Punters should have had plenty of time to get a handle on the potential of teams before the 2020 NRL season officially kicks off with the clash between old rivals Parramatta and the Bulldogs. The Sydney Roosters looked good overpowering Super League champions St Helens to claim a second successive World Club Challenge final last month without retired halfback Cooper Cronk, Latrell Mitchell, who had defected to South Sydney and their inspirational captain Boyd Cordner. The Cowboys took out the NRL Nines in Perth and the All Stars clash was decided along with the annual Charity Shield between South Sydney and St George Illawarra along with a host of club trials. The Roosters will be looking to pluck a rare premiership Threepeat in 2020. But they’ll have to do without their on-field general Cronk and their strike centre Mitchell. Most bookmakers though, think they can pull it off. Two players who’ll go into 2020 under enormous pressure are Brisbane’s former captain Darius Boyd and South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett’s latest adopted problem child, Mitchell. Broncos coach Anthony Seibold faces more questions than Eddie McGuire on Who Wants to be a Millionaire this season, finding a new fullback *Jack Bird), working out what to do with Boyd, and breaking-in yet another set of halves. From all reports Boyd has put in a big off season and maybe he is fired up enough to prove many of his critics who rode him so hard last season, wrong. A lot of interest also centres on the return of former league star Valentine Holmes from his NFL experiment. His inclusion in Paul Green’s North Queensland Cowboys side gives them a lot of attacking potency in 2020. The Cows looked pretty sharp in winning the NRL Nines. Scott Drinkwater, who has got first crack at the No.6 job and flying youngster Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow shone brightly and along with Holmes gives fans an exciting team to usher in their new Queensland Country Bank Stadium. Throw in the games big entertainers Jason Taumalolo (Cowboys), Newcastle’s Kaylyn Ponga, James Tedesco (Roosters) arguably the world’s best player, Tom Trbojevic (Manly), Melbourne’s electrifying Josh Addo-Carr and game-breaker Cameron Minster along with Brisbane’s twin giants Payne Haas and David Fafita and rugby league fans are in for an exciting and highly entertaining 2020. A few rule changes will also add interest to the season including the introduction of a captain’s challenge and a new 20-40 kicking rule.
NRL Tipping – Thursday, March 12
Parramatta Eels v Canterbury Bulldogs
Venue: Bankwest Stadium | Start: 8:05pm
Parramatta Eels: Parramatta were last season’s big improvers finishing fifth after picking up the wooden spoon in 2018. I have got a good feeling about the Eels in 2020 and if Mitchell Moses starts the season well, he could grab the vacant NSW No.6 jumper and be a serious Dally M Player of the Year contender.. Parramatta have a lot of bases covered starting with Moses who led the try assists and kick metres last season. They have last season’s leading try scorer, Maiko Sivo, who is a huge threat to any opposition . Throw in quality new recruits Ryan Matterson and Reagan Campbell-Gillard in the pack along with the damaging Junior Paulo and defensive specialist Reed Mahoney, who led all tacklers last year with more 1200, and the Eels have a real finals look about them. Their biggest injury concern is centre Waqa Blake but he has been cleared to play following off-season surgery. Parramatta look to have plenty of points in them and with a likely capacity crown for game one at home they should produce some entertaining attacking football.
Canterbury Bulldogs: The Bulldogs’ season has been rocked before a tackle has been made in anger with it’s best forward Corey Harawira-Naera and winger Jayden Okunbor both stood down by the NRL for committing a serious breach of the club’s code of conduct during a trial game in Coffs Harbour last month. It has reportedly cost the club a $2 million sponsorship deal but does not involved any criminal charges. The Dogs will need to come out of the kennels a lot quicker that they did last season when their slow start may have cost them a spot in the finals. Defence will be the big buzz word for the Dogs who go into the game and the season missing star play-maker Kieran Foran still unavailable. A lot rests on the young shoulders of Lachlan Lewis and his kicking game but he showed at times last season he is well up to the grade and can also get his hands dirty in defence. On the injury front the Bulldogs have had a strong of good reports with Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Christian Chrichton and Nick Meaney, who all sat out the Dog’s final trial cleared to play in round one. Watene-Zelezniak is a huge factor for the Dogs, carrying the ball back into the teeth of the defence and getting their attack moving from deep in their own half. Veteran Aidan Tolman and hulking representative prop Dylan Napa give the Dogs plenty of go-forward for their halves to work off.
