League Round 1 preview panel
Preview of League Round 1 matches (all times AEDT).
THURSDAY, March 1
Newcastle Knights v St George-Illawarra Dragons at Hunter Stadium 7.35pm
Head to Head: Knights 9 Dragons 15
Last clash: Round 17 2011 – Knights 14 bt Dragons 10 at WIN Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Knights $1.62 Dragons $2.45
FootyTAB: Dragons +4.5
Wayne Bennett v Steve Price – master v apprentice. Price learned his trade under the super coach, but no amount of education can compensate for 633 games and seven premierships. With a full house, the Bennett factor and the emotion of a homecoming for the likes of Danny Buderus and co., the Knights will be hard to stop. But the Dragons will have a point to prove – that they played just as big a role in the club’s success as their departed coach. But without Darius Boyd and Mark Gasnier out wide, the Dragons look thin for attacking spark.
Key: Darius Boyd – once a key cog for the Dragons, Boyd is now wearing the opposition’s colours. If he makes a quick adjustment to the Knights’ style of play, it could be a long night for the red and whites.
FRIDAY, March 2
Parramatta Eels v Brisbane Broncos at Parramatta Stadium 7.35pm
Head to Head: Eels 16 Broncos 26 drawn 1
Last clash: Round 17 2011 – Broncos 16 bt Eels 12 at Parramatta Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Eels $2.55 Broncos $1.58
FootyTAB: Eels +1.5
Unfortunately, Eels fans won’t get a true indication of what they’re in for in 2012 given star fullback Jarryd Hayne is an unlikely starter due to a knee injury. That will add to the pressure on new buy Chris Sandow, who is already living with the tag of `best Eels No.7 since Peter Sterling’. The match will also be the first of a new era for Brisbane, who begin life without Darren Lockyer. Corey Norman gets first crack at the No.6 jumper – now he just needs to get the ball to the likes of Justin Hodges and Jharal Yow Yeh.
Key: Peter Wallace – with no Lockyer to lean on, Wallace now has the keys to the Broncos machine, and it will only go as well he drives it.
SATURDAY, March 3
Canberra Raiders v Melbourne Storm at Canberra Stadium 5.30pm
Head to Head: Raiders 7 Storm 22
Last clash: Round 19 2011 – Storm 26 bt Raiders 0 at Canberra Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Raiders $2.45 Storm $1.62
FootyTAB: Raiders +3.5
Surely Canberra can’t endure as rotten a run with injuries as they had in 2011? With Terry Campese and Josh Dugan both on deck, Raiders fans will be hoping for a return to the sort of form which saw them emerge as a premiership threat in 2010. Problem is, the Raiders don’t have a good record against the Storm, winning only two of their last ten clashes. And worryingly, the big three of Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith showed in half a trial game against Brisbane that they’re ready to go in 2012.
Key: Josh Dugan v Billy Slater. This could be a preview of a State of Origin match-up later this year, and whichever fullback has a bigger say on proceedings on Sunday should emerge with the two competition points.
Penrith Panthers v Canterbury Bulldogs at Centrebet Stadium 7.30pm
Head to Head: Panthers 32 Bulldogs 46 drawn 3
Last clash: Round 17 2011 – Panthers 20 bt Bulldogs 6 at Centrebet Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Panthers $2.10 Bulldogs $1.83
FootyTAB: Panthers +3.5
The rival grand final coaches go head-to-head with different sides under their control. You get a sense both the Bulldogs and Panthers are entering a rebuilding phase, and fans should get an indication of just how low a base each side will have to work from. The Panthers have looked pretty slick during the trials, while the Bulldogs have been hampered by the unavailability of their No.9 and No.7 for much of the pre-season. Bulldogs coach Des Hasler is adamant his side will be competitive from the get-go, but they’ll rely plenty on the individual brilliance of his No.1 Ben Barba.
Key: Lachlan Coote has been given first crack at the Penrith fullback spot, and he will want to put up a strong showing to ward off the threat posed by wannabe No.1 Michael Gordon.
