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2019 NRL season: Round 2 preview

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Roar Guru
18th March, 2019
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One round down, 25 to go, and if Round 1 wasn’t big enough, then prepare for what should be a massive Round 2.

Proceedings kick off on Thursday night when the Dragons and Rabbitohs go toe-to-toe at Kogarah Oval in what will be their first meeting since last year’s semi-final, while the Queensland derby on Friday night will bring the whole state to a standstill.

Meantime, defending premiers the Sydney Roosters will look to belatedly kick-start their season when they face the Sea Eagles at Brookvale, while on Sunday, two western Sydney rivals will go at it in the first match at ANZ Stadium for the season.

Here is your preview to Round 2.

Dragons versus Rabbitohs
If there’s one man out for some personal revenge this Thursday night, it’s Wayne Bennett.

The last time the 69-year-old supercoach led his team into battle against the Dragons, his Brisbane Broncos outfit were left embarrassed and exposed at home by a side they’d only lost to twice between August 2009 and August 2017.

Little did anyone know that the 48-18 loss the Broncos copped on an otherwise beautiful Sunday afternoon at Suncorp Stadium last September would be the last time he would coach the glamour club.

Additionally, the last time he stepped foot onto Kogarah Oval, he also oversaw a 34-12 loss for his Broncos against a Dragons side which was unleashing halfback Ben Hunt for the first time.

However, 2019 is a new season, and Bennett, to say the least, should be feeling comfortable in his new colours after being unveiled as the Rabbitohs’ new coach last December.

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Wayne Bennett arrives to take up his new coaching position with the South Sydney Rabbitohs (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

He couldn’t have asked for a better start to life in Redfern as he oversaw a 26-16 victory over reigning premiers the Sydney Roosters at the SCG last Friday night.

By contrast, the Dragons are reeling after not only losing to the Cowboys in Townsville, but also losing star forward Tyson Frizell for up to six weeks after he copped a nasty groin injury during the match.

His absence will be a massive blow for the Red V, who are already without Jack de Belin for an indefinite period while off-season recruit Korbin Sims has one more match of a two-match suspension to serve arising from his time at the Broncos.

They started well by scoring the first try of the match, but were put on the back foot for the rest of the match, with only a late consolation try at the death preventing them from a heavier defeat.

Coach Paul McGregor has called for patience as his new-look spine, which consists of Gareth Widdop at fullback and Corey Norman at five-eighth partnering Ben Hunt in the halves, takes time to gel.

But with trips to Brisbane and Newcastle, followed by a home clash against bogey side the Bulldogs, to follow after the match against the Bunnies, it is possible the Dragons could be 0-5 after five rounds.

This will be the teams’ first meeting since last year’s epic semi-final at ANZ Stadium, where Adam Reynolds scored all of his side’s points in a 13-12 win to send his side through to the preliminary final.

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Again it will take a team effort from the Dragons to try to shut him down, but without their three most important forwards I can’t see it happening.

Prediction: Rabbitohs by 14 points.

Raiders versus Storm
The first match on Friday night sees the Canberra Raiders return home to host the Melbourne Storm, fresh off a successful trip to the Gold Coast.

Ricky Stuart’s men became the first team this season to post a clean sheet when they shut the Titans out of the match, the 21-0 result also seeing them keep their opposition to nil for the first time since 2013.

It was also the perfect way to avenge last year’s heartbreaking 30-28 defeat, that being one of many single-figure losses which kept the side from playing finals last year.

Josh Hodgson of the Raiders

The Raiders desperately missed Josh Hodgson in 2018. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

They should face some more sterner opposition when they face the Melbourne Storm, which posted a 22-12 win over the Brisbane Broncos to keep intact their record of having never lost in Round 1 under Craig Bellamy.

Billy Slater’s replacement at fullback, Jahrome Hughes, proved his worth in the number one guernsey, scoring the first try of the season and generally performing well like most of his other teammates.

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The previous meeting between the two sides saw the Storm record a convincing 44-10 victory at AAMI Park in Round 20 last year, while the previous meeting in Canberra, in Round 20, 2017, saw a spiteful affair where Slater was knocked out by Iosia Soliola, who copped a five-match suspension for the incident.

While the Raiders should enjoy the support of the home crowd, I still think the Storm will take the points.

Prediction: Storm by 12 points.

Broncos versus Cowboys
As is always the case, the whole state of Queensland will come to a standstill this Friday night when the Brisbane Broncos and North Queensland Cowboys resume hostilities at Suncorp Stadium.

Life under Anthony Seibold got off to a rough start for the Broncos last week, when it was kept on the back foot for the whole match in its season-opening loss to the Storm in Melbourne.

After failing to score in the first half, they at least tied with the Storm for points in the second half before going down by 22-12.

However, they will be without forward Matthew Lodge for a fortnight after he accepted a two-match suspension for a dangerous tackle, while it remains to be seen whether James Roberts will line up after he suffered a back injury.

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That is the last thing Seibold would want as he and the Broncos attempt to shut down the Cowboys and Jason Taumalolo, who ran over 300 metres with the ball as his side came from behind to beat the Dragons by 24-12 in Townsville.

It marked a winning debut for new Cowboys captain Michael Morgan, who took up the post after the other JT, the legendary Johnathan Thurston, hung up the boots at the end of last season.

As such, the northerners will fly south confident it can notch up two on the trot, though they will face a Broncos side desperate to get on the board themselves.

Last year’s two Queensland derbies were split, with the Broncos and Cowboys each winning by four points on their respective home grounds.

Prediction: Broncos by four points.

Sharks versus Titans
The first match on Saturday sees the Sharks hosting the Titans, with both sides desperate to register their first win for the season.

