NRL Predictions: Round 1, 2014

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On Thursday, the 2014 NRL season kicks off, and so do Blindside Sport’s NRL Predictions. Rugby league writer Daniel Boss runs his eye over all of the games and also goes through who he has selected for his NRL Fantasy team.

The wait is almost over. Over the past five months, I have sweltered over the hot Canberra summer, travelled to Europe for the World Cup final, been best man for a wedding and seen Australia destroy England in the Ashes cricket series. While it has been an eventful summer for me, there has been a void in my life. Something has truly been missing, particularly on weekends and that thing is rugby league. Thursday night cannot come soon enough!

As I did last year, I will be choosing a lock and upset of the week for every round this season. Last season, my lock of the week was quite successful, as it was correct 23 times in the 26 rounds of the competition (88.5%). However, I will be looking to improve the success rate of the upset of the week, as I only correctly 7 times out of a possible 22 rounds where upsets occurred (31.8%). As last year, I will only be unsuccessful in the upset of the week if my prediction loses and there is an upset in another game in that round. If I tip all favourites, then I will also nominate an upset of the week and the same principle applies for this prediction, as for an upset of the week where I’ve tipped that team. I hope that makes sense.

Last year’s statistics

  • Lock of the week: 23/26
  • Upset of the week: 7/22*

* In 2013, there were no upsets in rounds 2, 6, 12 and 18.

South Sydney Rabbitohs v Sydney Roosters

Tip: Roosters (Lock of the week). I really like the Roosters to win this game. At the end of last season, they were playing at such a high level at the end of last season and showed in the World Club Challenge that they could reach those levels again this season. As for Souths, they couldn’t have asked for a worse pre-season with long-term injuries to Luke Keary and Tom Burgess. For this game, the new halves combination of Adam Reynolds and Dylan Walker are battling injuries to be able to take part in this game. As the Roosters are more settled in the key positions and at fullstrength, I believe that they will win by a strong margin. There were no shock selections in either squad, with Souths selecting two props and two back rowers on the bench, so expect Isaac Luke to play 80 minutes. The Roosters have chosen a hooker/utility, two back rowers and a prop on their bench, so expect Jake Friend to play just under 80 minutes and Frank-Paul Nuuausala to play prop at some stage during the game. For cover, Souths have also named utility back Joel Reddy and potential debutant back rower Kyle Turner as 18th and 19th men respectively. The Roosters have two potential debutants to provide cover with prop Kane Evans and hooker/utility Kurt Kara on the extended bench.

Canterbury Bulldogs v Brisbane Broncos

Tip: Bulldogs. Even without injured players Krisnan Inu, Tim Lafai, Sam Kasiano and Greg Eastwood, I think Canterbury will be too strong in this game. I don’t think that the Broncos will be able to match them, especially with new players in the halves and at fullback. Plus, the Broncos are without their biggest strike player, Justin Hodges. The main theme behind my selections this week is that I am tipping the sides with more continuity in the key positions, as fewer trials has resulted in less chances for combinations to develop. Canterbury have named Corey Thompson to make his debut on one wing, as well as Moses Mbye on an extended bench to provide cover in case Josh Reynolds is unable to overcome his injury to play. Canterbury have two props and two back rowers on the bench, so Michael Ennis should play 80 minutes, as he usually does. Brisbane has named Corey Parker to start at prop, which is very unsettling for fantasy owners as we are unsure if he will play 80 minutes. The Broncos have named three props on the bench (four including 18th man David Hala), which suggests that Parker may move back to the back row during the game, even though they are carrying a back rower (Todd Lowrie) on the bench as well.  This also means that Andrew McCullough should play 80 minutes at hooker. The big selection news for the Broncos is that Josh Hoffman is named at five eight and Ben Barba is named at fullback. Expect these two to swap roles at times during the game.

