Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
5 days ago
Manly Sea Eagles v Wests Tigers
Two great teams head up the F3 to showcase the 'greatest game of all' for the Central Coast faithful as the Tigers and the Eagles kick off your round 2 fixtures. Bluetongue stadium will come alive as arguably the best five/eighths in the NRL go head to head in what will be the match of the round. Kiwi comrades Kieran Foran and Benji Marshall bring contrasting styles but both need the help of their big men to win.
And this will prove the difference for Manly. Wests front rowers Woods and Groat may not have the gumption to get over the top of grizzled old veterans Brent Kite and Eagles leader, Jason King. The mobility of the Tigers pack will cause some problems for the defending premiers, but not enough to get the two points. Manly in a tight one.
My tip: Manly 20-18
Brisbane Broncos v North Queensland Cowboys
An early challenge for Jonathan Thurston and company. A challenge made more profound for the Cowboys because their post-match comments last week were angry, to say the least. Words like 'disgraceful' don't usually make an appearance in press conferences this early in the season, but after losing 18-0 at home in round 1, it's a case of fear and self-loathing in North Queensland.
No doubt they will respond against Queensland rivals, the Broncos on Friday night and no doubt this response will be led by Matthew Scott. Possibly the NRLs premier prop, Scott faces a Broncos pack built for the kill and boasting the likes of Hannant, Thaiday and the great one himself, Petero Civoniceva. Scott gets outnumbered and the Broncos make it two in a row to start life after Lockyer.
My tip: Brisbane 14-12
Gold Coast Titans v Canberra Raiders
Difficult to tell from the Titans win last week whether they have improved out of sight, or if they benefited from the Cowboys starting their 2012 tilt with a flurry of errors... One might lean towards the latter and the bookies seem to agree. They've got the visiting Raiders as only slight underdogs in your Saturday opener from Skilled Park.
Credit where it is due... the Titans were slick out of dummy half last week, patient with the football and used their strengths to advantage. They will do so again here as the big Raiders forwards melt in the Queensland heat and simply can't keep up for the 80 minutes. The Titans finish stronger with Nate Myles and Luke Douglas finding easy metres when it matters most.
My tip: Gold Coast 22-16
Canterbury Bulldogs v St George Illawarra Dragons
If we are judging performances from round 1 as an indication for this week (you bet we are!), then the Bulldogs will benefit from the maturity they displayed last Saturday. Canterbury played the last 20 minutes against the Panthers like a professional outfit and came away from the foot of the mountains with two points. A difficult task.
The Dragons, meanwhile, have not moved away from their winning formula of recent years. Discipline was the key to their win in Newcastle and you can be sure this will not change. It all makes for a beauty at ANZ stadium in Homebush on Saturday night. A beauty that, as always seems to happen with these storied rivals, will be decided in the dying moments. Saints get out to a lead and just hold on.
My tip: St George Illawarra 19-18
Cronulla Sharks v Newcastle Knights
Last week, the Sharks should have left Leichardt Oval with a win. Not many teams have even come close to doing this and the Cronulla fans will hopefully see this potential and turn out in droves for the club's home opener. Sunday afternoon at Toyota Stadium could be wet, could be windy and could be wild. For Kade Snowden, it will be hostile.
The Knights front rower will play in front of a Cronulla crowd out for revenge after he famously accepted an 11th hour offer from Newcastle to leave the Shire. Whilst this adds some flavour to the footy, it will be Todd Carney and a superior forward pack that gets the Sharks home. The Newcastle attack looked stagnant last week and this won't turn around quick enough for mine.
My tip: Cronulla 22-18
Sydney Roosters v Penrith Panthers
The Panthers played well enough to win last week but desperately needed an injection of creativity when the result was up for grabs. They still don't seem to be equipped to challenge the opposition defence for prolonged periods and this has been a consistent criticism for some time. Travis Burns and Luke Walsh will play with vigour, but not much else.
Now that the Panther bashing is over, Luke Lewis is still wearing the Penrith colours and still has the 'c' next to his name. Which means anything is possible for the visitors on Sunday afternoon at the SFS. Alas, one man can't tackle everything and whilst Lewis will try, he and his team will fall short against a talented spine and formidable bench. Roosters finish stronger again.
My tip: Roosters 22-18
Melbourne Storm v South Sydney Rabbitohs
Sunday Night Football in Melbourne as the Storm host the Bunnies in what will be a violent encounter between two angry football teams. Melbourne are once again being accused of unsportsmanlike tactics in the ruck and after watching them tie down the Raiders forwards in Canberra last week, it's hard to argue against this; but they will no doubt try.
South Sydney would be seething for very different reasons. They coughed up two premiership points last Monday night against the Roosters and will be looking to make amends. They won't. Souths have never won in Melbourne and even with their new coach being a former Storm assistant; they will fall short on the field as Cooper Cronk leads the way and teaches his opposing halves a rugby league lesson.
My tip: Melbourne 18-14
Parramatta Eels v New Zealand Warriors
Another challenge for Chris Sandow and Ben Roberts to play above themselves and lead an attack in dire need for speed. The Eels once again have no plane, no train and no Hayne on Monday night as they host the Warriors at Parra Stadium. If the visitors bounce back from their opening round loss to Manly and play anywhere near their peak, they'll fly home with the two points.
They do. The Eels will defend bravely and play with what now looks like a customary Kearney discipline, but cohesion between half and hooker is where things will fall apart for the home side. This match will stay close for the majority but Shaun Johnson and Kevin Locke will takeover in the final quarter. Feleti Mateo a standout against his old club.
My tip: New Zealand 20-16