Parramatta Eels vs Melbourne Storm
Eels: 1. Clinton Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Tom Opacic 4. Waqa Blake 5. Blake Ferguson 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Ryan Matterson 13. Nathan Brown 14. Oregon Kaufusi 15. Isaiah Papali’i 16. Will Smith 17. Marata Niukore 18. Keegan Hipgrave 19. Haze Dunster 20. Ray Stone 21. Joey Lussick
It was an unconvincing start to the season for the Eels as they barely scraped by last years wooden spooners the Broncos and I’m unconvinced with their attack, specifically with the halves and back rowers swapping to the opposite sides of the field. Gutherson and Paulo were excellent as usual, but it will take time before we see some fluency with their attack. I don’t think they will trouble the Storm’s defence.
Storm: 1. Ryan Papenhuyzen 2. George Jennings 3. Reimis Smith 4. Justin Olam 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 7. Jahrome Hughes 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Brandon Smith 10. Christian Welch 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenneath Bromwich 13. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 14. Tyson Smoothy 15. Tui Kamikamica 16. Tom Eisenhuth 17. Chris Lewis 18. Nicholas Hynes 19. Darryn Schonig 20. Cooper Johns 21. Dean Ieremia
No Cronk. No Slater. No Smith. No worries. Despite the new era without all members of the “big three”, it was business as usual for the Storm as they sent a strong message to the team many consider premiership favourites, the Rabbitohs. Munster looks to have stepped up to take control of the team and Papenhuyzen took up where he left off from his Clive Churchill medal performance in last years grand final. The only concern would be whether they can stay composed without Cam Smith in the side when they are under the pump, but I do not see the Eels causing them too many problems.
Storm by 14
New Zealand Warriors vs Newcastle Knights
Warriors: 1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c) 2. David Fusitu’a 3. Adam Pompey 4. Peta Hiku 5. Ken Maumalo 6. Kodi Nikorima 7 Chanel Harris-Tavita 8 Addin Fonua-Blake 9 Wayde Egan 10 Jamayne Taunoa-Brown 11. Eliesa Katoa 12. Bayley Sironen 13. Tohu Harris 14. Jazz Tevaga 15. Ben Murdoch-Masila 16. Leeson Ah Mau 17. Bunty Afoa 18. Marcello Montoya 20. Sean O’Sullivan 21. Tom Ale 21. Jack Murchie
The Warriors were impressive, without being impressive last week against the hyped up Titans. By that I mean, they did the basics well. They made their tackles, completed their sets, competed on every play and at no point did they try anything flashy or overplay their hand. It has set them up for a good season and I think they will impress again against the Knights. Addin Fonua-Blake has proven to be an invaluable acquisition to their forward pack.
Knights: 1. Tex Hoy 2. Starford To’a 3. Enari Tuala 4. Bradman Best 5. Hymel Hunt 6. Kurt Mann 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. David Klemmer 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Daniel Saifiti 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Mitchell Barnett 13. Connor Watson 14. Sauaso Sue 15. Jacob Saifiti 16. Josh King 17. Brodie Jones 18. Phoenix Crossland 19. Pasami Saulo 20. Dominic Young 21. Gehamat Shibasaki
I thought Newcastle might struggle without Kalyn Ponga, the uncertainty surrounding the form of Mitch Pearce and the five-eighth position, but the forwards really stepped up and laid a strong platform for the Knights to overpower the Bulldogs. I expect the Warriors to pose a tougher challenge in the middle-third and this game could come down to a shootout between two potent backlines, where I think the Warriors might have a slight edge.
Warriors by 2
Gold Coast Titans vs Brisbane Broncos
Titans: 1. Alexander Brimson 2. Anthony Don 3. Phillip Sami 4. Patrick Herbert 5. Corey Thompson 6. Ashley Taylor 7. Jamal Fogarty 8. Jarrod Wallace 9. Mitch Rein 10. Moeaki Fotuaika 11. Kevin Proctor 12. David Fifita 13. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui 14. Tyrone Peachey 15. Sam Lisone 16. Jaimin Jolliffe 17. Erin Clark 18. Beau Fermor 19. Herman Ese’ese 20. Sam McIntyre 21. Tanah Boyd
It was a disappointing loss for the Titans last round, and the Warriors gave them a lesson in patience and getting the basics right. Perhaps with all the preseason hype, they may have thought a win would come easy for them, but it turned out to be a huge reality check. I still believe in the hype and I do believe the Titans will make the finals, but they need to understand that they have to earn it. I expect their halves to be better and for them to deliver a much more professional performance against the Broncos.