Penrith Panthers v Newcastle Knights

Tip: Knights (Upset of the week). Given Newcastle’s strong finish to last season, I am shocked to see them as outsiders for this game. I just think that the strong Knights backline is the key in this game. Yes, I did pick Penrith to finish higher than the Knights but I think that they will be more settled than Penrith and will win, even without Jarrod Mullen. The Knights have named Michael Dobson as Mullen’s replacement, however with the selection of Travis Waddell on the bench; the Knights still have the option of moving Kurt Gidley to the halves if needed. Alongside Waddell are two back rowers and one prop, which suggests that Robbie Rochow will play at prop at some point during the game, unless Newcastle use 18th man David Fa’alogo. For Penrith, Josh Mansour has seen off Kevin Naiqama to retain his wing position and Kevin Kingston has been named to start. With James Segeyaro on the bench, neither hooker will play 80 minutes. Also, the Panthers have named two props and a back rower on the bench, with another prop (Jeremy Latimore) named as the 18th man.

Manly Sea Eagles v Melbourne Storm

Tip: Sea Eagles. While Manly will be without players such as David Williams, Jorge Taufua and Jason King, Melbourne will be without Cooper Cronk. The loss of the Cronk will be too much for the Storm to overcome and I think Manly will win as a result. Plus, this game is at Brookvale and Manly are very hard to beat when playing at home. Manly have named Cheyse Blair and Peta Hiku on the wings for Williams and Taufua and Josh Starling is named to start at prop. On the bench, they have two props and two back rowers, who can cover other positions if needed. With Justin O’Neill out with injury, Mahe Fonua gets a start in the centres, while debutant (and local Melbourne product) Young Tonumaipea gets a start on one wing. Ben Hampton has won the battle for the five-eight position and he will be partnered by Ben Roberts in the halves. On the Melbourne bench, they have three props and one back rower, but they also have named a prop (Mitch Garbutt), a utility (Slade Griffin) and a hooker (Joel Romelo) as cover on a 7-man bench.

North Queensland Cowboys v Canberra Raiders

Tip: Cowboys. To put it simply, I think the Cowboys will be too strong in this game. Both sides have a new coach and both have new combinations in key positions but I think the Cowboys have a stronger team, especially with the injuries to the Raiders in the front row. Michael Morgan has been named at fullback for the Cowboys, following a strong trial performance. In the back row, Gavin Cooper, Jason Taumalolo and Joel Riethmuler are named to start. On the bench, the Cowboys have three players who have mainly played in the back row in Tariq Sims, Glenn Hall and Scott Bolton. I would expect at least two of these three to spend some time playing at prop. The other player on the bench, Rory Kostjasyn, is expected to spend some time at hooker to give Ray Thompson a spell on the sideline. The 18th and 19th men for the Cowboys are prop Ashton Sims and fullback Zac Santo. The big selection news for the Raiders is the naming of Terry Campese at halfback, Jack Wighton at five-eight and debutant Matt Allwood in the centres. This is a shock, given that Mitch Cornish looked like he would be starting the halves over most of the pre-season. With the injuries to props David Shillington and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, props Paul Vaughan and debutant Shannon Boyd have been named on the bench. The other bench players are Josh McCrone, who will be used at hooker, and back rower Jarrad Kennedy. Prop Mark Nicholls is named as the 18th man.

St George Illawarra Dragons v Wests Tigers

Tip: Tigers. This game is a real toss-up. The Dragons were very uninspiring in the Charity Shield, while the Tigers were also very uninspiring last season. With injuries to some of the main attacking players for both sides, I expect this game to be somewhat dull but it should be a tightly fought game. I am taking the Tigers for one reason and that is because they have Robbie Farah. This game is there for Farah to take over, as he is the best player on the field. For the Dragons, Adam Quinlan is named at fullback for the injured Josh Dugan, while Gerard Beale and Dylan Farrell have won the battle for the centre positions. Michael Witt has ousted Sam Williams for the halfback position, as the Dragons did look better in attack with Witt at number 7. Ben Creagh is named to start in the back row, despite finishing last season at prop. However, with a utility back (Kyle Stanley) and three back rowers (Bronson Harrison, Joel Thompson, Tyson Frizell) on the bench, I would expect Creagh and Trent Merrin to move up to prop during the game at some stage. That is unless prop Mike Cooper is added to the squad following his addition on the 5-man bench. For all you fantasy players, Mitch Rein should play 80 minutes in this game too. For the Tigers, Keith Lulia and Marika Koroibete are in the backine for the injured Tim Simona and David Nofoaluma. Braith Anasta has been named at five-eight, while Martin Taupau will start at prop for the injured Keith Galloway. Bodene Thompson is named to start in the back row and the Tigers have named two props (James Gavet and Ava Seumanufagai) and two back rowers (Cory Paterson and Sauaso Sue) on the interchange bench.

