2013 NRL season: round one preview
Yesterday, I wrote my preview of the Rabbitohs v Roosters match, which the Rabbits won 28-10.
Here are my previews of the remaining matches for NRL round one, 2013.
Brisbane Broncos versus Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
Friday, March 8
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Last meeting: Sea Eagles 16-6 at Brookvale Oval, Round 25, 2012.
The Broncos have now survived one completed season in the post-Darren Lockyer era. But now life without him starts getting tougher, following the retirement of another Broncos stalwart, Petero Civoniceva.
Their retirements in the last two years has starved the Broncos of high-level football experience, and now the burden of the club’s expectations will rest on the younger players.
However, Scott Prince returns to the club where his career almost never kicked off.
In three seasons at Red Hill, Prince suffered numerous injuries which eventually led to him joining the Wests Tigers in 2004.
But his return to the club may provide some much needed experience in the halves, which proved to be a weak point in Brisbane’s team last season.
The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles have not missed the finals since 2004 and once again I expect the silvertails to feature in September.
The core of the team (the Stewart brothers and Anthony Watmough) were still there when the club started experiencing its’ modern day success and once again they will look to take the club to another premiership in 2013.
However, the team has already had a setback with Glenn Stewart set to miss the first month of the season as he continues his recovery from a post-season injury.
Nevertheless, the Sea Eagles should remain competitive in 2013.
Both teams were really flat in the pre-season, with Brisbane losing to the Warriors and Manly going down to the Roosters.
Hopefully, both teams should field their best sides for this special match, which marks 25 years since the Broncos entered the competition with its debut match against the then-defending premiers, which the new club won 44-10.
Match-up: Scott Prince versus Daly Cherry-Evans. On paper, it looks like master versus apprentice but, looking at the past few seasons, it’s the other way around.
Cherry-Evans has established himself as a great halfback in the last two seasons while Prince struggled in his last two year on the Gold Coast, which eventually led to him heading up the highway.
Can Prince rediscover his best form?
Key: The loss of two club stalwarts might hurt the Broncos long-term. Can they start the season with a victory?
Tip: Broncos by 10 points.
Parramatta Eels versus New Zealand Warriors
Saturday, March 9
Last meeting: Warriors 36-20 at Parramatta Stadium, Round 2, 2012.
It’s a new era for the Parramatta Eels, as far as the club and its fans are concerned. This is the best time for the club to put behind the ill-fated Stephen Kearney era and start fresh again.
A new coach brings new optimism and Ricky Stuart will be determined to lift the Eels off the bottom of the ladder.
While he won’t do it this season, he has acknowledged that it will be a tough job and that fans and the club will experience long-term pain as he plans to turn the club into a premiership force.
Bring a former Test halfback, his arrival may be what Chris Sandow needs after a tough first season in the blue and gold last year.
His confidence went down as he struggled to adapt to the Kearney style of coaching and at one stage he was dropped to the NSW Cup. But with Stuart at the helm this year, there’s no excuse for Sandow not to perform.
Another club that’s beginning a new era under an experienced coach is the New Zealand Warriors.
The Auckland-based club went from 2011 grand finalists to near-wooden spooners in 2012, a fall from grace which eventually cost Brian McClennan his job.
Fans should remember that he inherited a club that made the grand final under Ivan Cleary in 2011 and that he is a former Test coach who helped the Kiwis win the Tri-Nations in 2005.
But what was made clear was that he was unable to carry on the success that the Warriors enjoyed under Cleary and that he wanted to implement his own style.
It didn’t work, and today he is no longer at the club. Now, with Matthew Elliott at the helm, the Warriors should enjoy a much more successful season, though I don’t expect them to feature in September this season.
Looking at Parramatta’s pre-season, the club appears to be heading towards another long year.
A 41-4 thrashing by the Wests Tigers highlighted how much the club needs to work if they are to once again feature in the business end of the season.
The Warriors on the other hand had an impressive victory over the Brisbane Broncos, however, fans cannot expect the club to repeat this form in the proper season, as there will be many losses along the way.
Match-up: Chris Sandow versus Shaun Johnson. Both players are far from their best form, but with new coaches, they should start to return to their best form which saw the latter take the Warriors to the grand final two years ago.
Key: Which team will start their new eras under new coaches off with a victory?
Tip: Eels by 12 points.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs versus North Queensland Cowboys
Saturday, March 9
Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford
Last meeting: Bulldogs 32-18 at ANZ Stadium, Round 21, 2012.
A season never starts scandal-free. In 2009, Brett Stewart was named the face of the game, but, following sexual assault allegations which he was later cleared of, he was wiped out for the first four rounds of that season.
Now, it’s Ben Barba’s turn.
The Bulldogs have stood him down indefinitely while he deals with personal problems in his life.
History will be against them this season.