Broncos: 1. Jamayne Isaako 2. Xavier Coates 3. Herbie Farnworth 4. Tesi Niu 5. David Mead 6. Anthony Milford 7. Brodie Croft 8. Tevita Pangai Junior 9. Jake Turpin 10. Thomas Flegler 11. Alex Glenn 12. Jordan Riki 13. Patrick Carrigan 14. John Asiata 15. Rhys Kennedy 16. Ethan Bullemor 17. Ben Te’o 18. Tom Dearden 19. Richard Kennar 20. Cory Paix 21. Corey Oates
The Broncos put on a much better performance than what they dished up last season against a quality top eight side. Most pundits would have tipped the Broncos to get thrashed by 20-plus, but to their credit they never stopped trying for the full 80 minutes, as well as losing three key players to injury during the match. The concern is still in the halves, who played well in the first half, but when the game was on the line, they often took the wrong options and were unable to lead the team to a win. I expect them to be competitive again this week but on paper, the Titans have a much better side.
Titans by 10
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs vs Penrith Panthers
Bulldogs: 1. Corey Allan 2. Nick Meaney 3. Will Hopoate 4. Nick Cotric 5. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 6. Jake Averillo 7. Kyle Flanagan 8. Ofahiki Ogden 9. Sione Katoa 10. Jack Hetherington 11. Adam Elliott 12. Raymond Faitala-Mariner 13. Josh Jackson 14. Jeremy Marshall-King 15. Renouf Atoni 16. Corey Waddell 17. Dylan Napa 19. Tui Katoa 20. Chris Smith 21. Lachlan Lewis 22. Joe Stimson
I thought the Bulldogs showed glimpses of improvement last round against the Knights and their new signings all played well, but their forwards need to step up this week and their defence needs to improve significantly if they want to compete against the high flying Panthers. It is clear that this team is still missing a few key pieces to the puzzle, which will not arrive until next year, but this is an opportunity to build a culture of effort and resilience against last years grand finalists.
Panthers: 1. Dylan Edwards 2. Charlie Staines 3. Paul Momirovski 4. Stephen Crichton 5. Brian To’o 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Moses Leota 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Kurt Capewell 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Tyrone May 15. Spencer Leniu 16. Matthew Eisenhuth 17. Liam Martin 18. Scott Sorensen 19. Matt Burton 20. Robert Jennings 21. Mitch Kenny
The Panthers attack looked a bit off during their shutout win over the Cowboys last round, but they never looked troubled as they continued playing with that uptempo, high energy speed which many opponents were unable to keep up with last season. Their defence looks to be on-point, their halves controlled the tempo of the game well and they should not have any troubles taking care of the Bulldogs this week.
Panthers by 16
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles vs South Sydney Rabbitohs
Sea Eagles: 1. Dylan Walker 2. Jason Saab 3. Brad Parker 4. Moses Suli 5. Reuben Garrick 6. Kieran Foran 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Josh Aloiai 9. Lachlan Croker 10. Martin Taupau 11. Andrew Davey 12. Curtis Sironen 13. Jake Trbojevic 14. Cade Cust 15. Jack Gosiewski 16. Sean Keppie 17. Taniela Paseka 18. Josh Schuster 19. Tevita Funa 20. Toafofoa Sipley 21. Morgan Harper
The Sea Eagles copped a 42-point mauling in their opening round match against the Roosters and it seems their defensive woes from last season have not been fixed. They have now conceded more than 40 points in their past seven games which is very unlike Des Hasler coached sides. Not having Tom Trbojevic in the side due to injury is no excuse for their poor form. It is hard to see how they are going to stop a rampant Rabbitohs attack looking to right the wrongs from last weeks loss.
Rabbitohs: 1. Latrell Mitchell 2. Alex Johnston 3. Dane Gagai 4. Campbell Graham 5. Jaxson Paulo 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Thomas Burgess 9. Damien Cook 10. Tevita Tatola 11. Keaon Koloamatangi 12. Jaydn Su’A 13. Cameron Murray 14. Benji Marshall 15. Mark Nicholls 16. Patrick Mago 17. Jai Arrow 18. Liam Knight 19. Tautau Moga 20. Josh Mansour 21. Jacob Host
The Rabbitohs were dealt a reality check after being ambushed in the first half against the reigning premiers last round. But they had a decent fightback in them and showed how fluent their attack is and will continue to be this season. Latrell looks fit and primed for a huge season and Benji looks to have added an extra dimension to an already potent attack, as well as that on field leadership which you could argue they have lacked in not being able to make it to a grand final since 2014.
Rabbitohs by 18
North Queensland Cowboys vs St George Illawarra Dragons
Cowboys: 1. Scott Drinkwater 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Esan Marsters 4. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow 5. Valentine Holmes 6. Michael Morgan 7. Jake Clifford 8. Francis Molo 9. Reece Robson 10. Jordan McLean 11. Mitchell Dunn 12. Coen Hess 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Jake Granville 15. Josh Mcguire 16. Corey Jensen 17. Reuben Cotter 18. Lachlan Burr 19. Shane Wright 20. Murray Taulagi 21. Ben Hampton
Arguably the most disappointing team in the the first round was the Cowboys. I thought their goal line defence in the first half against the Panthers was the most resilient I have seen over the past few seasons, so they have shown some progress. In recent years, that scoreline would have been 50-nill. But they never gave themselves a chance with a dismal 59% completion rate which resulted in only 40% possession for the whole game. They will not beat any side with those stats. I am expecting a huge game from Taumalolo against the Dragons, after being criticized by the coach. The Cowboys need to hold onto the ball and Morgan needs to step up and lead the team around the park.