Parramatta Eels v New Zealand Warriors

Tip: Warriors. I give the Eels a big chance here. A lot is expected of the Warriors, who are travelling and showed in the Auckland Nines that they struggle when dealing with expectation. Parramatta have impressed in the trials but it will still be a big ask to overcome the Warriors on Sunday night. Will Hopoate returns to the NRL in this game in the centres, where he is partnered by Willie Tonga. Luke Kelly has been named at halfback ahead of Chris Sandow, which is a big decision. In the back row, debutant Manu Ma’u and Ken Edwards have earned starting positions. An interesting selection is the naming of Joseph Paulo on the bench. It is interesting, as I think that Paulo is one of the Eels’ best players. It remains to be seen if starting on the bench will increase his impact. Along with the utility Paulo, the Eels have named two props in Peni Terepo and Darcy Lussick, as well as a back rower Kelepi Tanginoa. This means that there are no hookers on the bench, which means that Nathan Peats should play 80 minutes in this game. For cover, the Eels have also named props David Gower and Mitch Allgood as 18th and 19th men respectively. For the Warriors, Carlos Tuimavave beat out Konrad Hurrell for a centre position, while Chad Townsend is named at five-eight. Debutant John Palavi is named to start at lock, with Feleti Mateo is named on the bench. This means that the Warriors have named two props (Jacob Lillyman and Suaia Matagi) and two back rowers (Mateo and Sione Lousi) on the bench, so expect Nathan Friend to play 80 minutes at hooker. The 18th man is utility back Jerome Ropati.

Cronulla Sharks v Gold Coast Titans

Tip: Sharks. Even with a new coach and injuries to their starting halfback and many of their back row players, I expect the Sharks to be too strong here. If the Titans had Jamal Idris in their side, then I would have considered the Titans more strongly but I just think that the Sharks have more points in them at home and at night. While the Titans backline has a lot of speed, it just lacks the size to be effective against the defensively strong Sharks. For the Sharks, Daniel Holdsworth will start at halfback for the injured Jeff Robson. Matt Prior will get a start in the second row, with injuries to Luke Lewis, Chris Heighington and Anthony Tupou. On the Sharks bench, there is a hooker (Isaac De Gois), two props (Sam Tagataese and Siosaia Vave) and a back rower (Tupou Sopoaga). Prop Tinirau Arona has been named as the 18th man. The Titans have named an unsurprising starting side, including the selection of Dave Taylor in the second row. The only possible surprise is the naming of Beau Falloon at hooker. This dents many fantasy players’ hopes regarding Paul Carter who was looking to play 80 minutes at hooker for the Gold Titans following injuries to Falloon and Matt Srama. Along with Carter on the bench are props Matthew White and Luke Bailey and back rower Mark Minichiello. The shock here is that Ryan James is named as the 18th man but he is unlikely to play due to injury. Also providing cover on an extended bench for the Titans are back rowers Brad Takairangi (who can cover in the centres as well) and Ben Ridge.

Fantasy team

These are the players that I have chosen for the first round of the Blindside Sport NRL fantasy competition. I will provide more analysis of this team in next week’s NRL podcast.

  • Hooker: Cameron Smith, Mitch Rein
  • Prop: Sam Burgess, Kade Snowden, Josh Starling, James Gavet
  • Back row: Paul Gallen, Shaun Fensom, Sonny Bill Williams, Nathan Peats, John Palavi, Manu Ma’u
  • Halves: Daly Cherry-Evans, James Maloney, Michael Dobson, Michael Witt
  • Centres: Dylan Walker, Jack Wighton, Adam Quinlan, Matt Allwood
  • Wing/fullbacks: Greg Inglis, Michael Gordon, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Dylan Farrell, Dale Copley
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