chance and they do not have to prove anything to anyone just yet. Expectation isn’t high for them and it was not assisted by the departure of Tony Williams to the Bulldogs or the injury to Glenn Stewart. Thankfully, they were able to register the contract of his brother Brett to ensure some stability at fullback. Working in their favor this season is their halves. They are very talented but may just be tested this season in terms of their effectiveness when their sides isn’t continually moving forward over the advantage line. Coach Toovey will be an asset here and be able to pass on the experience he gained playing in the halves. No surprise to see him name a 22-man squad for this clash. It does keep the public guessing and you will have to pay attention to @NRL_TheProfits for breaking team news, heading into kick off. There are a few surprises in his squad though, with new recruits Justin Horo and Brenton Lawrence named in the starting side. Horo was tipped in the fantasy preview to make an impact at his new club and he gets the chance immediately. As for Lawerence, much in unknown about him but he did make some impact up at the Titans with his limited opportunities. It is all before him at his new club but his work rate at prop will be key. Much like the Broncos, they have a strong bench that will hopefully maintain a tough intensity.

Recent History

Last 5 games = Broncos 1 Sea Eagles 4

Odds
TAB Sportsbet = Broncos $1.70 Sea Eagles $2.15
Centrebet = Broncos $1.63 Sea Eagles $2.30
Sportsbet = Broncos $1.62 Sea Eagles $2.32
Betfair = Broncos $1.62 Sea Eagles $2.52

Verdict

Similar to many Round 1 fixtures, this game is going to be a close encounter. The home ground advantage may just give the Broncos the edge that they need. Looking deeper into the outcome of this fixture, the strength will also lie within the halves. How well Prince and Wallace go together will answer a lot of other questions. The remainder of the Broncos squad should be able to overcome the Sea Eagles side that has a lot of experience, talent but a weaker bench. This will go down to the wire though and a very bruising encounter.

Suggested Bet
Broncos @ $1.63

Be specific on your call = Broncos 1-12 @ $3.10 = If you’re confident that this match will be as close as suggested, then get some more value out of your selection and take this option. With the defensive quality of the Sea Eagles, it will be surprising to see them allow in too many points.

Off to a strong start = First scoring play Broncos Try @ $1.90 = Running out in front of your home crowd always gives you a buzz. Doing it in the first game of the season takes you to another level. The Broncos will want to put on a show in front of their home fans and there is no better way than opening the scoring account for the season with a try.

Canturbery-Bankstown Bulldogs v North Queensland Cowboys

The second of the Saturday night fixtures sees the Bulldogs host the Cowboys up in Gosford. It is a Bulldogs home game but they have decided to move the game up north in order to see a boost of fans for this clash, considering that Sydney NRL clubs face a smaller crowd when facing a non-Sydney club. Unfortunately, a lot of the talk heading into this game will be about the off field incidents rather than the game itself. This is due to the news that broke last week about Ben Barba. No one can be sure of the true impact this will have on the Bulldogs and only time will tell. If there were a coach in the game that you want to lead your club through a process like this, it would have to be Des Hasler. He has gone through similar problems when at the Sea Eagles, also involving his star fullback at the time, Brett Stewart. In that season, the Sea Eagles lost their first 4 games, all without Stewart, and they didn’t break into the Top 8 until Round 17. Of course, they did finish the season in 5th spot so it was definitely considered a successful season. This is slightly different as there is no time frame put on Barba’s return to the game and that he is the reigning Dally M winner. For the sake of all involved, we need to just focus on the football. This game is sure to be a great clash, regardless of who is missing from it. Both teams have squads that are able to make a charge for the premiership and possess players that can change a game on their own. For the Cowboys, Jonathan Thurston is vital to their title aspirations but he will be supported this year by his monster forward pack. At times they will find other sides difficult to manage, but they should be able to dominate them out of the game with their sheer size. The Bulldogs will be up for this challenge and the acquisition of the aptly named T-Rex (Tony Williams) from Manly will boost their chances of combating the Cowboys in the middle of the field. Apart from indicating how the Bulldogs will go in the absence of Barba, this game will be a great early season guide as to how both sides will fair throughout the entire season. It may just be a matter of how they go in “crunch games”, much like this one.

