The NRL action returned with a bang in Round 1 last weekend and things step up a notch with eight big games in Round 2.
Rivals the Dragons and Rabbitohs get things underway on Thursday night, and the Broncos and Cowboys will clash in a Queensland derby.
We preview each of the games below:
St George Illawarra Dragons v South Sydney Rabbitohs
Thursday, March 21
After making an enormous statement of intent with their opening round win over minor premiers the Roosters, can South Sydney back it up with another dispatch of a rival team in the shape of St George Illawarra on Thursday night to launch Round 2 action? Souths were extremely impressive in their first match under the tutelage of Wayne Bennett, overcoming tricky and wet conditions to produce some free-flowing football in their 26-16 victory over the Roosters. Alex Johnston was electric at fullback as he recaptured some of his best form, while Adam Reynolds’ kicking game consistently put the Roosters on the back foot. If the Rabbitohs’ forwards, led by Sam Burgess, can dominate through the middle of the park again, then that will go a long way to securing another two points, because the Dragons are already depleted in that area after just one round. Jack de Belin is still missing as he fights off-field drama in court, while Tyson Frizell is out injured for the next month – that’s two NSW Origin forwards unavailable, while Korbin Sims is still suspended from an incident from last season. The Dragons were absolutely torn apart by the big Cowboys forwards as they went down 24-12 in Townsville last week – and they are in danger of losing the forward battle again on Thursday night. It was a disjointed performance from the Dragons – as mentioned, they couldn’t get over the advantage line in the middle of the field, while the Gareth Widdop move to fullback didn’t pay immediate dividends. Souths have won three of their last four meetings, including the last two, and judging by the respective performances of both sides in Round 1, I think they will emerge victorious again. The Rabbitohs will be too strong in the forwards and their outside backs were impressive last week. If last week was anything to go by, the Dragons could be in for a tough start to 2019…
Prediction: Souths win ($1.57 TopBetta)
Canberra Raiders v Melbourne Storm
Friday, March 22
Both the Raiders and Storm started the season with a bang last week, but who will make it two wins from two to launch 2019 in the nation’s capital on Friday night? These two sides played out a gripping preliminary final showdown back in 2016, but while the Storm prevailed and kicked on as they normally do after that, the Raiders faded back into relative obscurity, missing out on a finals spot the last two seasons. On their day, Canberra can match it with any side in the competition, but their defence and general discipline consistently let them down, while they also lost countless matches by a margin of six points or less. Attack has never been an issue for the Raiders, but defence has been – and that’s why Ricky Stuart has come out and revealed his side have been working almost solely on the latter this past off-season. It showed during the opening round last week, with Canberra holding the Titans out for the entire 80 minutes as they registered a 21-0 victory. Can they reproduce that effort on Friday night?Obviously Melbourne are an entirely different proposition, but they will fancy themselves. As they’ve done every season since Craig Bellamy took over at the helm, the Storm emerged triumphant in the opening round, gliding past the Broncos by a 22-12 scoreline. It wasn’t the most polished of performances, especially as Brisbane threatened to claw their way back into the contest in the second half, but a runaway try to Jesse Bromwich with 12 minutes to go ultimately sealed the game. Bellamy always has his teams prepared for the opening round, and while they weren’t operating as a slick and well-oiled machine, it was more than enough to get the job done. However, I can the Storm can expect a much tougher battle in Canberra on Friday night. Since 2014, the sides are split at two wins apiece at the venue, with all of the margins relatively tight. With the Raiders’ new look defence, I think this will be a low-scoring game – and whoever’s defence holds firm will come away with the win.
