The retirement of Boyd Cordner this week was not at all unexpected.
One round down, 24 to go, and already we might have a taste of who might do well this season, with the likes of the Roosters, Storm and Raiders all winning their first-round matches in convincing fashion.
The Chooks recorded their largest ever Round 1 win when they put the Sea Eagles to the sword at the SCG, and should build on it when they travel to Campbelltown to face the Wests Tigers on Sunday afternoon.
Elsewhere, the Storm began life after Cameron Smith with a comfortable win over the Rabbitohs, while the Raiders conceded the first try against the Tigers but nonetheless also won comfortably to get their season off to a winning start.
In other matches this round, two clubs with new coaches will be out to rebound from disappointing Round 1 defeats, while the south-east Queensland derby should deliver us our first win by any of the state-based sides this year.
Here is your preview of Round 2.
Eels vs Storm
Round 2 kicks off with what promises to be a beauty when the Parramatta Eels play host to the Melbourne Storm at Bankwest Stadium on Thursday night.
The Eels go into this match on the back of coming from behind to beat the Brisbane Broncos 24-16 but coach Brad Arthur would have been fuming at his side’s first-half performance, in which they trailed last year’s wooden spooners 16-0 at halftime.
Arthur accused his side of not respecting his opposition, but at the same time praised the northerners for the way they played their football in the first half, knowing they would be a different side to the one that crashed and burned last year.
Whatever Arthur said to his troops at halftime seemed to have the desired effect as the Eels slammed on four unanswered second-half tries to get their season off to a winning start.
But last year’s semi-finalists will have to be on their A-game when they face the Storm, who set up their first-round win over the Bunnies with a barnstorming first half in which they led 24-0 after half an hour’s play.
The premiers were then held tryless in the second half but nonetheless did enough to outlast the men from Redfern 26-18 and maintain their record of having not lost in Round 1 since 2001, nor lost their first match of a new season since 2004 (against the Knights in Round 2 after having a Round 1 bye).
This will be just the second time the Eels have played the Storm in Sydney since 2016; they also met at Bankwest Stadium in Round 15 last season, with the Eels winning 14-0 over a Storm side that was missing injured captain Cameron Smith.
While the Eels will be primed for a huge performance in front of their fans at Bankwest Stadium, which has been capped at 75 per cent capacity, the Storm will get the points in what will be the first of two straight matches on the road.
Storm by 12 points.
Warriors vs Knights
The first of the two Friday night matches sees two first-up winners in the Warriors and Knights go head-to-head on the Central Coast, in what is effectively a Knights home game as they only have to make the short road trip south.
The Warriors, who won the respect of Australian sport for their willingness to play last year’s NRL season away from home, made themselves feel at home when they defeated the more-fancied Titans 19-6 on the Central Coast last week.
They led 6-0 at halftime and led by as much as 18-0 before conceding a late try; the win later capped off by a field goal from Chanel Harris-Tevita at the death.
It was a promising start for the club under new coach Nathan Brown, but understandably he has kept a lid on expectations for his side – it’s worth noting he hasn’t led an NRL club to a finals series since 2008, nor has he coached an NRL finals win since 2006 (both with the Dragons).
Next for the Warriors are the Knights, who put last season’s Round 11 loss to the Bulldogs behind them to record a strong 32-16 win, with new captain Daniel Saifiti scoring the first double of his career in his 100th NRL game.
The Knights may have been without Kalyn Ponga but were otherwise well serviced by Mitchell Pearce, who relinquished the captaincy during the off-season following a scandal involving a club staff member, and new recruit Tyson Frizell, who played well in his club debut.
Given the form of both clubs in the opening round, it will be difficult to predict a winner with any real confidence but I have the Knights winning it – just.
Knights by eight points.
Titans vs Broncos
We have not had to wait long for our first Queensland derby for the season, but after all three state-based clubs lost their opening round matches for the first time since 2015, we should be guaranteed a winner this Friday night, barring a draw.
Despite all the hype during the off-season, the Titans’ new recruits failed to fire a shot in their Round 1 loss to the Warriors on the Central Coast, being held scoreless in the first half and not scoring until seven minutes to go, by which point the match was out of their reach.
This has placed the club, now in their 15th NRL season, under the microscope following pre-season predictions that they could build on last season’s improvement whereby they won their final five games to finish in ninth place on the ladder.
Another team in the spotlight is the Brisbane Broncos, who started well against the Parramatta Eels in their first match under new coach Kevin Walters, but ultimately collapsed in the second half in an all-too-familiar trend that we saw last season.
Last year’s wooden spooners took a surprise 16-0 lead at halftime, but injuries to Matt Lodge, Xavier Coates and club debutant John Asiata conspired against them as they coughed up four unanswered tries to lose 24-16.
Despite the result, it was still an encouraging performance from the Broncos, and goes to show that they will not want to be taken lightly by opposition sides in 2021.
Though they only have to make the short trip down the M1, I have them winning in the battle of south-east Queensland.
Broncos by 10 points.
Bulldogs vs Panthers
After experiencing grand final disappointment last year, it has not taken very long for the Penrith Panthers to settle into the new season.
With new co-captains Isaah Yeo and Nathan Cleary at the helm, the mountain men produced an impressive performance all round to shut the Cowboys out 24-0 to begin their journey to what they hope will end with a third premiership, but first since 2003.
They led only 8-0 at the break but kept their foot on the pedal in the second half, impressing before what appeared to be a full house, but in reality was a COVID-safe crowd of just over 11,000.
It was also their second consecutive regular season shutout victory, after having beaten the Bulldogs, their opponents at Bankwest Stadium this weekend, by 42-0 in the final round last year.
