Well round one tossed up a couple of minor surprises with the Brisbane Broncos spoiling North Queensland’s party in Townsville and the Penrith Panthers delivering a knockout punch late to upset the defending premiers Sydney Roosters. Melbourne against showed what a great side they are under Craig Bellamy and Cameron Smith coming from behind to win their 17th straight opening game of a season. They are such a professional outfit and Smith is still the coolest and calmest player in the game. The only talking point in rugby league or any sport is the damage the Coronavirus (Convid19) will have on the game and all sport in Australia. The virus not only kills people but has the potential to kill rugby league unless those in charge of the game rise to the challenge facing them. Round two if going ahead but after that, who knows.
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NRL Tipping – Thursday, March 19
Canterbury Bulldogs v Nth Queensland Cowboys
Venue: ANZ Stadium | Start: 8.05 PM
Canterbury Bulldogs – You could not question their commitment in their round one loss to the Eels and in fact they could have won the game with a bit more polish. Their defence was hard to fault and they conceded just one try in 80 to an Eels side which has plenty of points in it. Back at ANZ Stadium and bolstered by a strong performance against the Eels the Dogs will fancy their chances of upsetting the Cowboys who were a little flat against the Broncos. If the Cowboys allow the Dogs to get them into a grinding game this could be closer than many think.
Nth Queensland Cowboys – The Cowboys will be hurting after failing to deliver their fans an historic win at their new home Stadium but there were enough good signs to suggest they will improve considerably with that gallop under their belt. They feel down on ball control and execution and Brisbane’s big forwards opened them up in the middle which the Bulldogs will attempt to do. Valentine Holmes was rustier than a 50 year-old ship wreck and Michael Morgan was on and off at times, along with young No.6 Scott Drinkwater. The Cows get enforcer Josh McGuire back in the front-row which gives them more go forward. Look for a big game from Holmes.
Head to Head: Nth Queensland Cowboys
Win Margin: Nth Queensland Cowboys 1-12
Line: Nth Queensland Cowboys -4.5
Total Points: Under 38.5
St George Dragons v Penrith Panthers
Venue: Netstrata Jubilee Stadium | Start: 6:00 PM
St George Dragons – They had their chances against the Wests Tigers in round one but blew two great try-scoring opportunities in the closing stages which cost them two competition points. Still, they put on some good attack at times and they certainly have a strong enough forward pack to trouble many teams. Their forwards will need to be on their A-game against the Panthers who stormed home late to upset the Sydney Roosters in round one. Hooker Issac Luke looked dangerous at times last week but the Dragons really need James Graham, Tyson Frizell and Paul Vaughan to make their presence felt against a Panther’s pack with a lot of run of offloading.
Penrith Panthers – Gave the defending premiers a 12 point head start and ran them down in round one to support claims they will be a serious premiership threat in 2020. While it was giant Villame KIkau who smashed his way over the the match-winning try, the star of the show was young halfback Nathan Clearly who continues to not only grow his game but also his leadership and decision making. Their forwards worked well together against the Roosters with Issah Yeo making some telling runs and little Api Koroisau doing some work out of dummy half. On their strong first up win you would expect the Panthers to go 2-0.
Head to Head: Penrith Panthers
Win Margin: Penrith Panthers 13+
Line: Penrith Panthers -3.5
Total Points: Over 38.5
Brisbane Broncos v South Sydney Rabbitohs
Venue: Suncorp Stadium | Start: 7:05 PM
Brisbane Broncos – Brisbane’s big, young mobile forward pack laid the platform for their upset first round win over North Queensland with twin giants Payne Haas and David Fafita getting great support from Thomas Flegler, Patrick Carrigan and the aggressive Tavita Pangi-Junior who will miss the heavyweight clash after coping a four-game suspension last weekend. It is inevitable that Rabbits coach Wayne Bennett will take the spotlight at some stage heading back the Suncorp Stadium against his old club. Broncos coach Anthony Seibold came off second best against Bennett but he has learned a lot since. With a crowd shut-out Brisbane won’t have the backing of their army of loyal and noisy fans as they play to an empty house in one of the best stadiums in the country. Young halfback Brodie Croft looked at home in the No.7 and seemed to click well enough with playmaker Anthony Milford. This is a tough game to call.
South Sydney Rabbitohs – Stacked with talent the Rabbits also have a powerful engine room headed by Tom Burgess, Liam Knight and Tevita Tatola to go head-on with Brisbane’s juggernaut. They also have speed and strike where it counts with Latrell Mitchell at fullback and James Roberts and Dane Gagai all top class finishers. Bennett will enforce the importance of controlling the ball and completing their sets and dominating field position but that could be difficult with Brisbane’s pack so dominant against the Cowboys. Mitchell didn’t produce his best game his debut for the Rabbits at fullback but players like him rarely two weeks in a row without producing something special and Brisbane will have to watch him closely.
Head to Head: Brisbane Broncos
Win Margin: Brisbane Broncos 1-12
Line: Brisbane Broncos -1.5
Total Points: Over 42.5
NRL Tipping – Saturday, March 21
NZ Warriors v Canberra Raiders
Venue: Cbus Suoer Stadium, Gold Coast | Start: 3:00 PM
Warriors – Well, it didn’t take the Warriors long to show their colours, about 40 minutes to be precise. Seriously how on earth could such a talented side fail to post a single point against Newcastle, hardly the brick-wall defensive side of the NRL. But they did losing 20-0 to the Knights in their first game of 2020 and wasting no time in reminding us all how hot and cold they can be. I’m not suggesting they can stage a massive form reversal against such a quality side as the Raiders but I will be stunned if coach Stephen Kearney can’t fire his players up to respond in a positive manner. Because of the Coronavirus the Auckland Warriors are now the “Aussie” Warriors as they are now based on the Gold Coast because of enforced travel bans. I learned my lesson last week.
