After five months of arduous torture, the footy is back and so are NRL Predictions! For me it could not come soon enough. I was sick of cricket after the South Africa test series ended and soccer just doesn’t do it for me. I need something a bit more violent, a bit more confrontational and a bit more brutal. For those who aren’t friends with me on Facebook, for every round I had a lock and upset of the week. I won’t provide number, but let’s just say that I wasn’t that successful. Anyway, I’ll give it another crack this year. Anyway, here are my thoughts and tips for round 1.
SYDNEY ROOSTERS V SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS
Tip: Roosters (UPSET OF THE WEEK). Yes, I am tipping against the side that I predicted to win the premiership only days ago. I still think Souths will win it all, but the NRL season is a marathon, not a sprint and I think the Roosters will be the better team on this night. I really like the look of the Roosters line up, especially the bench. The South Sydney team does also look strong, but I really like the look of the Roosters. The key in this game will be the start. The Roosters will aim to keep it close in the first 20 minutes (which I think they will), before injecting the likes of SBW, O’Donnell and Martin Kennedy into the game. Souths will inversely look to take the game away early. This is Minichiello’s first game as permanent skipper of the Bondi boys, so expect them to put in a huge effort. One last thought: the sight of a nearly packed SFS will provide the ultimate atmosphere to the opening game.
BRISBANE BRONCOS V MANLY SEA EAGLES
Tip: Broncos. I think this is one of the easier games to pick this week. Of course, this will probably mean that Manly will win. The reason I’ve tipped Brisbane is because the losses of Glenn Stewart and Jason King will be too much for the Sea Eagles to overcome. Brisbane will just be too strong in the forwards. Both backlines are classy, with a potentially salivating Lyon-Hodges matchup in the centres. The match-up in the halves will also be an interesting battle with Foran and Cherry-Evans up against Wallace and Prince. All four have played big games and will be up for this challenge. Brisbane also has the stronger bench, especially as Queensland prop Ben Hannant and workhorse David Stagg will be starting on the sideline.
PARRAMATTA EELS V NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS
Tip: Eels. I believe the 2012 wooden spooners will break their duck in week 1. If not for a Jarryd Hayne injury, Parra should have beaten the Warriors in the corresponding game last year. In fact, the class of Hayne will be the difference here. On a side note, I wish he could grow ridiculously long arms and call himself the Hayne Crane. Anyway, as for the Warriors, they have the better team on paper. The backline is electric, aside from Thomas Leuluai who has only impressed in the English Super League, which is at least a level below the NRL. The forward pack is really strong and the bench is solid. I just think Parra will win this one, on the back of Hayne and Chris Sandow, who will be looking to bounce back from a poor 2012.
CANTERBURY BULLDOGS V NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS
Tip: Cowboys. To put it simply, the Cowboys will win because Ben Barba will not be in the Bulldogs’ number 1 jersey. Interestingly, the Cowboys have gone with Ray Thompson at half back despite starting Robert Lui for most of the pre-season. They have also started Pom Scott Moore at hooker, which is another interesting move. We shall see how these selections pan out. As for the Dogs, it is still a strong team, especially with the inclusion of Tony Williams in the back row. Drury Low gets a chance on the wing, while Steve Turner has a shot at fullback. They will also miss props Kasiano and Graham. Lastly, the game is not in Sydney, which bodes well for the Cowboys.
PENRITH PANTHERS V CANBERRA RAIDERS
Tip: Raiders. Not a very confident pick here, especially as the Raiders are without Dugan and Croker. However, Reece Robinson looked very good in the All-Stars game and when he filled in at fullback last season. The Raiders forward pack is still very strong and their halves should be too classy. The Panthers have a strong starting forward pack, especially after the additions of Sika Manu and Lewis Brown. The starting front row battle will be one to watch as Grant and McKendry go up against Shillington and Tilse. Segeyaro will provide the most impact of any bench player and should have a big season. Penrith also have some good young outside backs in Whare and Mansour, but I’m not a believer in their halves. Luke Walsh will only ever be a solid halfback and Lachlan Coote is unproven in the halves.
MELBOURNE STORM V ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
Tip: Storm (LOCK OF THE WEEK). I can’t see how the Dragons can possibly win this game. The Storm have the big three all there and will be looking for a strong opening showing in their premiership defence. Back rower Tohu Harris makes his first grade debut for the Storm following an impressive showing the World Club Challenge. The Storm have added front row depth over the offseason, with purchases Junior Moors and Lagi Setu starting on the bench. Both should take pressure off Jesse Bromwich and Bryan Norrie. For the Dragons, Gerard Beale gets a shot at the fullback position. Beale showed glimpses for the Broncos and Dragons supporters will be looking for him to step up a level or two. Keep an eye on Mitch Rein, who is the best young hooker in the NRL, and Bronson Harrison. Harrison made impressive starts to his stints at the Tigers and in Canberra. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues while wearing the big red v.
CRONULLA SHARKS V GOLD COAST TITANS
Tip: Sharks. It will not surprise me to see the Titans get up here. I mentioned in my last article that Cronulla had the best bench in the league, but this week the Gold Coast has the better bench. I wasn’t expecting Dave Taylor and Luke Bailey to start from the bench but both should provide impact. Also, Albert Kelly will be looking for a piece of redemption against his former club. Bryce Gibbs is out for Cronulla, which is a huge blow. This means that Andrew Fifita gets a start and a chance to prove that he is more than an impact front rower. The Sharks’ back row is as impressive as it gets and their backline contains more attacking ability than Sharks teams of the past with the additions of Ryan and Gordon. However, the difference between the two teams will be Todd Carney. Even though he may not be at 100%, his class should be too much for the Titans.
NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS V WESTS TIGERS
Tip: Knights. Some people might be asking where the real Daniel Boss is, because surely he cannot tip against the Tigers. Yes, I will be up there in Newcastle to cheer on my beloved Tigers, but I’m heading up with the expectation of my roommate Will retaining the Cragie Cup and having bragging rights over yours truly for another year. This game will be closer than most people expect though. I am anticipating a tight game up to full time, but I just think the Knights will be too strong. They should win the game in the forward pack, especially as the Tigers will probably be without NSW front row contender Aaron Woods. Look for Willie Mason to have a huge game. Both backlines contain speed and class, despite question marks at halfback. For the Knights, the question is on Gidley’s ability to stay on the field and for the Tigers, it is on rookie Jacob Miller. One area where the Tigers have an advantage is on the bench, as Murdoch-Masila and Pettybourne will provide impact. This is an area where the Knights are lacking.