St George Illawarra Dragons vs Brisbane Broncos – Thursday night – Jubilee Oval
It's rather clever of the NRL, I think, to take what many feel is one of the weaknesses of the competition (players switching from one club to the next and the next again) and use it as the focus of the season campaign launch (I've added the video on this page for those that haven't seen it yet). The actual football kicks off with one such switch, as Ben Hunt takes on his former club for the first time. Safe to say he'll be under the spotlight on the night, but he's spent more time under the spotlight than most. While it hasn't gained as many headlines, the signing of James Graham could prove just as valuable to the Red V. He brings a work ethic and an attitude that can only bolster what is already one seriously serious pack of forwards. It's this pack of forwards that has many tipping the Dragons for a top eight finish and a win in round one. While this Dragons pack scares the jigglies out of me, I'm in the fortunate position of being able to watch the Broncos train in their brand spanking new training facility from my verandah (Sarah Palin might be able to see Russia from her house, but I can see Sam Thaiday get out of the pool and try and shoot three pointers on a half court in his pineapple budgie smugglers). Let me tell you, this Broncos side is the opposite of tiny (and Thaiday isn't playing in the NBL in this lifetime or the next). I'm writing this before their team for round one is named but the starting pack I'm expecting to see weighs in at a whopping 654 kilograms. That amount of size won't scare the jigglies out of anyone in the Dragons pack, but there might be enough mass there to make this a contest. If we have a contest up front, the Broncos backs look superior, and more settled, on paper. That Dragons spine of McInnes, Hunt, Widdup and Dufty could be unstoppable, but it might take them a little while to put it all together.
Important note: Ms Thinker nearly ran over Jordan Kahu this morning. He was visibly shaken (a lot like me whenever I'm in the car with Ms Thinker), so there's some chance his kicking game might be off).
Verdict – Broncos by 4
Result – Dragons 34 defeated Broncos 12
Newcastle Knights vs Manly Sea Eagles – Friday night – McDonald Jones Stadium
The Knights have been one of the more active clubs in the battle for new recruits..and they needed to be. They've finished in 16th place three seasons in a row – you'd need a very good time machine to find the last team that racked up three successive wooden spoons. I've no doubt they'll be better this season, but I think the Sea Eagles will be better too (and they were 6th last year...not 16th). The Knights lost 8 of their first 9 games last season, and it may take a while for the new recruits and the old guard to come together. The late withdrawal of Danny Levi won't help matters on that front either. The Sea Eagles have a settled spine and while they lost in round one last season, that defeat to the Eels was one of the best games of the round. A similar performance on Friday night and the points are theirs.
Verdict – Sea Eagles by 4
Result – Knights 19 defeated Sea Eagles 18
North Queensland Cowboys vs Cronulla Sharks – Friday night – 1300SMILES Stadium
The Sharks, on paper, have a side that could beat everyone. That said, age catches up with us all, and Paul Gallen and Luke Lewis aren't as young and attractive as they used to be. I also have a few doubts on the fitness of Andrew Fifita this early in the season, but all three of them could take to the field this weekend and make me look an utter fool. They'll need to be good though, as the Cowboys were too strong for the Sharks in the finals last year (despite the protests of a few) and that Cowboys side didn't include Thurston, Matt Scott or Jordan McLean. That's two Kangaroo-level prop forwards the Cowboys have added to their line-up this season. Their contribution is likely to make the contribution of Jason Taumalolo all the more dynamic. There's no shortage of backup firepower either with Hess, Cooper, Lowe, Bolton and Asiata. The Cowboys have been turning their home ground into quite the fortress in recent times. More of the same in 2018.
Verdict – Cowboys by 8
Result – Cowboys 20 defeated Sharks 14
Wests Tigers vs Sydney Roosters – Saturday afternoon – ANZ Stadium
What a sweet sweet draw the Chooks have in season 2018. They will barely leave Sydney all year and most of the teams they're playing twice didn't make the top eight last season. Underestimate them at your peril – given the team they can put on the park I don't think many will. The Tigers have been going through a rebuilding period, focussing on the young talent coming through the system. They've turned that on their head somewhat, with the recruitment of Benji Marshall, Josh Reynolds and Ben Matulino. Will it work? I have my doubts.
Verdict – Roosters by 16
Result – Tigers 10 defeated Roosters 8
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs New Zealand Warriors – Saturday night – Perth Stadium
In 2014 I asked NASA to run the ruler over the New Zealand Warriors and get back to me with a legitimate explanation. I haven't heard back. In the meantime I have learned to live by the following mantra – you don't need to understand the Warriors, you just need to understand that they will let you down. The Rabbitohs could be a surprise packet this season, and forcing the Warriors to travel halfway around the planet to play this game in Perth has proven to be a successful formula. Bunnies for mine, and welcome back GI.
Verdict – Rabbitohs by 10
Result – Warriors 32 defeated Rabbitohs 20
Canterbury Bulldogs vs Melbourne Storm – Saturday night – Perth Stadium
The second game of the double-header at the new Perth Stadium sees the defending premiers taking on one of the fallen giants of the NRL. I'm struggling to get my head around what's happening at Belmore, and I'm not sure if those inside the club understand it either. Usually the ever-reliable Storm tip themselves, and I am still tipping them, but we must be mindful that the Bulldogs are playing this game on the back of the memorial to club great Steve Folkes. Their current coach is well-placed to get this side to pull together and give us a performance for the ages. If James Graham and Josh Reynolds were still there I'd actually tip them, because that's two players you want in your side under these circumstances. But they're not, and without them I think they will fall short. No Slater for the Storm who will play his 300th game elsewhere. A purple victory, but this could be a more interesting contest than most expect.
Verdict – Storm by 4
Result – Storm 36 defeated Bulldogs 18
Penrith Panthers vs Parramatta Eels – Sunday afternoon – Panthers Stadium
If the rumours are true Phil Gould and Anthony Griffin are yelling at each other a lot. What's more likely is that Gould is yelling and Griffin is mumbling under his breath when Gould storms out. In any case, the trial form is poor and what was meant to be a golden period for the Penrith Panthers seems a way off yet. Gould has spent a lot of money trying to build this club..and he's cranky. He's going to be even crankier on Sunday when his side gets dusted up by another Western Sydney team with more off-field issues than Barnaby Joyce.
Verdict – Eels by 14
Result – Panthers 24 defeated Eels 14
Gold Coast Titans vs Canberra Raiders – Sunday afternoon – Cbus Super Stadium
The Titans are competing with the Commonwealth Games, the Suns, and a whole lot of surfing beaches for the hearts, minds and wallets of the locals on the glitter strip. They can get things off to a bright start under their new coach with an upset win over the Raiders on Sunday. That spine of Peats, Taylor, Elgey and Gordon looks promising and the addition of Arrow and Cartwright in the second row won't hurt either. There's no shortage of talent on show from the Raiders either. Total points overs if the wet weather clears on the weekend.
Verdict – Titans by 4
Result – Titans 30 defeated Raiders 28
Wally Lewis - round one selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.
- Dragons vs BRONCOS
- Knights vs SEA EAGLES
- COWBOYS vs Sharks
- Tigers vs ROOSTERS
- RABBITOHS vs Warriors
- Bulldogs vs STORM
- Panthers vs EELS
- Titans vs RAIDERS