The past three losing grand finalists (Parramatta, the Sydney Roosters and Warriors) have struggled under the weight of expectations in the following seasons and have not made the finals since their fairytale runs to the big match in 2009, 2010 and 2011 respectively.
Additionally, the Bulldogs have had a history of under performing the year after a great season.
In 2004, the club were premiers, but the following season they crashed to 12th.
In 2009, the club were an illegal interchange and a disallowed try away from being minor premiers, but they missed the finals altogether in the following two seasons.
If they want to reverse this bad recent run, they must start the season strongly, and must do so without Barba, and James Graham, who is serving a suspension for biting Billy Slater’s ear in last year’s decider.
The Cowboys are still feeling the pain of being robbed in the semi-finals against the Sea Eagles last year; it was the third time in six seasons the Cowboys have been stopped by the Sea Eagles in their pursuit of a premiership.
However, the team should still remain a competitive force and if the club suffers a decline this season, perhaps contract talks involving Johnathan Thurston and potentially his future in the NRL could be to blame.
They managed another consistent season last year, finishing fifth, but this year they need to take the next step forward.
A premiership would be nice, but it could be too much burden on Thurston’s shoulders. The Cowboys should aim for a mid-table finish of third-sixth this season.
The Bulldogs had a rough pre-season, losing to the Canberra Raiders in Goulburn; while the Cowboys have gone quietly about their business as they launch an assault at a first premiership.
Match-up: Josh Reynolds versus Johnathan Thurston. While Reynolds is only getting started, Thurston continues to grow better even if age catches up to him.
Tip: Cowboys by 10 points.
Penrith Panthers versus Canberra Raiders
Sunday, March 10
Last meeting: Raiders 20-10 at Centrebet Stadium, Round 23, 2012.
If last season was as indication, Penrith are in for yet another long year.
Not only did the club just avoid the wooden spoon, they have since lost Michael Jennings and Luke Lewis, two club stalwarts, as Ivan Cleary attempts to rebuild the club from the bottom up.
While they have not recruited any big names, they have relied on recycled players such as Dean Whare, James Segeyaro and Jeremy Latimore, among others, to turn the club into a competitive force.
Whare comes to the club having struggled to make a name for himself at Manly, Segeyaro arrives as back-up to Kevin Kingston while Latimore comes to the club after struggling to get game time at the Dragons.
Since the club’s last premiership, they have only made the finals twice (2004 and 2010), picked up a wooden spoon (2007) and there are now no survivors from the team that defeated the Sydney Roosters on that October night.
If that was an indication, perhaps the club will continue to struggle in 2013.
The Canberra Raiders are the biggest victims of high expectation.
They have not made the finals in consecutive seasons since 2003-4 and have gone on a pattern of following up a dismal year with a great season, followed by another dismal season.
Last year, the club made the finals following a season where they finished second last. That 2011 season followed a late season surge which saw them fall just two points short of an upset victory over the wests Tigers in the semi-finals in 2010.
What will be of the Raiders this season? The recent trend in the team’s performances suggest they’ll miss the finals this season.
But I hope not. Terry Campese should be over his injury problems and will look to take Canberra to the finals for the second consecutive year.
The Panthers drew one of their trial matches against the Parramatta Eels, while Canberra were very impressive against the Storm in Geelong and against the Bulldogs in Goulburn.
But fans of the Green Machine shouldn’t get too far ahead of themselves, as they were only trial matches and not all teams will field their best sides at this time of the season.
Match-up: Lachlan Coote versus Josh Dugan. Both players will be crucial to their team’s success this season.
Key: Can the Raiders put behind their inconsistencies behind them and produce a strong season this year?
Tip: Raiders by 14 points.
Melbourne Storm versus St. George Illawarra Dragons
Sunday, March 10
Last time: Dragons 26-18 at WIN Stadium, Round 21, 2012.
Questions will be asked this season whether Melbourne can successfully defend the premiership they worked so hard for two-and-a-half years to win last year.
Since April 22, 2010, the day the Melbourne Storm were stripped of their two premierships, three minor premierships and more than $1 million in prize money, the Storm have won back one minor premiership, last year’s premiership and the World Club Challenge.
This is set to be one of the toughest starts to a season for the Melbourne Storm. After this match, they have a five-day turnaround before they face the Cowboys in Townsville, and then four full days of rest before they face up to the Bulldogs in the grand final rematch.
This will be the first test. But can they start their premiership defence with a win?
Last year’s 26-18 victory over the Storm was the biggest highlight in what was otherwise a disappointing season for the Dragons. They did not let the Storm play their game and suffocated them out at crucial stages of the match.
But now the Dragons are clear underdogs for this match. Not only have they been weakened by the losses of Ben Hornby and Dean Young into retirement, they have also not beaten the Storm in Melbourne since 1999.
Melbourne always seems to be a graveyard for the Red V, as evidenced by a crushing 70-10 loss in 2000, a 26-0 wipeout in 2008, a golden point loss in 2009 and a narrow 8-6 loss in 2011.