For the Dogs, life under new coach Trent Barrett got off to a rough start; despite scoring the first try and having beaten the Knights in Round 11 last season, the new-look side were no match for the Novocastrians, losing 32-16 at McDonald Jones Stadium last Friday night.
Things will not get any easier for Barrett and the Dogs as they face up to last year’s minor premiers, and it could be a long afternoon in the office in what is a neutral match for both sides, though Bankwest Stadium is geographically closer to Canterbury than it is to Penrith.
Panthers by 20 points.
Sea Eagles vs Rabbitohs
For the Sea Eagles and Rabbitohs, this Saturday night’s clash at Lottoland will be all about redemption, for contrasting reasons.
Both sides enter this Round 2 contest on the back of contrastingly disappointing defeats, with the Bunnies falling to the Melbourne Storm 26-18 while the Sea Eagles were humiliated by the Sydney Roosters, losing 46-4.
It seems like every time the Rabbitohs pack for Melbourne, they always forget to bring their A-game, as they quickly fell behind 24-0 after half an hour of play, leaving them to play catch-up for the rest of the match.
Despite an improved second half, their history of bad luck in the AFL capital continued and coach Wayne Bennett was left fuming at their dismal first half performance.
His Manly counterpart, Des Hasler, was left with no choice but to apologise to the club’s fans after the embarrassment and tripe that his side served up against the Tricolours at the SCG.
The writing was already on the wall when the Silvertails coughed up the first try after just two minutes, and they themselves ended up with only a try to Reuben Garrick inside ten minutes to show on what was a dirty day in the office.
It will be interesting to see which team can hit back after their dismal Round 1 performances. The Rabbitohs’ starpower will get them over the line in this one.
Rabbitohs by 10 points.
Cowboys vs Dragons
One round may have already passed but for the Cowboys and Dragons, both with new coaches, crunch time has already arrived.
In their first outing under new coach Todd Payten, the Cows failed to impress against the Panthers, failing to score a point in their 24-0 shutout loss at the hands of the Penrith Panthers, marking the first time they’d been kept to nil in a season-opening match since 2012.
Payten, who was part of the Wests Tigers team that won the 2005 premiership at the expense of the club he coaches now, copped criticism for his decision to bench his best forward, Jason Taumalolo, in the first half and then reactivating him when the match was out of their reach.
That has Taumalolo primed for a huge performance when the northerners welcome the Dragons to Townsville this Saturday night.
Without Corey Norman (suspended) and Cameron McInnes (injured), the Dragons trailed cross-town rivals the Sharks 14-0 at halftime, and while they managed to fight their way back into the contest, they ended up losing 32-18, tying the second half 18-all.
Naturally, that has Dragons fans fearing another long season, and their new coach Anthony Griffin already has a huge task on his hands trying to satisfy their fan-base which has been left frustrated by the club’s constant underachieving over the past decade.
A trip to Townsville might either be the last thing they need to kick-start their season, or it could be a good way to get out of Sydney for the weekend and escape the media fishbowl that has been unkind to them in recent seasons.
But at home, the Cowboys should bounce back.
Cowboys by 12 points.
Wests Tigers vs Roosters
As if facing one of the premiership favourites in Canberra in the opening round wasn’t punishing enough, facing a red-hot Sydney Roosters side is the last thing the Wests Tigers would want as they attempt to put an end to the longest finals drought of any NRL club.
The Tigers started well against the Raiders last Sunday, with Jacob Liddle scoring the first try and holding the Green Machine to six-all at halftime, after which they collapsed to lose 30-12 and get their season off to a disastrous start.
Things will not get any easier when they welcome the Chooks to Campbelltown, with Trent Robinson’s side registering their largest ever Round 1 victory when they thrashed the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles by 46-4 at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
James Tedesco and Brett Morris each scored three tries as the Roosters ran riot, underlining that even after their straight-sets finals exit last year, they are still up there among the contenders for the NRL premiership this year.
It will be the first time the Roosters play at Campbelltown Stadium in nearly a decade, when they won a tight tussle against the Tigers by 12-8 in Round 8, 2010. Their previous appearance before that saw the Chooks run riot 56-0 on a cold Friday night back in Round 16, 2004.
On the road, the Roosters should get the points as they gear up for the Bunnies in Round 3.
Roosters by 20 points.
Sharks vs Raiders
The final match of Round 2 sees the Sharks play host to the Canberra Raiders at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.
Both sides will go into this match on the back of a seven-day turnaround following their respective Round 1 wins over the Dragons and Wests Tigers, respectively.
Despite having Jesse Ramien sin-binned in the first half, the Sharks went on to lead 14-0 at halftime, and then fought off a second-half fightback from the Dragons to win 32-18, with the second-half score being 18-all.
But while it’s only Round 1 of the new season, it has done more to highlight the club’s status as flat-track bullies, the Dragons having finished 12th last year.
Perhaps we’ll get a better view of the Sharks’ credentials when they face the Raiders at home for the third time in their past four matches, having lost to them in consecutive weeks towards the end of last season – in the final round and then in the elimination final.
The Raiders were slow to get out of the blocks against the Tigers last Sunday, coughing up the first points of the match but then pegging back a try to be level at six-all at halftime, after which they scored another four tries to get their season off to a winning start.
Most inspirational was the try scored by Raiders recruit Ryan James shortly after halftime, in what was his first match since rupturing his ACL while at the Gold Coast Titans last season.
The Raiders and Sharks have had a bit of rivalry between them in recent seasons and it would not be surprising if they again produced another ripper of a match to finish off Round 2.
On the road, Ricky Stuart’s side should get the job done.
Raiders by 18 points.