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs

There was a lot of interest surrounding the naming of the Bulldogs squad, to mainly see who Hasler named at fullback. In this instance, it was Steve Turner. Many were tipping the 2012 mid-season purchase, Dury Low to take up that position, but Turner beat him to it. From what has been said though, these two players could switch throughout the match. Low obviously switched because of the talented outside backs down at the Raiders, but by no means is he not a without it as well. He is one to watch. It will be an exciting prospect for the Bulldogs fans to see Tony Williams (T-Rex) take a starting spot in the back row, in place of Frank Pritchard. Elsewhere in the forwards, they are missing another key player in Kasiano. It is uncertain how long both players will be out for, but it does give others the chance to stand up and take over from them. Kasiano’s spot in the starting side is taken by the monstrous Martin Taupau, while the exciting youngster David Klemmer comes onto the extended bench for his first NRL appearance for the suspended James Graham (read why he is recommended as a fantasy pick here). As mentioned in the 2013 season preview, the strength of the Bulldogs is in their forwards but they have made no earth shattering changes in their backs, most importantly the halves. Look for a strong game from Josh Reynolds as well as their centres.

North Queensland Cowboys

The Cowboys have named a very strong lineup of 19 players. No surprise seeing an extended squad named, as they have to travel for this trip. As halfback Matthew Morgan was ruled out for the first few weeks, Ray Thompson has been given the start in his place. It was between him and controversial youngster Robert Lui, but Thompson was given the nod in the starting side. Whether or not that is the final makeup of Henry’s squad remains to be seen, but final team selections will be released on @NRL_TheProfits. Another interesting selection was at hooker. Aaron Payne retired at the end of the 2012 season and backup James Segeyaro went to the Panthers, but they did aquire Rory Kostjasyn from the Storm. Kostjasyn would sometimes fill in for Cameron Smith so you would think he could do the job here. Instead, he is on the bench and Scott Moore has been named at hooker. He will be making his NRL debut in this game and will definitely want to make his mark early on in this game. Apart from the obvious strength of their 5/8 Thurston, they are full of talent forwards in their starting side and coming off the bench. Such is the strength; Tariq Sims has been named on the bench along with his brother and the dynamic Jason Taumalolo. Any side would have their hands full trying to combat the size and strength of this team. They are set up very nicely to make the right interchanges and maintain a high intensity from the opening whistle.

Recent History

Last 5 games = Bulldogs 5 Cowboys 0

Odds
TAB Sportsbet = Bulldogs $2 Cowboys $1.80
Centrebet = Bulldogs $1.91 Cowboys $1.91
Sportsbet = Bulldogs $1.88 Cowboys $1.94
Betfair = Bulldogs $1.97 Cowboys $1.82

Verdict

A lot of people are tipping the Bulldogs to only be minimally effected by the Barba incident. You can see from above that the bookmakers are unsure themselves. But it is tough to follow that same opinion when you compare the two sides and the strength of their benches. When it comes down to it, the Bulldogs are missing Kasiano, Pritchard, Graham and their “X Factor” Barba. All 4 players have very big shoes to fill and may be missed more than most think. In this case, take the upset (depending on which bookie you bet with). The Cowboys have class all over the field and are at full strength. Don’t be put off by the game being played up at Gosford either. It is just like a neutral venue for both sides. The Bulldogs will put up a fight, but the sheer ability of the Cowboys to score quick points should become too much for them in the end.

Suggested Bet
Cowboys -1.5 @ $1.90

Finish in with a flutter = Cowboys 13+ @ $4 – By no means am I suggesting that this will be a walk in the park for the Cowboys, but a few late tries as the Bulldogs tire late in the game may get you more value in the end. If you’re a little cautious and don’t believe the margin will be that wide, take the Cowboys 1-12 @ $3.10.

Forward thinking = Gavin Cooper first try @ $17 – This guy was a prominent try scorer for the Cowboys last season and the way the Cowboys attack the with their left hand edge, you would expect him to be a chance to be put through off a JT pass.

