The NRL is back and this could be one of the most entertaining seasons in history as everyone will be going out to prevent Sydney Roosters from winning the Grand Final for a third year in succession. Check out our predictions for the opening weekend of the NRL.
NRL Week 1 Tips: Parramatta Eels vs Canterbury Bulldogs (Thursday, 09:05 GMT)
Parramatta Eels enjoyed a relatively successful campaign in 2019. They ended the weekly rounds in fifth place, having won 14 of their 24 matches. They made the play-offs and won their elimination final against Brisbane Broncos in fine style, running out 58-0 winners. Their season came to an end a week later, as they were dumped out by Melbourne Storm without registering a single point. They have not made a lot of signings ahead of the new campaign, with Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Ryan Matterson the only real signings of any note. They have lost the likes of Manu Ma’u, Tepai Moeroa, Matt McIlwrick, Tim Mannah, Greg Leleisiuao, so it will be interesting to see how they cope without them – especially Mannah and Ma’u. The Doggies will want to forget about 2019 if they can, they ended the campaign in 12th position with just 22 points. The main aim for most teams at the start of the season is to finish in the top eight, the Bulldogs are no different. They have not set the world alight with their new recruits with Dean Britt, Joe Stimson and Sione Katoa the only new faces. Anything can happen in week one, but I’m backing the Eels to open up with a victory in this one.
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NRL Week 1 Tips: Canberra Raiders vs Gold Coast Titans (Friday, 07:00 GMT)
Canberra Raiders were a breath of fresh air in the NRL last season, but they came up short in the Grand Final as they went down 14-8 against Sydney Roosters at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney. The Green Machine won many new admirers last season – mainly from England – as they looked to win their first Australian title since 1994. John Bateman was a massive hit for the Raiders last year, as he teamed up with fellow Englishmen Elliott Whitehead and Josh Hodgson. Bateman will miss the start of the season through injury, but his former Wigan team-mate George Williams is joining him at the club to take the number of ex Warriors players up to three with Ryan Sutton also there. Canberra have enough quality to grind the results out until Bateman is fit and I believe they will be there and thereabouts come the end of the season. Gold Coast Titans were head and shoulders the worst team in the NRL last season. They finished rock bottom with just four wins all season. They have a new coach in Justin Holbrook and he arrives back in Australia as a champion, having won the Super League competition with St Helens. Holbrook has made a few signings with Jonus Pearson, Greg Lelesiuao, Erin Clark, Sam Lisone and Beau Fermor, but they have also kept hold of the likes of Jai Arrow, Kevin Proctor, Ash Taylor and Tyrone Roberts. Holbrook is a great coach, but it will take him a while to turn this team into winners. I’m backing the Green Machine to open 2020 with a win.
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NRL Week 1 Tips: North Queensland Cowboys vs Brisbane Broncos (Friday, 09:05 GMT)
This could end up being the game of the round. North Queensland Cowboys versus Brisbane Broncos is a fierce rivalry that produces top quality matches every single year. The Cowboys had a poor campaign in 2019, they ended the weekly rounds in 14th position and missed out on the play-offs by five points. The Broncos made the play-offs by the skin of their teeth, but they went out with a whimper as they were hammered by Parramatta Eels 58-0 in first round of knockout football. The Cowboys will be looking to new signing Valentine Holmes to have a massive influence on his return to the NRL. The 24-year-old left Australia to try his hand at American Football in the NFL. Despite joining New York Jets as part of the International Player Pathway programme and playing in three pre-season matches, he was cut to the practice squad during the final round of roster cuts. He was eventually released on November 22. If he can find his form quickly, then the Cowboys could be one to watch. They still have the likes of Scott Drinkwater, Michael Morgan, Josh McGuire and Jason Taumalolo in their ranks, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if they reached the play-offs. I like the look of Brisbane this year, the signing of Jordan Kahu from the Cowboys is a massive one. The Broncos one of the most exciting forwards in the game in their squad in David Fifita. He is strong and quick, plus he is only 20 and has not stopped growing yet. I’m going for Brisbane in this one, I just think they have the better squad and they look fitter this year.
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NRL Week 1 Tips: Newcastle Knights vs New Zealand Warriors (Saturday, 04:00 GMT)
The Newcastle Knights have one of the most talented and exciting youngsters in world rugby league in their ranks in Queensland State of Origin star Kalyn Ponga. Ponga is already a superstar at the age of 21, he has been tipped for big things and it’s easy to see why. If Ponga is fully fit for the whole season, there is no reason why the Knights cannot be challenging for a play-off place. They missed out on the top eight by three points in 2019, but they have enough talent in their squad to make a difference in 2020. The likes of Aidan Guerra, David Klemmer, Nathan Ross, Kurt Mann and Sione Mata’utia would walk into any other NRL side. The New Zealand Warriors always flatter to deceive. Every season, we hope and expect them to be better than they actually are. They finished last season in 13th position and they will need to strengthen up in defence if they are to have any chance of making the top eight. When you look at their squad, it’s hard to work out why they are not a successful NRL side. They have the exciting Kodi Nikorima and the experienced Blake Green, while Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is one of the best players in the competition. In the pack, they have Tohu Harris, Adam Blair, Lachlan Burr and Leeson Ah Mau – these are all quality players but for some reason it has not been clicking. I want the Warriors to do well, I really do, but this will be another long season for them and I’m backing the Knights to be too strong for them and record a quite comfortable win.