Prediction: Raiders win ($2.28 TopBetta)
Brisbane Broncos v North Queensland Cowboys
Friday, March 22
Brisbane and North Queensland are set for another tight tussle as the two teams battle for early season bragging rights on Friday nights. The last 10 games between these teams have been decided by a 1-12 margin, including a series of three straight one-point thrillers, including the 2015 NRL Grand Final, where a Johnathan Thurston field goal landed the Cowboys their maiden premiership. Thurston of course called time on his legendary career at the end of last season, but Michael Morgan showed last week he is more than capable of slipping into his boots and piloting the Cowboys around the paddock. North Queensland were on of the stand-out teams in the opening round last week, conquering the Dragons 24-12, highlighted by a blistering performance by their forward pack – especially Jason Taumalolo – which in turn allowed Morgan the space and time he needed to create. Meanwhile, the Broncos weren’t too bad against the Storm down at AAMI Park last week, but they never really threatened to challenge for the win apart from a brief fightback midway though the second half. Anthony Seibold now faces a bit of pressure to avoid a two-match losing run to open the season against a Cowboys side that is soaring in confidence after just one game. The main issue for the Broncos against Melbourne was their lack of structure in the halves – both Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima are instinct players, and while that can be a good thing, playing them both at the same time in the halves is still very much a work in progress. I think this will be another very close game, but with the way North Queensland won the forward battle last week – and how Morgan performed on the back of that – I’ve got to give the Cowboys the edge. Paul Green’s team arguably has the best forward pack in the game, and if Morgan reproduces his quality from last week, he should be able to guide the Cowboys over the line.
Prediction: Cowboys win ($2.38 TopBetta)
Cronulla Sharks v Gold Coast Titans
Saturday, March 23
After suffering first round defeats last week, which of the Sharks and Titans will bounce back and register their first victory for 2019 on Saturday? Cronulla weren’t too far off the pace in going down 14-8 away to the Knights, but they did lack some cohesiveness in the halves, with Shaun Johnson still getting used to the different style of football the Sharks play. However, with former Warriors teammate Chad Townsend in the halves, it shouldn’t take long before Johnson is terrorising opposition defence in a Sharks jersey. He should be relishing a chance to face an injury-hit Titans outfit, who leaked 21 points without reply in their opening round loss to the Raiders at home last week. Gold Coast lost their halves pairing of Tyrone Roberts and Ash Taylor to injury during the game and it showed, with the team failing to conjure up anything in attack. Ryley Jacks and AJ Brimson are the men who will replace them in the halves for Saturday’s encounter with the Sharks, while Anthony Don comes onto the wing in place of Phillip Sami, who reverts to the bench. Gold Coast actually have a great recent record against the Sharks, winning three of their last four meetings, but I don’t see any way they can beat Cronulla on Saturday. They are already depleted and it’s tough to see where the points will come from. The Sharks are still a work in progress, but they should have enough firepower to get the job done.
Prediction: Sharks win ($1.36 TopBetta)
Newcastle Knights v Penrith Panthers
Saturday, March 23
After their prized scalp of the Sharks last week, can the Knights start the season with consecutive wins on their own turf when they square off against the Panthers on Saturday? It wasn’t the cleanest of performances by any means, but the Knights showed they can dig deep and scrap out a win as they conquered Cronulla by a 14-8 scoreline. Cronulla had just beaten them convincingly in a trial match a couple of weeks prior, so it was a nice response from Nathan Brown’s side. David Klemmer was especially impressive in his debut for Newcastle, running for 218m off 20 hit-ups and racking up 33 tackles – if he can produce those numbers again, it will allow halves Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga to work their magic. Penrith meanwhile were determined to let their on-field work do the talking after a nightmare off-season, but they were disjointed and all over the place as they were defeated 20-12 by rivals Parramatta. The Panthers got off to a slow start last season and they will want to avoid playing catch-up again in 2019 as they set their sights on a top four spot. The battle of the halves is the most intriguing sub-plot of this clash, with NSW incumbents James Maloney and Nathan Cleary coming up against current Queensland rising star Ponga and former Blues half Pearce. Cleary and Ponga in particular is a rivalry that could dominate inside the NRL and Origin arena for the next decade. Penrith have won three of their last four games between the teams, but Newcastle prevailed 20-12 in their last clash in Round 23 in 2018. This Newcastle team is much improved from years gone by, and after the respective displays from both sides in Round 1, I think they’re favourites for this one. The Panthers were far from their best and struggled for any kind of rhythm, while the Knights impressed while also knowing they have another gear to go to. At home, I’m backing another Newcastle win on Saturday.