Parramatta Eels v New Zealand Warriors

This season, the “Super Saturday” that rugby league fans came to know and love, has ceased as we only see two games. Many people complained that while there were two games at 7:30pm in 2012, they were often only able to watch one and viewer numbers were down on the second. So this year, we see a reduction and two games which will both be shown live on Pay-TV. This clash is a very intriguing battle between two sides that have a lot more in common than you think. For starters, they will both be looking to improve on their 2012 season and the only way can be up. They also have new coaches hoping to assist them in this journey. But what remains to be unseen is the influence that each coach will have on his club. A lot more was obviously written about the arrival of Ricky Stuart as opposed to Matthew Elliot given the success he has achieved within the game. It was surprising that he took the job up considering the time and effort he had given towards the NSW SOO side and achieving success over QLD. This of course, was still yet to happen under Stuarts new reign. So obviously the burning desire within Stuart to return back to the NRL was far greater than winning a SOO series. Don’t be surprised though if he does pop up during the SOO series to assist new coach Laurie Daly. Elliot’s arrival at the Warriors wasn’t big news and was met with more criticism than anything else. He certainly does have his critics within the game but he can be a very successful coach. Whether or not he can turn the Warriors around remains to be seen. But all reports out of NZ seem to be positive (aren’t they all at this stage of the year), so only time will tell. Both coaches will also be analysed in detail to determine whether or not they have a positive or negative impact on their respective star players. Everyone knows that rugby league is a team game, but you need a team of quality players with talent before you can start the grueling offseason. Fans of these clubs should not expect instant success as both clubs admit they have a long journey ahead of them. They just need to let their performance do the talking. One thing that is certain is that both clubs will be pulling out all stops to ensure that they start their 2013 campaign with a win.

Parramatta Eels

There are no real surprises in the Eels lineup for Round 1, other than Luke Kelly being named at 5/8 and Ben Roberts on the bench. This is worrying considering it is relatively the same side that was continually named last season. Chris Sandow will obviously dominate the halves and Jarryd Hayne will chime in when needed. The player that is playing 5/8 at the time will have to fill all the gaps in between. New recruit Darcy Lussick is named to start at prop and partners Tim Mannah up front. It’s going to be a good contest with the Warriors pack. Willie Tonga is out of this match and in the centres is Jacob Loko and Ryan Morgan, both strong players but are yet to establish themselves as regular first graders. This could be a worry for the Eels in defence. The most interesting viewing in this game will centre on how well the Eels gel as a team under the guidance of Stuart.

New Zealand Warriors

It is not surprising to see Warriors coach name an extended squad for their journey over the ditch to Australia. It is surprising to see Elijah Taylor named at hooker, especially if they’re looking to dominate the opposition with the speed of their play. Pita Godinet may come on during the game to lift the Warriors when it matters most. Thomas Leuluai will make his first start at his new club, partnering youngster Shaun Johnson in the halves. They have a strong set of outside backs as well who can defend well and be damaging in defence. The real strength for them may be in the forwards, highlighted by 80-minute players Simon Mannering and Todd Lowrie. This should tighten up the middle for them and lessen the workload of their bigger, less mobile forwards.

Recent History

Last 5 games = Eels 2 Warriors 3

Odds
TAB Sportsbet = Eels $1.70 Warriors $2.15
Centrebet = Eels $1.70 Warriors $2.20
Sportsbet = Eels $1.72 Warriors $2.15
Betfair = Eels $1.73 Warriors $2.26

Verdict

With both sides eager to put a disappointing 2012 season behind, this should be a good contest. But to assume that would happen would be foolish. It is probably going to be a very tough game of rugby league to watch, especially after what you have been spoilt with in the first two games. The Eels should be too strong for the Warriors though in the long run. Having a defensive minded coach in Ricky Stuart, the Eels will not want to let in any easy points. From there, the rest should be able to control itself. There is also some rain predicted in Sydney on Saturday and that could be problematic for the Warriors and their ability to gain second phase play through their offloads. They will put up a fight, but the Eels will just get through by a 1-12 margin.

