‘He’s almost hit the tee and missed the ball!’
The first week is done and dusted and the glorious game of rugby league has, as expected, tossed up a host of upsets and classics inside of the first eight matches.
Round 1 tips: 6/8
Roosters vs Bulldogs
The new-look Roosters produced the most impressive first half performance of Round 1, racing to a 28-nil lead against the Titans. Their lack of execution in the second half left Trent Robinson with plenty to be desired, but the signs exist for a great season.
Conversely, the Bulldogs produced more of the same disjointed offerings from the back end of 2016. Josh Reynolds took personal responsibility for the result, but the problems are far deeper than the control of his emotions.
When it comes to the Dogs the word ‘safe’ comes to mind. Will Hopoate has a low error rate at fullback, Michael Lichaa is a no-frills hooker, and Des Hasler as a coach places ball security above all else. However, a safety-first approach won’t produce a premiership and this is a team that needs some spark.
Tip: Roosters 1-12
Warriors vs Storm
In typical fashion, the Warriors nearly found a way to lose the unlosable match. Enjoying a 20-8 lead against consecutive wooden spooners Newcastle, the Auckland-based side found themselves trailing 22-20 with just eight minutes remaining, before some Ryan Hoffman heroics secured the win.
On paper (as is always the case with the Warriors), this match should have been a shellacking but to the Knights’ credit, they fought hard and made the match competitive.
The Storm was similarly faced with a spirited Dogs outfit who lacked execution. In testing conditions, it was the Melbourne club’s deeply embedded professionalism that helped them minimise errors and hold on in the second half, despite a weight of possession falling the way of Canterbury.
Jesse Bromwich is a significant absentee for the Storm, with Tim Glasby entering the starting line-up in a match that will likely be decided on attitude.
Melbourne won the last encounter at Mt Smart Stadium 21-14 in Round 3, 2016.
Tip: Storm 1-12
Broncos vs Cowboys
This fixture has quickly become a favourite for neutrals. Of the three matches the two sides played in 2016, two went to golden point and the third match, a qualifying final encounter, was one of the best matches in the last decade.
The Broncos defeated defending premiers Cronulla to begin their 2017 season opener, with the individual brilliance of Anthony Milford in the 69th minute securing the two points. Brisbane have named the same 17, with the possibility that Benji Marshall could make his club debut.
The Cowboys also began 2017 with a victory, a golden point miracle try to Gavin Cooper snaring the two points over the Raiders. Antonio Winterstein replaces Javid Bowen on the wing and Shaun Fensom might well sneak his way into the final 17.
While the Cowboys have won their past two against the Broncos, Brisbane have won the last four at Suncorp against little brother.
Tip: Broncos 1-12
Knights vs Titans
The battle of armour sees the Knights take on the Titans in Newcastle and this one will be a lot closer than expected.
Newcastle showed enough in their narrow loss against the Warriors to suggest that the gradual rebuild will indeed begin in 2017. It may be a hard slog but, unlike 2016, there appears to be a genuine fight in the squad.
Dylan Pythian’s injury at fullback will cause some headaches and unfortunately, Brendan Elliot doesn’t offer the same finesse with the boot and sleight of hand.
The Titans will be looking to make amends after a poor showing against the Roosters. They bounced back in the second half but allowing your opposition a 28-0 halftime lead is a cardinal sin.
Tip: Titans 1-12
Manly vs Souths
This match pits two of the poorest performers of the opening round against one another.
Manly’s biggest problem in their loss to the Eels wasn’t their execution – they genuinely looked dangerous inside Parramatta’s half – rather it was their abysmal handling that prevented them from getting a roll on. Completing 22/32 sets is not NRL standard and the ageless Trent Barrett will soon look 50 if this continues.
Souths really struggled against the Tigers. Plenty of this was due to the lack of direction on offer in the absence of Adam Reynolds, while the injury to Greg Inglis also hurt, but their pack was dominated and out-enthused.
With Manly missing both Martin Taupau and Aiden Fonua-Blake, this is the perfect opportunity for Souths’ enforcers to regain their mojo.
Tip: Souths 1-12
Raiders vs Sharks
The Raiders suffered at the hands of the football gods, with the Cowboys scoring that unbelievable golden point try.
But in Round 2 the side are back in Canberra and Junior Paulo returns to the front row. Jack Wighton, who was a late scratching in Round 1, also takes his place in the side.
The Sharks lacked direction in Round 1, which was inevitable given the departure of half of their grand final winning spine in the off-season. Valentine Holmes is some chance of a return but Gerard Beale has been named at fullback. Beale is an adequate replacement but adequacy does not beat the top contenders nor win premierships. The same applies for new rake Jayden Brailey, who is destined to become a good player with more time in the top grade, but seemed out of his depth against the Broncos.
Tip: Raiders 1-12
Tigers vs Panthers
The battle of the big cats shapes as an absolute blockbuster.
The Tigers were on fire against Souths and ultimately the 34-18 final scoreline seriously flattered the Rabbitohs. The addition of Moses Suli at the expense of the hapless Jordan Rankin is a victory for the fans more than anything, while Matt McIlwrick and Jack Littlejohn played an understated but crucial servicing role from dummy half.
I won’t even mention the brilliance of the ‘Big Four’ and David Nofoaluma from last week – that was on ready display.
The Panthers were the worst performers in Round 1. Their forward pack was completely dominated by the Dragons and even in the sets where they established a good roll on, halves Te Maire Martin and Nathan Cleary lacked both organisation and a killer instinct for seizing opportunities.
It’s early days for the Panthers and I have no doubt they will click into gear soon, but in front of a big crowd at Campbeltown might not be the place that happens.
Tip: Tigers 1-12
Dragons vs Eels
The Dragons were the best performers in Round 1, shocking the NRL with their demolition of the Panthers.
They achieved that result on the back of incredible go-forward from the likes of Paul Vaughan, Jack de Bellin and Russell Packer. Cameron McInnes’ work from dummy half also added a dimension to their attack not seen in the Mitch Rein era.
The Eels were impressive against Manly in tough conditions. The biggest challenge for Parramatta is their spine’s week-to-week consistency. Bevan French is an excitement machine but is ultimately a rookie in the custodian role, Clinton Gutherson is an outside back turned playmaker, and Kaysa Pritchard is still finding his feet as a first grader.
Ultimately, for the first few rounds, the Eels’ fortunes will rely on the brilliant Corey Norman, who has enjoyed career-best form over the past 18 months and has the rare ability to lift those around him.
Tip: Eels 1-12