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After a tumultuous off-season which saw coach Shane Flanagan walk out of the club, as well as revelations of salary cap breaches which threatened to cast a shadow over the 2016 premiership, John Morris was hired as the man to try to keep the club afloat.

They battled well against the Knights in Newcastle last week, but eventually crashed to a Round 1 defeat for the sixth consecutive year, losing 14-8 with their only try coming in controversial circumstances when they were awarded a penalty try.

Now they will need to pick themselves up for the visit by the Gold Coast Titans, who will have a point to prove after failing to fire a shot against the Canberra Raiders at home.

Despite the pre-season hype, the Titans became the first team since the Cowboys in 2012 to be kept to nil in a Round 1 match (ironically, it was the Titans who beat them 18-0 in Townsville), therefore raising suggestions that the men from the holiday strip could be bound for another long year.

At home, the Sharks should claim the points and register their first win under new coach Morris.

Prediction: Sharks by 12 points.

Shaun Johnson of the Cronulla Sharks

Shaun Johnson of the Cronulla Sharks (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)

Knights versus Panthers
The second match on Saturday sees the Knights at home for the second consecutive week, playing host to the Penrith Panthers.

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A hat-trick of wooden spoons between 2015-17 was followed by a massive season of improvement for the Novocastrians last year, finishing 11th with an 8-16 record, and another aggressive off-season of recruiting has them primed to break back into the eight this year.

Club debutants Edrick Lee (who scored an 85-metre intercept try to win the match for his new side) and David Klemmer were among the standouts in their win over the Sharks, with the side now relying less on Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce to continually fire the shots.

They’ll start favourites against a Panthers side that, even after only one round, has failed to live up to the hype.

Ivan Cleary’s return to the foot of the mountains resulted in a rather disastrous 20-12 loss to reigning wooden spooners Parramatta, a scoreless first half proving to be their downfall.

And unless they can fix up their act, it could be a long afternoon for the Panthers in the Steel City on Saturday night.

Prediction: Knights by 10 points.

Knights coach Nathan Brown during the Newcastle Knights training session at Balance Field in Mayfield, Newcastle, Thursday, August 23, 2018. (AAP Image/Darren Pateman)

Sea Eagles versus Roosters
The night match sees the battle of the beaches when the Sea Eagles and Roosters do battle at Lottoland, with both sides keen to put first-round losses behind them.

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A late try prevented the Sea Eagles from being held tryless in their loss to the Wests Tigers, while the Roosters were kept on the back foot for most of their 26-16 loss to the Rabbitohs at the SCG.

The 26 points the Chooks conceded was the most they’d coughed up since they lost 28-22 to the Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp Stadium in Round 11 last year, and this is something coach Trent Robinson would be addressing to his side at training this week.

It was also the second time in three seasons that a defending premier had lost their first match of the new season.

Thus, they’ll be looking to get back to basics against the Sea Eagles, who look set to be without fullback Tom Trbojevic for another week due to a hamstring injury aggravated during the pre-season.

In their first match under Des Hasler since he guided them to the 2011 premiership, some seven-and-a-half years ago, the Sea Eagles looked flat, which may come to suggest that another long year could loom ahead for the men from Brookvale.

But while they will enjoy the comforts of home this Saturday night, I can’t see them cracking the wall of Bondi.

Prediction: Roosters by 18 points.

Bulldogs versus Eels
The first match at ANZ Stadium for the season will see a beauty when traditional rivals the Bulldogs and Eels go head to head on the Sunday.

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After copping the heaviest defeat of any side in Round 1, the Bulldogs will be out to make a statement in their first home game for the year, and it won’t be easy against a Parramatta side that even after just one round appears to have buried the demons of last year.

Touted as wooden spoon favourites at the start of the year, the Dogs failed to fire so much of a shot in going down to the Warriors by 40-6 in Auckland, after trailing by 22-0 at half-time.

By contrast, the Eels started strongly against the Panthers, taking a 14-0 lead in the second half, but unlike the corresponding match last year when it eventually lost 24-14, they held off their rivals from the west to win by 20-12 and get their season off to a good start.

However, the win came at a cost with forward Nathan Brown set to miss three months due to a pectoral injury, while Michael Jennings is set to be suspended for one match by the tribunal for a high tackle on Isaah Yeo.

Even for a clash between two of Sydney’s biggest clubs, attracting a large crowd could prove to be a challenge, as the match will take place at the same time as the AFL clash between the GWS Giants and Essendon at Spotless Stadium next door.

Here at ANZ, the Eels should get the job done.

Prediction: Eels by eight points.

Blake Ferguson of the Parramatta Eels

Blake Ferguson in his new club colours. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

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Wests Tigers versus Warriors
The final match of the round sees two first-up winners in the Wests Tigers and Warriors go head to head at Campbelltown Stadium.

Veterans Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall turned back the clock to lead their side to a 20-6 victory over the Sea Eagles, marking a winning debut for new coach Michael Maguire, who spent twelve months out of the game after being sacked as Rabbitohs coach in 2017.

It was also their fifth consecutive win in a Round 1 match, their last loss in a season opener coming against the Dragons in 2014.

While they will start favourites against the New Zealand Warriors at home this Sunday, they’ll be aware of a side that posted the biggest win of any club in Round 1.

Spurred on by a large crowd at Mount Smart Stadium, the Warriors produced one of their best performances for a while, thrashing the Bulldogs 40-6 thanks to a 16-point haul from debutant five-eighth Adam Keighran.

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The result saw the Warriors finish a round on top of the ladder for the first time since their minor premiership winning year of 2002.

However, if they are to make it two from two to start this season, they’ll have to overcome the hoodoo of having not beaten the Wests Tigers outside of New Zealand since 2013.

Thus, in front of their Campbelltown faithful, the Tigers should emerge victorious.

Prediction: Wests Tigers by 14 points.