Suggested Bet
Eels -1.5 @ $1.90

Close game = Eels 1-12 @ $3 – The writing is on the wall above in the “Verdict”. It will be a close game and if you want more value from your bet, then this may be one option that you would like to include.

Brilliant Individual Brillance = Chris Sandow First Try Scorer @ $17 – Plenty of value here but when you compare the respective sides, it is tough to see how both sides will aim to crack one another early on. It may just be a flash of individual brilliance by one player that opens the scoring for the night.

Penrith Panther v Canberra Raiders

Sunday footy kicks off in western Sydney, and has the “rebuilding” Panthers hosting a Raiders side that is promising a lot heading into the 2013 season. These two sides have very different expectations placed upon them but the unpredictability of both sides has fans intrigued in this match. The Panther’s have had an offseason that has been highlighted by the amount of change that is occurring at the club. They “let go” several star players from their squad that were considered club stalwarts and possibly “one-club” men. But this was not the case and players like Luke Lewis, Michael Gordon and Michael Jennings departed under the eye of football director Gus Gould. It was always going to be a very difficult, long and painful process to turn around a club that has gone without success for a number of years. Unfortunately, they were always going to offend and upset a number of people along the way. But that is the price that they must pay at this stage. Whether or not this will be a success remains to be seen. They certainly have their work cut out for them facing the Raiders. It is strange that the Panthers have basically come out and said they are not expecting too much out of this season and this is a long-term plan. Maybe by setting the expectation very low, they can by-pass that and judge their season as a success. On the other hand, the Raiders will be looking to make a strong start to the season after failing to move past the second week of the NRL Finals in 2012. There has been some change as well down in the nations capital but stormy clouds will be quick to return amid some poor performances. These will mainly revolve around coach Dave Furner and his job. They have a young and talent squad, with majority of the battle for Furner being creating a game plan that includes each players individual strength. Not only that, they have some off field problems of their own with the contract saga involving 20-year old Josh Papalli no where near an end. Both sides will be eager for this game to begin and let their talking be done on the field. It could also be a good guide as to the attitude that both squads have. It is no secret that the Raiders played 2012 with a lot of inconsistency and they need to mature to be considered as genuine contenders. All the while the Panthers must focus of just playing at a level that is expected in the NRL. The loser in this game could come under more fire than any other losing side this weekend and we may just have a clue as to how their entire season may look.

Penrith Panthers

With all that has been said and written about the Panthers, it is great that they have finally named a team and their season can begin to take shape. At the end of the day, they will only be judged on their playing performances. In and around selection, new recruit Dean Whare has been named at fullback. This speedy Kiwi has enormous potential and will enjoy the fulltime role at the back. The halves are the same combination that we saw towards the end of 2012, Lachlan Coote and Luke Walsh. They will play behind a monstrous and mobile forward pack that includes new recruits Sika Manu and Lewis Brown. This ensures they will be strong in defence on the edges. One weakness for the Panthers may be the depth in their bench and it may be hard to maintain the same intensity from the start of the match. If they can find the right balance here, they will be far better off.

Canberra Raiders

The Raiders have named a very strong lineup for this clash. They are without Josh Dugan and try scoring winger Reece Robinson finds himself filling this role. There are a few whispers around that he may be a late inclusion so stay tuned to the twitter feed. The Raiders lose nothing by moving Robinson to the back as they have flyers out wide in Sandor Earl and Edrick Lee. If there is one area they will look to dominate in this clash, it will be their forwards! They’re not small by any means and they have a lot of strike power to use in attack. Unlike the Panthers, they possess a talented bench with players that will want to make their mark once they come onto the field. There are no real surprises in their selection other than the naming of Shaun Berrigan at hooker. His experience will be essential to the success of this young side. They are still without their captain Terry Campese at 5/8 and the halves pairing for majority of 2012, Josh McCrone and Sam Williams will start the 2013 season. This is a promising move as both developed with the burden of the Raiders finals aspirations.

