Canterbury Bulldogs vs North Queensland Cowboys – Thursday night – ANZ Stadium
ANZ Stadium can appear cavernous and empty at the best of times, but especially so on Thursday night. This marks the first spectator-free game for the season, and for that reason alone it will make for interesting viewing. Two sides coming off a loss, but the Bulldogs probably impressed while the Cowboys disappointed. Defensively, the Bulldogs are, like their coach, a tough unit. You would expect much of the same in round two. Their attack will likely improve, but will it improve enough? The Cowboys showed glimpses of form with the ball, but were guilty of pushing plays where restraint was the order of the day. Perhaps the occasion got the better of them - in a place like Townsville the build-up before the opening of that new stadium would have been immense. I can't imagine the scoreboard attendant will be busy, but the Cowboys can do enough to bounce back here.
Verdict – Cowboys by 4
Result – Cowboys by 8
St George Illawarra Dragons vs Penrith Panthers – Friday night – Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
Rugby League is often a game of two halves, and in this particular case, the two halves are Ben Hunt and Nathan Cleary. Ben Hunt put his hand up and owned his contribution to the Dragons loss in round one, while Cleary was instrumental in the Panthers come-from-behind win over the defending premiers. Cleary has always been a wise old head on young shoulders, and we saw that in spades in round one. I wish every club had one of him. Heck, I wish every club had two of them. The Panthers should be heading into this game filled with self-confidence, while the Dragons could be filled with self-doubt. With that in mind, I think you all know who I'm tipping here.
Verdict – Panthers by 10
Result – Panthers by 4
Brisbane Broncos vs South Sydney Rabbitohs – Friday night – Suncorp Stadium
Green shoots, and then some, for the Broncos with an impressive and unexpected win over the Cowboys in Townsville. The new combinations impressed, and we have to assume that Croft and Isaako will continue to improve. Haas and Fifita look set for an enormous year, but Pangai drops out of the forwards rotation for a month. He's not the first enthusiastic forward to let enthusiasm get the better of him - some time spent focusing on his discipline would be time well spent. Alex Glenn returns, and he is disciplined. The Rabbits, like the Broncos, will improve after Mitchell gets some more time in the number one jersey. In the battle of the coaches, Bennett had the last laugh (assuming he laughs) with two victories over Seibold last season. I think Seibold will be smiling on Friday night.
Verdict – Broncos by 8
Result – Broncos by 4
New Zealand Warriors vs Canberra Raiders – Saturday afternoon – Cbus Super Stadium
First things first - for those that hadn't noticed the Warriors have re-located this game to the Gold Coast, but their future in the competition beyond this round is uncertain. Herbert and Hiku have already returned home for family reasons, and the rest of the squad indicated they are likely to do the same after this weekend. In that sense, they have all but played their hand, and one wonders if their hearts will be in this on Saturday. It's possible they'll come out and play like globetrotters, in which case this would be the game of the round. It's more possible, much more possible, that they'll hardly turn up at all. Croker and Nicoll-Klokstad suffered head knocks for the Raiders in round one, but are likely to play. Raiders for mine.
Verdict – Raiders by 14
Result – Raiders by 14
Sydney Roosters vs Manly Sea Eagles – Saturday afternoon – Leichhardt Oval
Another relocated game, perhaps with less consequence than the Warriors/Raiders clash, the Chooks have decided to move this game to Balmain rather than travel to the Central Coast. Manly are expected to name an unchanged line-up, but if they turn up wearing facemasks it would be hard to tell. They held their own against the Storm last weekend for much of the game and I'm willing to back them here in what would be quite an upset. While it seems unlikely that the Chooks would be 0 from 2 to start the season, this season is really weird, and Cordnor won't be back for another week (assuming we have another week). I honestly think the Sea Eagles can win the premiership (assuming we have a premiership), so if that be true they can prove it by knocking off the champs.
Verdict – Sea Eagles by 1
Result – Sea Eagles by 1
Cronulla Sharks vs Melbourne Storm – Saturday night – Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
Looks a gritty contest on paper, and it usually is on the paddock when these two face off. They both bring an uncompromising style of play to the game, and while I admire their tenacity it can at times be hard to watch. There won't be a crowd of Sharkies fans there to boo the Storm every time they 'bend the rules', so definitely no home ground advantage here. The Storm don't really enjoy playing the Sharks because it's a little like staring into a mirror for 80 minutes, but they do have the better roster, and with Dugan and Moylan injured (naturally) the Sharks are much more predictable in attack. Cameron Smith wants to go home, but he's a professional, so he'll get the job done and head to the airport.
Verdict – Storm by 4
Result – Storm by 2
Gold Coast Titans vs Parramatta Eels – Sunday afternoon – Cbus Super Stadium
While the Eels attack struggled to gain an ascendancy they should find the Titans defence a little easier to crack. There are five (yes...five) Titans who may or may not play on Sunday (Roberts, Proctor, Fotuaika, Brimson and Boyd). We will probably have some of them, and we could even have all of them, but with so many uncertainties the easiest thing to do is tip their opponent.
Verdict – Eels by 10
Result – Eels by 40
Wests Tigers vs Newcastle Knights – Sunday afternoon – Leichhardt Oval
Of all the empty stadiums this weekend, this is the one that might sadden me the most. For mine, there are few greater joys than watching a Sunday afternoon game at Leichhardt Oval - at least I'll get a good view of all those trees. Both teams impressed with victories in round one, but the injury to Luke Brooks is a huge blow for the Tigers. It puts a lot of pressure on Benji Marshall (which he won't mind one bit), but he's easier to manage when the team he's playing in has less moving parts. Mbye might be back for this game, which would help, but I'm with a settled Knights line-up that didn't concede a point in round one.
Verdict – Knights by 8
Result – Knights by 18
Wally Lewis - round two selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or Thursday morning
- Bulldogs vs COWBOYS
- Dragons vs PANTHERS
- Broncos vs RABBITOHS
- Warriors vs RAIDERS
- ROOSTERS vs Sea Eagles
- Sharks vs STORM
- TIGERS vs Knights
- Titans vs EELS