Prediction: Knights win ($1.70 TopBetta)
Manly Sea Eagles v Sydney Roosters
Saturday, March 23
After producing a lacklustre opening round display against the Rabbitohs last week, the Roosters will be determined for a much better showing as they face the struggling Sea Eagles on Saturday. Slated to become the first team since 1992/92 to win back-to-back premierships, the Roosters failed to get off to a winning start in terrible conditions last week at the SCG, falling to the Rabbitohs by a 26-16 scoreline. It’s not like the effort wasn’t there for the Roosters, but they were just slow out of the blocks and simply couldn’t go with Souths when they put the foot down on the accelerator. They will be hoping for a better start at Lottoland against a Sea Eagles side who – after one game – don’t look any better than last season. Manly barely offered anything in a 20-6 defeat to the Tigers last week and will have to raise their level significantly to hang with the Roosters. Former premiership-winning coach Des Hasler was brought in to provide some spark and grit at Manly, but it appeared the game had left him behind during his final season at the Bulldogs – and last week’s loss against the Tigers didn’t do him any favours. Manly have won three of their last five against the Roosters, but the Bondi has prevailed in their last two, including putting 50 points on them in their last clash in Round 19 in 2018. I don’t expect the Roosters to be firing on all cylinders this early in the season, but they should bounce back emphatically and move past the Sea Eagles with ease.
Prediction: Roosters win ($1.30 TopBetta)
Canterbury Bulldogs v Parramatta Eels
Sunday, March 24
After finishing last season with the dreaded wooden spoon, the Eels have a great chance to register their second win on the bounce to launch 2019 when they meet bitter rivals the Bulldogs on Sunday. Parramatta fans haven’t had much to cheer about over the last few decades really, but they were up on their feet for the opening round last week as their team conquered Penrith by a 20-12 scoreline in the battle of the west. It was a big win for the Eels, who desperately need to get off to a good start in order to fuel some confidence. However, they do have some players missing for this clash, with Michael Jennings suspended and Nathan Brown injured, while Will Smith is also out. While the Eels impressed last week, Canterbury were diabolical, leaking 40 points against the Warriors in another lacklustre performance. The biggest criticism of the Bulldogs over the last few years has been their attack and creativity in the final third – and after one game, it doesn’t look like much has changed during the off-season. Lachlan Lewis looked to have all the time in the world last season, but the rookie halfback appeared rushed against the Warriors. If the Bulldogs are to have any success this year, Lewis will need to step up and avoid second year syndrome. Parramatta have had the wood over Canterbury in recent seasons, winning five of their last six encounters. Considering how both teams performed last week, you’ve got to go with the Eels again. Canterbury simply don’t threaten in attack, and if their defence is as poor as it was against the Warriors, they won’t be winning many games this season.
Prediction: Eels win ($1.80 TopBetta)
Wests Tigers v New Zealand Warriors
Sunday, March 24
Following impressive opening round victories last week, who will make it two wins from two as the Tigers and Warriors square off on Sunday night? The Tigers produced a clinical display to take out the Sea Eagles, while the Warriors were ruthless as they put 40 points past a lacklustre Bulldogs side. These two teams are both guilty of failing to live up to expectation over the last few seasons, while they’ve also each struggled with consistency. The Tigers were in and around the top four for the first half of last season only to fade away badly, while the same could be more or less said about the Warriors, with the Kiwi club limping into the finals before being eliminated at the first time of asking. Both teams have proven they can start a season with a bang, but the big test for the Warriors and Tigers will come in the back-half of the year, when push comes to shove and other teams start stepping up when it really matters. However, for now, the Tigers and Warriors will be firmly focused on maintaining a 100 per cent record to start the season. The Tigers haven’t made any changes to their 17, while Isaiah Papali’i returns on the bench in place of Blake Ayshford for the Warriors. The Tigers have won four of the last five games between the teams, but the Warriors prevailed in their last clash in Round 9 of 2018. It’s a tough one to pick, but the Bulldogs really didn’t put up any kind of fight last week, and I think the Warriors might find this game a lot more challenging, especially in their first away clash of the campaign. I’m backing the Tigers home in a tight one.
Prediction: Tigers win ($1.75 TopBetta)