Recent History

Last 5 games = Pathers 2 Raiders 3

Odds
TAB Sportsbet = Panthers $1.90 Raiders $1.90
Centrebet = Panthers $1.91 Raiders $1.91
Sportsbet = Panthers $1.83 Raiders $2.00
Betfair = Panthers $1.87 Raiders $2.08

Verdict

This is another contest that has divided opinion and mainly because punters are uncertain about which Raiders team will show up. Furthermore, recent history suggests that they never really travel well. But I think it is time for things to change for the Raiders if they’re to cement themselves as premiership contenders. It will take time for them to come together as a side, but they are have many talented youngster who will want to exhibit their ability. The Panthers will be trying to start their season off on the right foot, but the big and mobile Raiders forwards may get the better of them. Factor in their speed out wide and they look a handful for the Panthers in every aspect of this clash.

Suggested Bet
Raiders -1.5 @ $1.95

Firing in the points = Raiders 13+ @ $4.25 – This is a big call considering how close the bookies are calling this match. But if the right Raiders side shows up to this game, things could get ugly for the Panthers towards the end of the match.

Centre around the tries = Either Raiders centre First Try, Ferguson $11 Wighton $13 – The weakness out on the edges really does lie within the centres for the Panthers. These two players are very hard to handle and can find a tryline when needed. If you only had one to choose, go with the value player in Wighton as Ferguson has had a troubled offseason.

Melbourne Storm v St George-Illawarra Dragons

If this game were played as an opener to the 2012 season, there would have been a lot more hype surrounding it. But with the demise of the Dragons throughout 2012, not much has been written about this clash. For the Storm, their focus has been heavily centred on their World Club Challenge (RLWCC) clash against Leeds in which they were eventual winners in a very tough match. It was definitely a good hit out for them, but traditionally, teams returning from this game struggle with the start to the NRL. Considering that their first bye isn’t until Round 12, it could be a long start to the season. All things considered, you would think that the Storm would be able to get through this process under the guidance of coach Craig Bellamy and their stars, the “Big 3”. Slater, Cronk and Smith are world-class players that will be looking to inspire those around them to reach the same level from the beginning of the competition. The Storm made the unusual step of spending more time over in England than sides of the past, staying up to 3 days after the game and having more training sessions over there. At the end of the day, they will have had over 10 days to acclimatize back to Australian conditions and recover from their match. They will be raring and ready to go and Bellamy will definitely want his squad to make a positive start to their 2013 campaign. As usual, they are genuine contenders and are the defending Premiers. They will attempt to be the first team since the Broncos in 1993 to go “back-to-back”. The story is a little different for the Dragons. Their coach, Steve Price, is under a mountain of pressure and many are tipping him to be the first coached sacked in 2013.

Melbourne Storm

Although this is Round 1, the Storm played in the RLWCC so there is the added advantage of being able to compare their squad to one that has played a competitive game this season. In this instance, there is only one change and that is Matt Duffie returning to the side in place of Sisa Waqa. They are a very strong side that will be hard to stop. A lot of this comes down to the “Big 3”, but they are also well supported by their forwards. Their back row is particularly strong and has youngster Tohu Harris making his first NRL appearance. It appears one weakness for the Storm may be their bench, but Bellamy will know the right time in the game to get those players on the field. Returning utility Brett Finch finds himself named on an extended bench but it appears as though he will be the player to miss out once the final side is named.

St George-Illawarra Dragons

The Dragons have named their side as expected. Nathan Fien has been named to start the season for the Dragons at halfback and will want to nail down his position. A lot of pressure will be on his shoulders as well as Jamie Soward. How well these two players gel together will also be crucial. New recruit Gerard Beale will take his place at fullback and Brett Morris will remain on the wing. The other new recruit is Tyson Frizell and he will start in the second row. The forwards are important for that Dragons and they will be lead by captain Ben Creagh. Mitch Rein will also be vital out of hooker and is not short on talent. As stated above, there is a lot of pressure on coach Price and he will be desperate to get this one right. They have named an extended bench as well but there are no players that will take the Dragons play to another level when they come on.