It’s very unlikely that the Dragons will reverse their poor record in Melbourne, and the bookmakers haven’t been kind either. Most are tipping them for the wooden spoon, a terrible prospect for a club that won the premiership just three years ago.
The Storm have had a mixed pre-season. They lost to the Canberra Raiders in Geelong, which preceded their glory at the World Club Challenge in London.
But they must now adapt back to the Australian post-summer conditions and get back to what they are used to doing most – winning.
The Dragons’ 28-10 loss to the Rabbitohs in the Charity Shield have many predicting a long season for the joint-venture, and if they lose this one, the season could be even longer.
Match-up: Cooper Cronk versus Jamie Soward.
Cooper Cronk is coming off another great season which saw him kick the series-winning field goal for Queensland in last year’s State of Origin series, while Jamie Soward is coming off a season where criticism has been inflicted at him for not maintaining his best form in the post-premiership era.
Can Jamie Soward get back to his best this season?
Key: The Storm may struggle to adapt to different conditions, having played in London’s wintertime and Australia’s summertime in the space of a month. Can they adjust quickly?
Tip: Storm by 16 points.
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks versus Gold Coast Titans
Sunday, March 10
Last time: Sharks 22-12 at Shark Park, round 14, 2012.
The Sharks are coming off their best season in a while, and the club will be banking on its imports from other clubs (namely Chris Heighington, Beau Ryan and Luke Lewis) to continue their progress under Shane Flanagan.
Most importantly, Todd Carney also returns from his Achilles injury which ruined the Sharks’ run in the finals, when they were beaten by the Canberra Raiders.
The club has a player roster that can finally contend at the business end of the season, and now its’ the players who have to let their football do the talking.
Paul Gallen will also only get better. He can play in various positions, so if the Sharks need him to front up in the forward pack, he will be able to do that without his form diminishing.
Wade Graham has also established himself, and once again his defence will be crucial to the Sharks’ hopes of remaining competitive in 2013.
The Gold Coast Titans are coming off two poor seasons which followed 2010 in which they fell one game short of the grand final.
Although they did improve slightly in 2012 after winning the wooden spoon in 2011, the Titans are now short of experience in the halves.
Two of their foundation players, Preston Campbell (retired) and Scott Prince (Broncos), are now no longer at the club and the club will now need to rely on its younger players to take the club to the top.
They haven’t recruited any big names, but Dave Taylor returns to his home state after a three-year stint at the Rabbitohs. He could be the x-factor that the Titans have lacked in recent seasons.
Match-up: Paul Gallen versus Greg Bird. Teammates once at Cronulla, still teammates in the New South Wales Origin team, they will have to settle their differences in the first round.
Whoever produces the stronger performance will most likely lead their team to victory.
Key: Can the Cronulla Sharks build on its impressive recruitment drive and remain competitive throughout the year?
Tip: Sharks by 14 points.
Newcastle Knights versus Wests Tigers
Monday, March 11
Last time: Knights 38-20 at Hunter Stadium, round 16, 2012.
This time last year, all the hype was with the Newcastle Knights as they started a new era under Wayne Bennett and Nathan Tinkler.
Their opening match against the Dragons was also one of anticipation, but one that ended in disappointment as the Knights lost in overtime to the club that previously employed Bennett.
That set the tone for a poor season which saw Newcastle ultimately fail to meet expectations. They missed the finals altogether.
They did, however, score an early season victory over the Bulldogs and Darius Boyd, after struggling in his first few matches, started to play his way back into form as the season wore on.
However, it was the shoulder injury to Kurt Gidley that didn’t allow the Knights to perform to their potential during the season and eventually, Wayne Bennett ended up on the September sidelines for the first time since 1991.
Now, with Gidley back, and Beau Scott coming to the club, there’s no excuse for Newcastle not to perform in 2013.
The Wests Tigers were touted as premiership favourites at the start of last season. This followed an impressive two seasons where they reached the finals and their star players were performing.
But it ended up being a different story altogether. They only won one match before the first representative weekend of the season and it set the tone for a poor season.
Additionally, they were robbed in a late season match against the Bulldogs which they could have won if it wasn’t for some poor refereeing decisions in the final few minutes.
Eventually, the Tigers missed the finals and it would cost Tim Sheens his job.
Other key players (Chris Heighington and Beau Ryan, among others) started searching for success at other clubs. Now, with Mick Potter and Braith Anasta at the club, the Tigers should look to return to the finals, but their playing list isn’t sufficient enough to challenge for a premiership.
Match-up: Darius Boyd versus Tim Moltzen. Both players experienced mixed form last year, but it was Boyd who experienced the more successful season as he went on to feature in Queensland’s never-ending Origin dominance.
Can Moltzen lift his game this year?
Key: Home ground factor will favour the Knights no doubt.
Tip: Knights by 10 points.