Dragons: 1. Matthew Dufty 2. Cody Ramsey 3. Jack Bird 4. Zac Lomax 5. Mikaele Ravalawa 6. Corey Norman 7. Ben Hunt 8. Blake Lawrie 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Josh Kerr 12. Tariq Sims 13. Tyrell Fuimaono 14. Poasa Faamausili 15. Trent Merrin 16. Daniel Alvaro 17. Brayden Wiliame 18. Adam Clune 19. Kaide Ellis 20. Jackson Ford 21. Jordan Pereira
The Dragons needed to start well this season against the Sharks but struggled in the grind of a scrappy battle. Their forwards were unable to lay the foundation needed to give their halves and fullback the best possible chance to create opportunities, but I give them credit for the effort they put in. Corey Norman returns to five-eighth but he will not have much impact if the forward pack are unable to stop a rampaging Taumalolo. This game is a coin toss, but on paper the Cowboys have a more dominant forward pack, which is where this game will be won.
Cowboys by 4
Wests Tigers vs Sydney Roosters
Tigers: 1. Daine Laurie 2. David Nofoaluma 3. James Roberts 4. Joseph Leilua 5. Asu Kepaoa 6. Adam Doueihi 7. Luke Brooks 8. James Tamou 9. Jacob Liddle 10. Joe Ofahengaue 11. Luciano Leilua 12. Luke Garner 13. Alex Twal 14. Moses Mbye 15. Thomas Mikaele 16. Stefano Utoikamanu 17. Tommy Talau 18. Russell Packer 19. Alex Seyfarth 20. Michael Chee-Kam 21. Jock Madden
It was more of the same from the Tigers last round against the Raiders. They fought hard but were too ill-disciplined and quite frankly, lacked the class to knock off one of the top sides in the competition. I have said that I think they are an inferior side without Benji Marshall and I do not think the Brooks-Doueihi/Mbye combinations will be good enough to get them to the finals. They have a quality forward pack and I am impressed with new fullback Daine Laurie, but if Luke Brooks does not starting playing to his full potential, which we have been waiting for many years now, they will not have any chance against the Roosters.
Roosters: 1. James Tedesco 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Josh Morris 4. Joseph Manu 5. Brett Morris 6. Lachlan Lam 7. Luke Keary 8. Lindsay Collins 9. Freddy Lussick 10. Siosiua Taukeiaho 11. Nat Butcher 12. Sitili Tupouniua 13. Isaac Liu 14. Drew Hutchison 15. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 16. Fletcher Baker 17. Daniel Suluka-fifita 18. Matt Ikuvalu 19. Nat Butcher 20. Sam Walker 21. Tukupa Hau Tapuha
The Roosters casually reminded everyone that they are still the yardstick which every other side is measured and Tedesco proved that he is still the best player in the world when they trounced Manly last round. The Morris twins are like a fine wine, Collins looked like he belonged in the starting side and Keary looked settled at halfback. They lose captain Jake Friend to another concussion but they have quality depth in all positions as expected. They should cruise past the Tigers this weekend.
Roosters by 20
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks vs Canberra Raiders
Sharks: 1. Will Kennedy 2. Sione Katoa 3. Josh Dugan 4. Mawene Hiroti 5. Ronaldo Mulitalo 6. Matt Moylan 7. Chad Townsend 8. Braden Hamlin-Uele 9. Blayke Brailey 10. Aaron Woods 11. Briton Nikora 12. Wade Graham 13. Toby Rudolf 14. Connor Tracey 15. Aiden Tolman 16. Jack Williams 17. Billy Magoulias 18. Nene Macdonald 19. Teig Wilton 20. Andrew Fifita 21. Braydon Trindall
The Sharks played with energy and a bit of emotion against the Dragons last round. The challenge is whether they can get themselves up every week. They are still without Shaun Johnson but I thought Moylan played well in his return to the halves. Consistency has been the issue for the Sharks and they did not beat any of the sides which finished ahead of them last season, including the Raiders. So it is hard to tip them this round.
Raiders: 1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Bailey Simonsson 3. Sebastian Kris 4. Curtis Scott 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Jack Wighton 7. George Williams 8. Josh Papali’i 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Dunamis Lui 11. Hudson Young 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. Joseph Tapine 14. Siliva Havili 15. Ryan Sutton 16. Iosia Soliola 17. Ryan James 18. Sam Williams 19. Tom Starling 20. Emre Guler 21. Harley Smith-Shields
The Raiders flexed their premiership contending muscles last round against the Tigers. It was not the most clinical performance but I think they will only get better as the season rolls on. They have an awesome forward pack and are a well balanced side, it will take a special performance to beat beat them. The Sharks will likely attempt to grind them into the gutter, but the Raiders will have too much class and firepower.
Raiders by 10