Recent History

Last 5 games = Storm 3 Dragons 2

Odds
TAB Sportsbet = Storm $1.22 Dragons $4.25
Centrebet = Storm $1.23 Dragons $4.25
Sportsbet = Storm $1.22 Dragons $4.50
Betfair = Storm $1.25 Dragons $4.40

Verdict

It is no surprise that the Storm are clear favorites. The Dragons have had a tough offseason and there is several people that are already calling for Steve Price’s head. It looks as though the Storm will be able to outclass the Dragons in every facet of this clash. You could see the Storm pile on early points and then fade out towards the end of the match due to fatigue related to their RLWCC. By that time, they may be too far ahead for the Dragons to catch them.

Suggested Bet
Storm/Storm (HT/FT Double) @ $1.55

Be specific on your margin = Storm 13-18 @ $4.50 – If the Storm can get away to a good lead, the Dragons may score a few late points. This margin probably covers a fair chunk of what is possible. It would also be a good value bet to place into your multi bet(s).

Hoffman the man = Ryan Hoffman First Try Scorer @ $13 – He was the guy to get the first try in the Grand Final and also set Slater up in the RLWCC. Cronk likes going to the defensive line and playing the front man in Hoffman. Expect him to be prominent again here.

Cronulla Sharks v Gold Coast Titans

**PLEASE NOTE** This preview was written prior to the release of certain information in and around the Sharks. I have chosen to keep the original untouched, because much like the situation, there is a lot of uncertainty. If I were you, I would stay well away from investing your hard earned on this game. On a side note, lets hope that the issues surround ASADA and the NRL can be solved quickly and without disruption to one of the greatest games of all!

Rugby league fans are greeted with a “Super Sunday” this year and will be lucky to witness a game kicking off at 6:30pm, albeit, you must have Pay-TV to view the game. The first game of the season kicking off in this timeslot is a battle between two beach-living clubs. But they have had a very different off-season and anticipation is vastly different. At the Sharks, they are trying to emulate a fairly successful 2012 season and build on that. They have recruited very well and people are tipping them to go well again this season, and even a genuine chance at winning the premiership. They have recruited very well and will have a tough and sizable forward pack. That could well be their strength and this season, Paul Gallen will not be burdened with the workload of the team but rather supported by some very talented players. Continually working strongly over the advantage line could help create extra room for playmaker Todd Carney to use to his advantage. Up at the Titans, they are hoping to put together a better season then they had last year. They possess a wealth of talent in their roster but it is not without its problems. The biggest being they have no recognised halves pairing. This could be the major undoing of the Titans throughout their 2013 campaign, especially when you consider how they have been effected by injuries is past seasons. They have some very noticeable names within their squad but this will mean little if they are not being directed around the park. Coach John Cartwright is definitely under a lot of pressure and could easily be the first coach to go with a few poor performances. There is a greater amount of pressure on the Titans but the expectation is higher for the Sharks. It makes for a very interesting clash and a great way to end the weekend.

Cronulla Sharks

Since recruiting very well during the offseason, there has been a lot of interest around the final makeup of the Sharks lineup. This was mainly due to having an abundance of back rowers in their side and trying to fit them all into the forward pack was always going to be difficult. What we have seen from coach Shane Flanagan is a very strong starting team that will be very well supported by the players coming off the bench. It is great to see youngster Wade Graham named in the starting side. Since making the move from Penrith a few years ago, he has gone from strength to strength and should be included in every discussion around representative selection for SOO. He is surrounded by other Penrith recruit Luke Lewis and captain Paul Gallen who will play lock. Workhorse Chris Heighington will start from the bench and with Gallen likely to play 80 minutes, he could push up into the front row once he takes the field. Starting at fullback will be Michael Gordon and he will be very eager to put a bad run of injuries behind him. Todd Carney is rumoured to be battling an injury heading into this game and will be given every chance up until kickoff to prove his fitness. While the Sharks have said they are confident that he will play, they have taken the measure of naming Chad Townsend on the bench as a backup. The one weakness for the Sharks this season may again be in their centres, but having strong defensive players on the edges and playing in the back row should be able to cover up any potential problems.