Canberra Raiders – On first round for this looks a stroll in the park for Ricky Stuart’s men. If Newcastle put 20 unanswered point on the Warriors last week Canberra could pile 50 on them if they turn up with the same attitude. Steve Kearney is not that bad of a coach but if he cops a few heavy defeats his day sof coaching the NRL could be numbered considering the Warriors continually disappoint their fans. Still they have made a very tough decision in the Coronavirus climate to remain in Australia and help the game out of a crisis. Let’s hope they can band together and play the football they are capable of playing.
Head to Head: CANBERRA RAIDERS
Win Margin: CANBERRA 13+
Line: CANBERRA -11.5
Total Points: Over 42.5
Sydney Roosters v Manly Sea Eagles
Venue: Central Coast Stadium | Start: 5:30 PM
Sydney Roosters – The off-season trip to the UK for the World Club Challenge win over St Helens may have flattened the Roosters a little and they uncharacteristically blew a 12 point lead to lose round one to Penrith who finished strongly. The Panthers held the Roosters scoreless for 60 minutes which is hard to do but certainly not a concern for the defending premiers who can be expected to be sharper with the inclusion of Angus Crichton who returns to the back-row after being flattened by a chest infection. Skipper Boyd Cordner is still a week or two away from a comeback but the Roosters pack is solid up front with Mitch Aubison and Victory Radley both edge threats.
Manly Sea Eagles – Plenty to like about their loss to Melbourne Storm in round one. Their defence kept turning up until the Storm’s class and a few well placed cross field kicks led to a a few late tries. Manly have enough attacking fire power in Cherry_Evans, Tom Trbojevic and powerhouse winer Jorge Taufa to keep pace with the Roosters but they will need to won the forward battle which won’t be easy although they have a few enforcers of their own in Jake Trbojevic and Marty Taupau to be very competitive.
Head to Head: MELBOURNE STORM
Win Margin: MELBOURNE 1-12
Line: ROOSTERS -5.5
Total Points: Over 35.5
Cronulla Sharks v Melbourne Storm
Venue: Netstrata Jubilee Stadium | Start: 7:35 PM
Cronulla Sharks – May have been a bit stiff against South Sydney in round one but they showed they will push their rivals for 80 minutes if they can stay in touch. Nothing wrong with their effort against the Rabbits except they lacked execution at times which will come with a few games under their belt. These two teams fought out the 2016 grand final with the Sharks notching an historic maiden premiership win. Unfortunately Matt Moylan is still some weeks away from a comeback but there is still enough quality in the backline run by Brad Townsend and Shaun Johnson to be competitive.
Melbourne Storm – The most professional team in the competition, Melbourne play to a game plan and rarely deviate no matter what happens. The Sharks are one of the teams that know how to unsettle the Storm and beat them and you can bet they will be all over Cameron Smith and looking to go through the middle of the Storm, certainly not easy to do. Melbourne were in trouble early against an enthusiastic Manly last week but with Smith taking control and steading the ship they rolled over the Sea Eagles in the second half.
Head to Head: MELBOURNE STORM
Win Margin: MELBOURNE STORM 1-12
Line: Cronulla Sharks +5.5
Total Points: Over 36.5
NRL Tipping – Sunday, March 22
Wests Tigers v Newcastle Knights
Venue: Leichhardt Oval | Start: 4:05 PM
West Tigers – May have got out of gaol against the Dragons in round one with their veteran playmaker Benji Marshall turning back the clock with a great all-round display, laying on a few tries and crossing for one himself. The Tigers love playing at home but the crowd shutout will create a ghostly atmosphere and take away that advantage the Tiger’s thrive on. Moses Mbye, Lueke Brooks and Paul Momirovski are all unavailable but the Tiger’s coped well against the Dragons without them so they should be full of confidence against the Knights who were big first up winners over the Warriors.
Newcastle Knights – Hard to knock winning form and keeping the Warriors to zero points has to be respected even if the Warriors failed to turn up. The Knights will take the field with the same 17-man roster as a reward for their strong round one showing . Marshall will go to-to-toe with Knight’s No.7 Josh Reynolds in a key clash and it’s hard to leave fullback Kalyn Ponga out of the picture with his uncanny ability to produce the unexpected. This clash with me very close.
Head to Head: WESTS TIGERS
Win Margin: WESTS TIGER 1-12
Line: WESTS TIGERS -1.5
Total Points: Over 41.5
Gold Coast Titans v Parramatta Eels
Venue: Cbus Super Stadium | Start: 5:15 PM
Gold Coast Titans – The good news for Titans fans is they staved off a potential round one hiding at the hands of Canberra. It was an encouraging second half by the Titans but they will need to be much much better against Parramatta who won their opening round game against the Bulldogs despite playing well below their right form. I really want to see a lot more from the Titans than just pedestrian attack and patches of strong defence before I start talking them up or tipping them. Halfback Ash Taylor needs to find some hot form soon and a few of the Titan’s forwards need to pick it up or Parramatta will run over them.
Parramatta Eels – The Eels struggled to knocker over the Bulldogs in round one but they disappointed in so many key errors, including ball handling and last play options. They look too big and fast for the Titans to contain for 80 minutes. Eels halfback was notable by his absence against the Dogs. His running game went AWOL and as a result Parramatta’s backline never really flowed. For Parramatta to play well, they need both Moses and Corey Norman creating opportunities and take the ball to the defensive line. I get the feeling Parramatta will unleash against the Titans.
Head to Head: Parramatta Eels
Win Margin: Parramatta Eels 13+
Line: Parramatta Eels -10.5
Total Points: Over 35.5