NRL ROUND ONE
Sharks v Broncos
Neither of these sides covered themselves in glory in the World Club Challenge with both suffering heavy defeats but they’ll be ready to hit the ground running here. Unlike last season the defending premier Sharks side will no longer be underestimated as teams are now well aware of what they’re capable of and where their strengths lie which isn’t necessarily a good thing for them.
The loss of Ennis, who was arguably their most influential player in 2016, is huge for the Sharks as his leadership and general guidance around the park will leave a big gap especially when you consider he’s being replaced by a young rookie in Jayden Brailey. It looks likely the Sharks will be without the dynamic Valentine Holmes for this opening clash too which the Broncos outside backs will be pleased about.
The Broncos have named a very strong side to take the field, there are a few questions that will be answered around their inexperienced bench but the talent pool is always rich in Bennett coached sides so they’ll no doubt be ready. The bookies have given the Broncos the slight favouritism and I’m leaning toward them covering the slim line as they have the stronger spine and experience across the park, not to mention they have a point to prove in 2017 after not quite living up to expectations in 2016 and will be desperate to start off with the win.
Rabbitohs v Tigers
The Rabbitohs looked impressive in the Charity Shield win over the Dragons and I’m backing them to fire this year after a disappointing 2016 season, the Tigers on the other hand will struggle to make the eight.
It seems the bookies still have their minds on the Rabbitohs poor 2016 as I’d anticipated them to be clearer favorites for this match. The Rabbitohs forward pack has a clear edge over the Tigers pack which is likely to be their weak point this season as their backline is stacked with talent but life’s always tougher when the forwards are being dominated. It’s a blow that Reynolds is out for this clash but the Walker/Kelly halves combination should go well for the Rabbitohs as they’re both capable and will enjoy a good ride off the back of a dominant forward pack here.
Robbie Farah will be absolutely primed for a huge match against the club he gave so much to and no doubt there’s still plenty of bitterness around how he was treated which will give him an extra spring in his step as he controls the ruck. I can see the Rabbitohs winning battles all across the field and comprehensively covering the relatively short line on offer. Pick – 4 units on Rabbitohs -3.5 or better point start (BEST BET)
Cowboys v Raiders
The Raiders exceeded expectations in 2016, mostly off the back of their monster forward pack but the role of Croker in the centres cannot be overstated either as his link play, intuition and kicking game saw their backline humming along nicely and his absence for this game (injury) will hit home hard for the Raiders.
If you took James Tamou out of any forward pack in the competition it would deal them a big blow but given the Cowboys depth of stars up front they’ll cope pretty well with his departure and will match, if not better the big Raiders pack here. As always when discussing the Cowboys it’s the brilliance of Thurston that is the big talking point and with Morgan continuing to get better and better each year they boast arguably the best halves pairing in the competition which is scary when you see the pack they’re behind.
The likely absence of Winterstein is a blow for the Cowboys but Javid Bowen (likely replacement) is an exciting young talent and he’ll slot in well, the damage for the Cowboys will be done in the halves and up front.
The Raiders didn’t appear to take their final pre-season fixture too seriously in naming an understrength side which got annihilated by the Knights so a lot of the combinations here could be rusty and against a rampant Cowboys side they’re going to regret the lack of better preparation. This will be a big win to the Cowboys in their Townsville fortress. Pick – 2 units on Cowboys to win by 13+ points
Warriors v Knights
To say the weight of expectation on the Warriors to perform this season is high would be a complete understatement – they simply must not just make the top eight but cement themselves firmly near the top of the table from the outset. With that in mind this match is where they need to make the statement, up against the favoured wooden-spooners in Auckland; with close to their best available side (Foran still to come in round three and Vatuvai out) there are absolutely no excuses for them not to put the Knights to the sword.
With the exception of a few older heads the Knights side named here is predominantly inexperienced and there is going to be a huge weight on the shoulders of Hodkinson to get things going on attack but he lacks any sort of game-breakers around him. I can’t see where the points are going to come from for the Knights in the face of (what we’re led to believe) will be a highly motivated and well organised Warriors defense.
Signs have been good pre-season that Isaac Luke has a renewed vigor for the game after an average 2016 season and with RTS in dynamic form at the back and Johnson sharp at halfback they have a spine that is simply not even on the same page as the Knights. I always approach Warriors games with extra caution but not even my pessimistic views on the club can stop me from backing them to win big here and cover the large line as they make an early statement. Pick – 3 units on Warriors -15.5 or better point start
WEEK RESULTS STAKES ROI BEST BET Grand Final
Week Three Finals
Week Two Finals
Week One Finals