North Queensland Cowboys v Gold Coast Titans at Dairy Farmers Stadium 9.30pm
Head to Head: Cowboys 5 Titans 4
Last clash: Round 20 2011 – Cowboys 28 bt Titans 20 at Skilled Park
Tab Sportsbet: Cowboys $1.53 Titans $2.70
FootyTAB: Titans +6.5
Johnathan Thurston’s form last season made him an obvious recipient of the Golden Boot that is awarded to the world’s best player. So when the Queensland and Australia halfback says moving to five-eighth will make him more dangerous, alarm bells will almost certainly start to ring for opponents. Thurston begins his quest to replace Darren Lockyer in the No.6 shirt for state and country against a new-look Titans side still reeling from claiming the wooden spoon last year. Jamal Idris and Nate Myles both make their debuts for John Cartwright’s side but Luke Douglas starts on the bench.
Key: The pressure’s on Titans skipper Scott Prince to start the year well and he’ll need to be in top form if they want to avoid a mauling in Townsville.
SUNDAY, March 4
Warriors v Manly Sea Eagles at Eden Park 12.00pm
Head to Head: Warriors 7 Sea Eagles 14
Last clash: Grand final 2011 – Sea Eagles 24 bt Warriors 10 at ANZ Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Warriors $1.67 Sea Eagles $2.35
FootyTAB: Sea Eagles +3.5
A repeat of last year’s grand final at a packed Eden Park is a massive test for rookie Manly coach Geoff Toovey. The Sea Eagles have a fine record against the Warriors, winning six of the last seven meetings between the sides, but how will they cope without Hasler? The Warriors have young talent in abundance, and also have a new coach in the shape of the ebullient former Kiwis supremo Brian McClellan. The hosts went down to a poor Parramatta side at the spiritual home of New Zealand rugby in last year’s opener, can they improve on that 12 months on?
Key: Young halfback Shaun Johnson was brilliant in the second half of last year’s grand final, but will need to produce his best form over 80 minutes for the Warriors to be a chance.
Tip: Sea Eagles
Wests Tigers v Cronulla Sharks at Leichhardt Oval 2.00pm
Head to Head: Tigers 14 Sharks 5 drawn 1
Last clash: Round 26 2011 – Tigers 30 bt Sharks 22 at Toyota Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Tigers $1.45 Sharks $3.00
FootyTAB: Sharks +6.5
A sold out Leichhardt Oval on a Sunday afternoon is the perfect setting for a first game of the season. The Tigers are many people’s tip for the premiership and the Sharks are rated as smokies to make the eight following an aggressive recruitment drive that includes ink-coated, former Dally M Medal winner Todd Carney. The Sharks’ fearsome pack will give Carney the platform to play and rookie fullback James Tedesco can expect a barrage of bombs coming his way from the former Rooster. However, in Benji Marshall the hosts have a player at the peak of his powers and the help of a partisan home crowd.
Key: The step up from U20s to first grade is huge, will Tedesco sink or swim in his first real test?
MONDAY, March 5
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Sydney Roosters at ANZ Stadium 7.00pm
Head to Head: Souths 106 Roosters 92 drawn 5
Last clash: Round 19 2011 – Souths 21 bt Roosters 20 at ANZ Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Souths $1.90 Roosters $2.00
FootyTAB: Roosters +2.5
Expectations are high around Redfern-way with new Souths coach Michael Maguire by all accounts instilling a professionalism and attention to detail that has been missing at the club for many years. The earlier than expected return of Greg Inglis is a big boost for the former Wigan coach as he gets ready for his first taste of the big time. The Roosters have not so much flown under the radar, but disappeared from the screen, such was their uncharacteristically quiet off-season. However, veteran coach Brian Smith is confident his youthful side can make an impression in 2012.
Key: Souths behemoths David Taylor and Sam Burgess were at their rampaging best against St George Illawarra in the Charity Shield. Should they get up a head of steam, it could be messy for Smith’s inexperienced side.
Tip: Souths© AAP 2013