Head to Head: Parramatta Eels
Win Margin: Parramatta 13+
Line: Parramatta -10.5
Total Points: Under 38.5
NRL Tipping – Friday, March 13
Canberra Raiders v Gold Coast Titans
Venue: GIO Stadium | Start: 6:00 PM
Canberra Raiders: Last year’s beaten grand finalists have a near-full strength line-up with the exception of their class English back-rower John Bateman who unfortunately had to undergo shoulder surgery last months and has penciled in a round eight comeback. I really like the aggressive young redhead Corey Horsburgh who will hold nothing back. The kid is tough and aggressive. His idol growing up was Gorden Tallis and he plays a little like the Raging Bull in his approach. No matter how you look at this game you keep coming back to Canberra with hooker Josh Hodgson controlling the middle and directing big Josh Papalli through the middle. Ex-Storm centre Curtis Scott has been cleared to make his debut for the Raiders and looks a good fit in the Green Machine’s attack.Jack Whighton will have to be closed down or the Titans could be in for a tough night.
Gold Coast Titans: Nothing but good reports out of the Gold Coast during the pre-season after a forgettable 2019 season from the Titans. Getting Mal Meninga to the trouble club was a great move by the Titans board and you can expect them to go better in 2020 although they still will battle to make the finals. All eyes will be on their young halfback Ash Taylor who battled some personal issues last season and played less than half the season. He has been training very well and hopefully the time of has helped him and he can play the brand of football that had him on the Origin mix for the No.7 a few years. Former Warriors star Sam Lisone will start up front with Jarrod Wallace. English recruit Kallum Watkins will debut in the centre while experienced campaigners Anthony Don and Dale Copley have won the wings spots. Crafty utility Tyrone Peachey will again be the Titan’s go-to-man.
Head to Head: Canberra Raiders
Win Margin: Canberra Raiders 13+
Line: Canberra -9.5
Total Points: Under 44.5 pts
Nth Queensland Cowboys v Brisbane Broncos
Venue: North Queensland Stadium | Start: 7:05 PM
North Queensland Cowboys: A brand spanking new Stadium for the Cowboys will ensure it is a huge night for North Queensland fans. To christen their new ground against their fiercest NRL rivals, Brisbane, will be a classic blockbuster with both clubs always saving something special and bizarre when they clash. A lot of their battles have come down to one point like their 2015 grand final classic and their first round clash in 2016. Paul Green has a terrifically talented squad, especially with the addition of dynamic attacking fullback Valentine Holmes back from his NFL sojourn. Those who thought the Cowboys would struggle without hero Johnathan Thurston, think again. Jason Taumalolo, a fitter, more mobile looking Cohen Hess and the seemingly indestructible Gavin Cooper provide the glue for a tremendous looking attacking unit with skipper Michael Morgan and new young gun Scott Drinkwater call the shots.
Brisbane Broncos: Shattering news for Brisbane fullback Jack Bird who season is over before it started, again. Bird was left devastated after tearing his ACL in an innocuous training drill on Wednesday morning. It’s the same knee which gave way on Bird in round 9 last year. Jamayne Isaako is likely to start at fullback. Despie the the Broncos could still provide the first upset the 2020 season and gatecrash the Cowboys big opening night party at their new home venue North Queensland Stadium. Unfortunately newly appointed captain Alex Glen has been ruled out through injury handing Jamil Hopoate his debut off the bench. The key for Brisbane will be how well new halves Brodie Croft and Anthony MIlford gel in their game together along with new fullback Jack Bird. It is virtual a new spine for the Broncos with Jake Turpin beating Andrew McCullough (bench) to the starting hooker role. Brisbane have a very powerful young forward pack led by twin-boulders Payne Haas and David Fafita with intimidating back-up from two other young giants Thomas Flegler and Tavita Pangai-Junior. If they can get over the Cowboys pack then Brisbane will be a chance of being party-poopers.