Gold Coast Titans

New recruit Dave Taylor has surprisingly been named on the bench by coach John Cartwright. Perhaps he is setting a standard from the beginning of the season that no matter how big of a name you are, you must earn your spot in the side. This is also the case with veteran Luke Bailey who will finds himself sitting alongside Taylor and Luke Douglas starting in his spot. Taylor’s spot is taken by Ben Ridge. There are no other shocks within the forward pack but it should be noted that hooker Matt Srama may get a rest as Beau Falloon has been named on an extended bench. Whether or not Cartwright decides to make this decision is uncertain but it would not hurt their chances of winning this match if they were to keep him on the field for 80 minutes. The weakness for the Titans is in their halves. They have named Albert Kelly at halfback and Aidan Sexer at 5/8. Both players are yet to prove themselves in the NRL and they may struggle to guide the Titans around the field on a consistent basis. They have a very strong and fast back 3 that will be able to finish a try but the ball needs to get to them first. It is interesting to note that Roosters recruit Brad Takairangi has been named to partner Jamal Idris in the centres. Takairangi did show some potential down at the Roosters but that was playing in the back row. Whether or not he has the speed in his game to be strong in defence, much like Idris, could prove problematic.

Recent History

Last 5 games = Sharks 3 Titans 2

Odds
AS OF FRIDAY NIGHT (9PM) BETTING WAS SUSPENDED

Verdict

The Titans will have their work cut out for them here. While they have a fairly strong forward pack, they will struggle with the direction of their play. This is especially important when you consider the link between their forwards and their backs. On the other hand, you have a Sharks side that is brimming with confidence and has establish halves. Their forward pack possess a lot of power and they can dominate the Titans with their intensity, especially when it is maintained by strong players coming off the bench. The Sharks are not renowned for scoring a lot of points, but they will be able to hold the Titans to a few. Expect a low scoring contest and a margin of 1-12 for the Sharks.

Suggested Bet
See the top of the preview. Sorry folks, but I cannot make comment on this game with any confidence.

Newcastle Knights v Wests Tigers

The first Monday Night Football game of the season has the attention of the rugby league nation focuses towards the Hunter region. The Newcastle Knights look to improve on their 2012 season, their second under the guidance of Wayne Bennett, against a Tigers team that is looking to do the same. Newcastle has a lot of pressure riding on them but do have various factors working in their favor. Bennett now has a second offseason with his squad and he was able to recruit more players to the club that fit into his footballing “mold”. All things considered, the club seems to be moving in a very positive direction. The only noticeable problem facing the Knights is the financial difficulties related to club owner Nathan Tinkler. But those problems seem to have been put to rest…for the time being anyway. For the Tigers, they will have similar aspirations to the Knights but may find it far more difficult. Since 2012 concluded for them, they have sacked coach Tim Sheens and hired Mick Potter. They missed the finals in 2012, so it was no surprise to see the coach position vacated. In hiring Potter, they bring a new mind to the club and perhaps a change in culture. The problem that they face now, is adapting to the style of football that he wants to install into them. It could be a good thing for the Tigers to adapt to this as in the past, they have not been criticised for playing unpredictable and inconsistent football. This was their trademark and at times, worked well when they were winning. But when they were playing poorly, they could be terrible. The key player’s within the squad need to stand up and take charge of this side. It will be difficult for them with no real depth to their forwards. Like majority of the previews given for Round 1, only time will tell. Let’s just hope the standard of MNF games reaches the same heights that we have seen in the seasons gone by.

