Three things The Thinker learned in round one
- Never underestimate the power of home ground advantage – excluding the neutral games in Perth, the home teams won 6 from 6.
- There are at least four teams with a history of drifting in and out of games and failing to play for 80 minutes (Panthers, Eels, Titans, Raiders). That hasn't changed, and if they want to play finals football it needs to change.
- The Melbourne Storm are so predictably good that we have a tendency not to appreciate how predictably good they are – we should be celebrating them like Winx.
Cronulla Sharks vs St George Illawarra Dragons – Thursday night – Southern Cross Group Stadium
While I concede that the Sharks were up against a strong opponent in round one, some of the stats from that loss to the Cowboys are a concern. The Sharks made just one line break all game, and their backline is full of attacking wizards (Holmes, Dugan, Moylan, Feki, Leutele) that should be breaking the line more often than that. Their forwards too, were soundly beaten by the Cowboys in the middle. Any team that misses 38 tackles in 80 minutes is going to struggle – it's stunning to think they only lost by 6. I've flagged the importance of home ground advantage and the crowd will be particularly vocal for the local derby, but Hunt and Widdop worked and they'll only get better, and that Dragons pack is an absolute ripper.
Verdict – Dragons by 4
Result – Dragons 20 defeated Sharks 16
Sydney Roosters vs Canterbury Bulldogs – Friday night – Allianz Stadium
Round one had its fair share of surprises, but surely the Roosters losing to the Tigers was the biggest surprise of all. The last time the Chooks lost to the Tigers was in 2011, and that's the first time Cooper Cronk has lost a round one NRL game since forever. The Bulldogs lost too, but that result was expected by almost everyone. There were some positive signs – Mbye at fullback looks a smart move and there was nothing wrong with the performance of the big teddy bear (Woods) in his first effort in Blue and White. I'm sticken with the chickens – they just look like a superior outfit and I'm assuming these new combinations will get better as the season progresses.
Verdict – Roosters by 7
Result – Roosters 30 defeated Bulldogs 12
Brisbane Broncos vs North Queensland Cowboys – Friday night – Suncorp Stadium
The Broncos were crap last Thursday, but I still wanted to go to this game on Friday night. Clearly I'm not the only one, because there are only single seat lefts available if you want to tag along. Wayne Bennett did his best drill sergeant impersonation at training this week, but is that enough? Do the Broncos have a team that can still compete with the best of the best? I can see why people are starting to doubt them, but under Wayne Bennett this side has finished the last three seasons in 2nd, 5th and 3rd place. I'm prepared to give them time to prove the doubters wrong, but I can't tip them on Friday night to beat the team I have pencilled in as Premiers in 2018. It's the game of the round, even with the Broncos in 16th place on the ladder – these two sides have given us too many extraordinary contests in recent years to think otherwise.
Verdict – Cowboys by 8
Result – Broncos 24 defeated Cowboys 20
New Zealand Warriors vs Gold Coast Titans – Saturday afternoon – Mt Smart Stadium
The Warriors have a recent (and awful) history of losing their first home game of the season, but at least this season they're playing their first home game at their home ground (and not travelling to Wellington or Christchurch). They also broke the hoodoo of the Perth game, with a convincing display over the Bunnies. I can't trust them to back it up in round two because this is a side that cannot be trusted, but the NRL is a much more exciting competition when the Warriors are going well. I hope like heck it continues. Thankfully the Titans came home strong against the Raiders and got me out of a pretty deep tipping hole in round one, but it's the home side for me.
Verdict – Warriors by 4
Result – Warriors 20 defeated Titans 8
Penrith Panthers vs South Sydney Rabbitohs – Saturday afternoon – Panthers Stadium
The Penrith army should be back in numbers on Saturday afternoon given the way they finished off the Eels in round one. It was three tries apiece in that game, but it was the kicking game of Nathan Cleary that saw the Panthers win by 10. Speaking of kicking games, Adam Reynolds won't be playing for the Bunnies, and Cody Walker was hobbling on one leg at the end of their loss to the Warriors. With a home crowd pushing the Panthers up the paddock and playmakers with a superior kicking game they look the logical way to go.
Verdict – Panthers by 8
Result – Panthers 18 defeated Rabbitohs 14
Melbourne Storm vs Wests Tigers – Saturday night – AAMI Park
Cooper Cronk has left the building, and Billy Slater wasn't available, but one of the big three was enough for the Storm to continue on as they always do (their last loss in a round one game was in 2002). A few journalist took some pot shots at Cameron Munster over the off-season, but his display in the number one jersey was a masterclass. The top four (at least) beckons for the purple machine once again. The Storm will be keen to show the people of Melbourne they have a team to cheer for before the AFL season gets underway. They won't take the Tigers lightly and they'll just win. It's what they do.
Verdict – Storm by 10
Result – Tigers 10 defeated Storm 8
Manly Sea Eagles vs Parramatta Eels – Sunday afternoon – Lottoland
I've spent more time pondering this game than any other, so if you have a different opinion please don't be swayed by mine. The Eels looked the goods early last weekend and switched off, and I'm hopeful that they won't be switching off this weekend. An 80 minute performance from the Eels and they win, but 80 minute performances from this side are few and far between. I've never been less confident in my life, but:
Verdict – Eels by 2
Result – Sea Eagles 54 defeated Eels 0
Canberra Raiders vs Newcastle Knights – Sunday afternoon – GIO Stadium
If my reasoning for picking the Eels is good enough for them it's definitely good enough for the Raiders. They let a game slip that shouldn't have slipped against the Titans and Ricky Stuart will drill the message that his team has to steer the course for the full 80 minutes. 80 minutes of the Raiders at home on a Sunday afternoon is a joy to behold, and good enough to beat just about everyone. Clearly the Knights (like Darren Lockyers' hair) are showing signs of promising growth, but I'm seeing green.
Verdict – Raiders by 8
Result – Knights 30 defeated Raiders 28
Wally Lewis - round two selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.
- SHARKS vs Dragons
- ROOSTERS vs Bulldogs
- Broncos vs COWBOYS
- WARRIORS vs Titans
- PANTHERS vs Rabbitohs
- STORM vs Tigers
- Sea Eagles vs EELS
- RAIDERS vs Knights