Parramatta Eels vs Canterbury Bulldogs – Thursday night – Bankwest Stadium
Parramatta begin season 2020 with lofty expectations, but this is a team with a history (since 1986 at least) of struggling under the weight of such expectations. Last in 2018 and fifth in 2019, they appear to be heading in the right direction. Were they to miss the top eight this season it would be an epic fail, but failure is one thing this club knows well. They kick off the season at Bankwest, a venue that has become quite a fortress for them (although they did lose to the Bulldogs at this ground late last season). Campbell-Gillard debuts with his new club, and I'm hopeful that the change of scenery will see him return to the sort of form that saw him, albeit fleetingly, as one of the best props in the game. This is a good test first up, as the Bulldogs always turn up with a pack of forwards that will make you earn your keep. I genuinely believe the Bulldogs are a top eight team this season, and I'm expecting a tighter contest than most, but that home ground advantage and the enthusiasm that the first game of the season brings, sees me tipping the Eels.
Verdict – Eels by 2
Result – Eels 8 defeated Bulldogs 2
Canberra Raiders vs Gold Coast Titans – Friday night – GIO Stadium
The Raiders, grand finalists last year and oh so close, take on the 2019 wooden spooners. The Titans won just four games last year, and they've lost one of their most important players in Ryan James in what appears to be a season-ending injury. He's a huge loss, and Friday night could be another huge loss.
Verdict – Raiders by 16
Result – Raiders 24 defeated Titans 6
North Queensland Cowboys vs Brisbane Broncos – Friday night – Queensland Country Bank Stadium
The game has come a long way since 1995, and even moreso the Cowboys. In their inaugural season, the first grade team were called in to lay the turf on the ground in the days leading up to the first game. Kerry Boustead, the inaugural CEO, ducked off to the shops before the gates opened to get toilet paper for the portaloos. In 2020, we're all running out of toilet paper, but the Cowboys have a bloody nice stadium in the right part of town. It's a huge boost for the club, the city and the game. Fingers crossed they stocked up on toilet paper before now. You couldn't have them playing any other team for their first game at the new venue, with these two clubs giving us some of the best club rugby league we have seen in recent years. Both sides are coming off disappointing seasons, and both have rosters that are good enough to be playing finals footy in 2020. The Broncos have lost Matt Lodge and will probably lose Alex Glenn, and while they have an extraordinarily brilliant pack of forwards they will be without two of their most senior and sensible figures. It's highly likely that Patrick Carrigan, barely 22 years of age, gets the (c) beside his name on Friday night. He's a tremendous young man, but it's a big ask to expect him to keep all those other big units in check. Plenty of eyes will be on Valentine Holmes, the big ticket signing for the Cowboys. He'll go well...and the Cowboys will christen the new home ground with a win.
Verdict – Cowboys by 4
Result – Broncos 28 defeated Cowboys 21
Newcastle Knights vs New Zealand Warriors – Saturday afternoon – McDonald Jones Stadium
It's not easy to make outlandish claims in the first week of a season - this game can make the best of judges look quite the fool. That said, I'm foolish enough to suggest that the Knights are good things on Saturday afternoon. The Warriors are notoriously slow starters, they're away from home, they're short on big forwards, and their best player (Tuivasa-Sheck) is in doubt. Their coach could be updating his linkedin profile early this year. Speaking of coaches, the Knights have handed the clipboard to Adam O'Brien. He's got a good pedigree, spending time in assistant roles with the Storm and the Roosters. The Knights trial form, for what that's worth, has impressed, and there's a feeling around town that O'Brien has this team doing all the right things. With the Warriors down on forwards, the Knights pack can dominate here, and Jayden Brailey has the speed and the hands to give Pearce and Ponga the room they need to deliver.
Verdict – Knights by 10
Result – Knights 20 defeated Warriors 0
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Cronulla Sharks – Saturday afternoon – ANZ Stadium
Most eyes will be on Latrell Mitchell in the red and green. The club, and the coach, look a good fit for him. Plenty are questioning him in the fullback role, including me, but having players of the calibre of Cook, Murray and Walker steering you into gaps should make it easier. He will need to stay engaged in defence, but that's up to him really. I expect he will be relieved of kicking duties, at least while new club captain Adam Reynolds is on the paddock. Potentially, this is the best spine in the NRL, so let's see if they deliver. My eyes will also be on a couple of young guns for the Sharks. Cronulla have let Jayden Brailey go and stuck with younger brother Blayke (clearly their parents love the letter 'y') - big wraps. Billy Magoulias looks set to become a regular first grader this season after impressing the Bluebags at Newtown. Promising youngsters both of them, but with doubts over a whole bunch of the Sharks key players (Dugan, Moylan, Xerri, Johnson) I'll tip the Bunnies.
Verdict – Rabbitohs by 4
Result – Rabbitohs 22 defeated Sharks 18
Penrith Panthers vs Sydney Roosters – Saturday night – Panthers Stadium
Back-to-back premierships is quite the feat, and the Chooks are the current favourite to win the title again this season. Cooper Cronk and Latrell Mitchell have departed, but they still have a roster that is the envy of just about all others. There are no big-name recruits this season, but they don't need any. Penrith, on the other hand, are spending and losing more money than every other club and have little to show for it. Even Phil Gould has given up, jumping ship to the Dragons this season. They're a frustrating side, and they're not even my side. The Roosters are on the back-up from the World Club Challenge, but they were on light duties during the Nines tournament and I expect they'll be fine. Too much class.
Verdict – Roosters by 8
Result – Panthers 20 defeated Roosters 14
Manly Sea Eagles vs Melbourne Storm – Sunday afternoon – Lottoland
I've got a peaceful easy feeling that the Eagles can win the premiership this year (did you see what I did there kids? Come on....that's not bad). This is a good early test of their capacities against one of the great Australian sporting clubs of the modern era. Manly are missing a decent chunk of their engine room (and some real spelling challenges for The Thinker) in round one with Jake Trbojevic, Addin Fonua-Blake, Jack Gosiewski and Taniela Paseka all unavailable with injury. The Storm pack will be without Brandon 'waiting for a mate' Smith and Christian Welch but otherwise look strong - my mail is Asofa-Solomona will play despite a hamstring issue and a colourful off-season. While I expect the Sea Eagles will make a game of it (and this is the game of the round), the Storm almost never lose the first game of the season. I can't find enough reasons to tip against them.
Verdict – Storm by 2
Result – Storm 18 defeated Sea Eagles 4
St George Illawarra Dragons vs Wests Tigers – Sunday afternoon – WIN Stadium
Now that The Mole is basically a celebrity, I've stepped up into the role of Australia's most famous anonymous rugby league tipster. With the role comes great responsibility - at times I have to make judgement calls I don't particularly wish to make. Here's one such call:
I don't like the Tigers line-up...at all.
Now the Tigers aren't my team, but I do have a soft spot for them, and I want them doing well. I hope they prove me wrong, but I fear I'm right. The Dragons, even without McInnes, Korbin Sims and Dufty, will beat this lot on Sunday afternoon. Ouch!
Verdict – Dragons by 4
Result – Tigers 24 defeated Dragons 14
Wally Lewis - round one selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or Thursday morning
- EELS vs Bulldogs
- RAIDERS vs Titans
- COWBOYS vs Broncos
- KNIGHTS vs Warriors
- RABBITOHS vs Sharks
- Panthers vs ROOSTERS
- Sea Eagles vs STORM
- DRAGONS vs Tigers