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NRL Week 1 Tips: South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Cronulla Sharks (Saturday, 06:30 GMT)
There are always high expectations when it comes to the South Sydney Rabbitohs. They are always expected to be battling it out at the top of the ladder and contesting Grand Finals – it’s important to note they have not appeared in a Grand Final since winning in 2014, but the expectation remains. That expectation has intensified during the off-season following the signing of Latrell Mitchell. The New South Wales star’s time at the Sydney Roosters ended on a sour note despite helping them win the Grand Final, but the Bunnies swooped in and made him their top signing for 2020. If Mitchell starts to enjoy his rugby league again, then the Bunnies have a hell of a player on their hands. He just cannot afford to switch off, because although he brilliant the majority of the time, when he is poor, he stinks up the joint. They take on Cronulla Sharks in round one with the Sharks looking to kick on from their seventh-place finish last season. They won four games on the bounce at the end of the season to finish in the eight, but they were eliminated in week one of the play-offs as they went down 28-16 away at Manly. I’m unsure about Cronulla this season, I really like Chad Townsend and Shaun Johnson, they are born winners, but they can’t do it all by themselves. They will need to keep the likes of Josh Dugan and Andrew Fifita fully fit if they are to be challenging for the play-off in 2020. I’m going to have to back the Bunnies in this one, they are at home and all the hype surrounding Mitchell will be too much for the Sharks to contain.
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NRL Week 1 Tips: Penrith Panthers vs Sydney Roosters (Saturday, 08:35 GMT)
It’s safe to say that Sydney Roosters will have a massive target on their back for the whole of the 2020 season. That’s what happens when you are champions, but even more so when you are looking to three-peat. Yes, the Chooks will be looking to make it three successive Grand Final victories. This has never been done since the NRL was formed in 1998, but Parramatta Eels did win three titles in succession back in the eighties. The Roosters may have lost Cooper Cronk to retirement, but that doesn’t make them as weak as it should do. Luke Keary and Kyle Flanagan will more than likely be the half-back pairing for 2020 and they are capable of guiding the Chooks around the paddock, while Jake Friend looks like he can play for another 10 years. The Roosters may have lost Latrell Mitchell to the Bunnies, but they still have plenty of quality in their side with the likes of James Tedesco, Mitch Aubusson, Boyd Cordner, Daniel Tupou, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Brett Morris in their ranks. The Panthers missed out on the play-offs by just one point last season, they have made three new signings for the upcoming season in Api Koroisau, Kurt Capewell and Zane Tetevano. Team them up with the likes of Nathan Cleary, Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, Dean Whare, James Tamou and Moses Leota then they have a decent side. Beating the Roosters is a hard task, I cannot see them slipping up against the Panthers. I just can’t.
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NRL Week 1 Tips: Manly Sea Eagles vs Melbourne Storm (Sunday, 05:05 GMT)
Sunday’s game between Manly Sea Eagles and Melbourne Storm will be an absolute cracker. These two have been tipped by a lot of so-called experts to be challenging the Roosters for the title. You know what you are getting with the Melbourne Storm, a well-coached outfit by Craig Bellamy and led expertly by his general on the field in Cameron Smith. The Storm, who last won the Grand Final in 2017 when they beat North Queensland Cowboys 34-6, have finished top of the ladder three times in the last four seasons. So, you know they are going to be there and thereabouts again. Bellamy will still be pretty upset that their season ended on a whimper, they were eliminated in the play-offs by eventual winners Sydney Roosers, having already lost in their qualifying final against Canberra Raiders. I’ve got to admit, there is something I like about Manly (I know you are not supposed to admit you like Manly, but I do this year). Des Hasler is a quality coach and he is capable of guiding Manly to their first Grand Final win since 2011. If Daly-Cherry Evans hits top form, then they will definitely be in with a shout. He needs to be backed up by the likes of Lachlan Croker, Curtis Sironen, Joel Thompson, Jake and Tom Trbojevic and Dylan Walker to be taken more seriously. I’m going for a little bit of an upset in this one and I’m backing the Sea Eagles to start the season with a win.
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NRL Week 1 Tips: St George Illawarra Dragons vs Wests Tigers (Sunday, 07:15 GMT)
I’m not sure if it’s because I’m excited about the new NRL season, or the fact I’m going slightly crazy, but I fancy St George Illawarra Dragons to have a strong season and even make the play-offs. Wow, it looks weird in copy. Seriously, I think with Shane Flanagan helping out head coach Paul McGregor with the defensive side of things, the Dragons will be a bigger force than they have been in recent years. St George Illawarra have only made the play-offs twice in the past eight seasons, so you can see what a massive achievement it would be if they do it this year. They may have lost the likes of Gareth Widdop, Jeremy Latimore, Mitch Allgood, Jai Field and Luciano Leilua, but they have recruited well with Trent Merrin returning to the club, while Issac Luke and Brayden Wiliame are good signings. The Dragons have some quality youngsters coming through with the likes of Cody Ramsey, Matt Dufty, Zac Lomax, Jayden Sullivan and Tristan Sailor all looking for more game time this season, I just think they will go well. Unfortunately, I don’t think the same for the Wests Tigers. They have an excellent coach in Michael Maguire, but I am pretty confident they will fail to make the play-offs for the ninth successive year. I’m backing the Dragons to win this one.