Head to Head: Brisbane Broncos
Win Margin: Brisbane Broncos 1-12
Line: Brisbane Broncos +2.5
Total Points: Under 38.5
NRL Tipping – Saturday, March 14
Newcastle Knights v NZ Warriors
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium | Start: 3:00 PM
Newcastle Knights: 2019 disappointments and with only a few new additions face another tough season looms for the Knights. Still, they are always hard to beat and home and their Kiwi rivals are not known for their consistency, although they can surprise at times. Former Bronco Gehamat Shibasaki makes his debut in the centres for the Knights alongside another off-season pick-up Enari Tuala formerly from the Cowboys. Any side that has Kalyn Ponga on their team list has to be taken seriously and his “battle” with Warriors skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will be a feature of this clash.
New Zealand Warriors: They get me every year and every year they get up to the same old tricks of throwing away games under pressure. They win one and look like champions then collapse and look like B-graders so you have to ask yourself, “why will 2020 be any different”? Then you look at their roster and get tempted into tipping them. I think they can win this game but my confidence levels are shot from so many previous disasters. Interesting to see young Chanel Harris-Tavita has been preferred at No.6 to Kodi Nikorima for the opening game of the season. The kid is definitely talented. Seasoned campaigner Blake Green and Harris Tavita could potentially be a good pairing and with the finishing skills of Tuivasa-Sheck, Ken Maumalo and David Fusitua I would not be writing the Warriors off. This is a make or break year for Warriors coach Stephen Kearney who really needs to get his players to step up the NRL level every week.
Head to Head: Newcastle Knights
Win Margin: Newcastle Knights 1-12
Line: Warriors +6.5
Total Points: Under 43.5
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Cronulla Sharks
Venue: ANZ Stadium | Start: 5:30 PM
South Sydney Rabbitohs: With the addition of potential superstar Latrell Mitchell, South Sydney would have high expectations of a top four finish this season even without the likes of Sam Burgess and clubman Johnny Sutton. Mitchell will get his chance to finally play at fullback and he could prove a sensation with some time to sum up the opposition and pick his moments. Coach Wayne Bennett has dropped Alex Johnston to his bench as a strike weapon and the move could pay big dividends late in each half. Ethan Lowe has been cleared of a knee injury and is good to go which is great news for the Rabbits who’ll need to go the full 80 minutes against the Sharks, a team which like to get their rivals into the grind.
Cronulla Sharks: Cronulla begin life without Paul Gallen and battling several injuries to their speed men. One the though you can bank on with the Sharks is they will keep coming at you. Their cause however is not helped by knee injuries to Matt Moylan, a key organiser, and Josh Dugan. The match-up of Chad Townsend and Shaun Johnson in the halves against proud new Rabbits skipper Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker will play a big factor in the result.
Head to Head: South Sydney
Win Margin: South Sydney 1-12
Line: South Sydney -4.5
Total Points: Under 42.5pts
Penrith Panthers v Sydney Roosters
Venue: Panthers Stadium | Start: 7:35 PM
Penrith Panthers: This is close to the clash of the round for mine with Penrith getting first crack at last year’s premiers. A new face at fullback with Caleb Aekins filling in for the injured Dylan Edwards still being troubled by an ankle injury. Penrith looked good in a few trial outings. They will rely heavily on man-mountain Villiame Kikau to muscle up against the Roosters pack and to their classy halfback Nathan Cleary to work a bit of his magic in the middle and find some openings in the Rooster’s stoic defence. Cleary’s kicking game will also be crucial in securing repeat sets and also getting the Panthers out of their danger zone against the Roosters.