Newcastle Knights

After an offseason of strong recruiting, Wayne Bennett is getting closer to the side that he wants on the park. He has a very strong squad to work with and it is evident in the line up that he has named. New recruits Beau Scott and Jeremy Smith, both of whom were members of the Dragons 2010 Premiership side that Bennett coached, are named to start the match in the back row. It is obvious why he went so hard after these guys, he knows they can do a job for him and they will do whatever he says to achieve their goals. Melbourne Storm recruit Anthony Quinn has been named in the centres and there is the obvious omission of Timahna Tahu from the squad. They have strong potential in the backs and the halves of Kurt Gidley (halfback) and Jarrod Mullen (5/8) will ensure that they get the ball in space. A key selection in the forwards was Travis Waddell at hooker in place of Danny Buderus. Buderus is out of the first few weeks of the competition with injury but Waddell is more than capable of doing the job after being another player that switched during the offseason to play under Bennett. With Tyrone Roberts named on the bench, Waddell may get a rest at some point and Gidley will probably move their to cover him as Roberts is likely to play in the halves. The Knights will also look to their bench throughout the match to provide a burst of energy. They are equipped to do this with an extended bench named that includes New Zealander David Fa’alogo and the strength is in the final side as he could even be the players that misses selection altogether.

Wests Tigers

While the Tigers have named a strong starting side to begin the season, the key to their success may be how well they gel together. Unless they’re all on the same page together out there, there could be trouble. Tim Moltzen has been named to start the match at fullback while Jacob Miller with start the game at halfback. Moltzen’s role at the Tigers has been very confusing to say the least, but with Miller reportedly playing well in the halves, he is able to go back to his customary position. Exciting youngster Marika Koroibete is named on the wing and people should take note of this guys talent. There is only one surprise in the selection of the forward pack and that is the naming of the unknown Jack Buchanan to start at prop ahead of other “known” candidates, including Aaron Woods. Woods was said to be suffering from an injury but he is named as 19th man for this game. Joel Reddy is also named on the extended bench but should be the other player that misses out. There is a suggestion at this stage that he has been named to cover for one of the centres that may be under an injury cloud. The Tigers will have a good bench to call upon when needed but it will be key to how they start the match to how it matters later on in the game. The bench includes new recruits Eddy Pettybourne and Bodene Thompson, who are sure to make a statement in their first game wearing Tigers colours.

Recent History

Last 5 games = Knights 1 Tigers 4

Odds
TAB Sportsbet = Knights $1.47 Tigers $2.75
Centrebet = Knights $1.46 Tigers $2.75
Sportsbet = Knights $1.50 Tigers $2.80
Betfair = Knights $1.45 Tigers $2.90

Verdict

The Knights look like they are really beginning to fit into a “Bennett” mold and structure. They have the players within their side that will allow them to wear down their opponents through some very tough defence and scoring points when it matters. No doubt there will be parallels drawn between the Knights and the Dragons side of 2009-11, both of whom were under Bennetts guidance. On the other hand you have a Tigers side that does not have the strength and depth within their forwards to match it with the Knights. A lot of pressure will eventually fall on the shoulders of Benji Marshall and Robbie Farrah. Farra has nothing to prove after a great 2012 but Marshalls’ recent form seems to be on a decline. Expect the Knights to ground out a win over the Tigers, but not by a flattering margin.

Suggested bet
Knights @ $1.50

More valued margin = Knights 1-12 @ $2.85 – The Knights will have a defensive focus in this game and their attack will struggle to come together at times. They will ground out a win over the Tigers but not through a large margin.

Good guy Gagai = Dane Gagai First Try @ $13 – Which every centre he lines up against, Gagai will make sure that they have a tough night ahead of them. Since being cast away from the Broncos, he has looked impressive. He generally does play on the left hand side and one thing you know about Bennett-coached teams is that they love to attack on that side of the field.

Good luck!
Scooby

Author

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Scooby

Hey guys, i'm Scooby! I have followed Rugby League since I was young enough to watch it and growing up in Sydney, it was inevitable. I will always make it my business to watch all 8 NRL fixtures per week and follow it with more than just passion. During my playing career, I have played at several representative levels, with and against current players. I began writing previews on NRL games early on in 2012 and really found a passion within this. I enjoy listening to various people and their opinions on the game, and then forming my own. Coupled together with another passion, gambling, I soon learnt that there was a market out there for more than the rugby league diehards. Hopefully I can pass on my knowledge of the game to help you win some cash.

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