Sydney Roosters: Warmed up for their tilt at a rare NRL premiership hat-trick with a bruising win over St Helens in England last month to retain their WCC title convincingly. Will started to season without their skipper Boyd Cordner (calf) but they have good back-ups, Young Kyle Flanagan steps into Cooper Cronk’s boots but he showed enough against St Helens deliver a few nice passes for tries, to suggest he can handle the difficult with some more time to work in with his teammates including the brilliant James Tedesco who has recently inked a lifetime deal with the Roosters worth millions. Interesting move deploying utility Angus Crichton to the centres for the departed Latrell Mitchell but he is a natural footy player and will handle the job with ease.
Head to Head: Sydney Roosters
Win Margin: Sydney Roosters 1-12
Line: Penrith +6.5
Total Points: Over 40.5
NRL Tipping – Sunday, March 15
Manly Sea Eagles v Melbourne Storm
Venue: Lottoland | Start: 4:05 PM
Manly Sea Eagles: The one certainty at Brookvale Oval on Sunday is that Des Hasler will have some surprises for arch rivals Melbourne Storm who are generally quick out of the boxes. The Storm will be well advised to remember being ambushed by Manly last year and will be hoping lightning does not strike twice. With the Trbojevic brothers Tom and Jake both on deck and Daly Daly Cherry–Evans back in the drivers seat looking to cement his Queensland No.7 jumper, the Sea Eagles are a team many punters expect to be in the top eight and possible top 4. Addin Fonua-Black and Martin Taupau provide much of Manly’s go forward along with Jake Trbojevic and their back-line is packed with power Jorge and Moses Suli good finishers. But the money-man as usual will be “Turbo” Tom Trbojevic who is rarin’ to go after being sideline late last season with a bad pec injury.
Melbourne Storm: Coach Craig Bellamy as always has been meticulous in preparing his players to go one better than last year’s semi finals and that means starting 2020 with a bang. Cameron Smith is going around again, defying his age. He is showing no signs of slowly down at age 36 and the only player in the game’s history to log up over 400 NRL games. Melbourne have a back-line bristling with speed from fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen through to halfback Jahrome Hughes. Cameron Munster looms as the danger man for Manly along with Papenhuyzen Josh Ado-Carr. Given and equal share of the ball they will fully test Manly’s defence over 80 minutes.
Head to Head: Melbourne Storm
Win Margin: Melbourne Storm 1-12
Line: Melbourne -2.5
Total Points: Under 46.5
St George Dragons v Wests Tigers
Venue: WIN Stadium | Start: 6:15 PM
St. George Dragons: Sadly for fans the Dragons haven’t been breathing much fire lately limping into second last sport last year and putting good guy coach Paul McGregor under a lot of pressure. There’s nothing wrong with the Dragon’s forward rotation with James Graham, Trent Merrin, big Paul Vaughan, Tyson Frizell and Tariq Sims which is impressive on paper even without Jack de Belin who is still to come into the mix. That’s a great base for any team to work from. With quality halves Ben Hunt and Corey Norman, who should be an even better pairing this season, steering them around the paddock, they just need a few of their unheralded backs to step and surprise a few people.
Wests Tigers: Just missed the top eight last year so they should be there abouts again with a similar line-up. Adam Doueihi looks a nice addition to the centres while Corey Thompson is the first choice fullback, While one familiar name, Robbie Farah is missing from the starting line-up,, another is back up in lights with Benji Marshall backing himself to get another season out of his body. The Tigers need Benji to fire and if he does they will rack up a few wins for sure. I like the selection of young Billy Walters at hooker. He is quick, can create and his defence in the middle has looked solid. There is nothing over flash about the Tigers but they will have a crack.
Head to Head: St George Illawarra
Win Margin: St George Illawarra 1-12
Line: St George Illawarra -1.5
Total Points: Under 40.5