Dragons P.L. breathe fire

THE St George Illawarra Dragons Premier League side has got its 2006 Premiership campaign off to a flyer with a convincing 32-4 win over Western Suburbs at Telstra Stadium tonight.Boasting no less than nine members of last years Jersey Flegg winning side, the Dragons played like 2005 never finished crossing for 6 tries.With former Flegg coach Steve Price at the helm, the likes of George Ndaira, Lee Te Maari and Tom Hewitt ran riot, clearly showing that a first grade call up may not be too far away.The Dragons night got off to the best possible start when 2005 Jersey Flegg player of the year Tom Haberecht crossed out wide after just four minutes. With thanks to some quality second phase play, the strapping back rower was too strong from close range. Sharks import Reece Blayney converted from touch.The red and white wall was called upon for the first time in ?05 a short time later. Much to the delight of Coach Price, the wall refused to yield. The Magpies enjoyed four consecutive sets of six but came away empty handed.Flush on the 20 minute mark, the Dragons extended their lead to ten after Tom Hewitt finished off some crafty lead up work from Ndaira. The little number 9, seemingly at home at the next level.Two sets of six later the Dragons form was resembling that of last September. After some razzle dazzle football, Aaron Wheatley crossed adjacent to the sticks. This time it was Te Maari who took the line on and popped the final ball onto the lock forwards chest. Blayney made no mistakes with the conversion, taking his sides tally to 14.With just minutes remaining in the first half, Ndaira all but put the match beyond doubt after crossing for a well deserved four pointer. Only 20 metres out from the line, the hooker threw a plethora of dummies, put on some footwork and found his way to the stripe, despite the attention of five defenders. The ingenious effort put the Dragons convincing 20-0 leaders at the break.Picking up from where they left off, St George Illawarra crossed for try number five.Once again it was TeMaari who made the initial bust. The impressive number 12 brushed defenders on his own 40 and took off downfield. Drawing the fullback to perfection TeMaari offloaded to a flying Hewitt who crossed for his second. Blayney converted for match winning 26 point lead.Wests hooker Isaac De Gois put one back on his opposite number by scoring his sides only four pointer.With the match over, handling errors became somewhat of a concern for the red and whites. Playing with such confidence, the odd pass began to miss the mark. With ten minutes to go, the Dragons managed one more smooth passage of play which resulted in Brett Morris diving over. Blayney converted from next to the posts to seal the 32-4 win.ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS 32 (T HEWITT 2, T HABERECHT, A WHEATLEY, G NDAIRA, B MORRIS TRIES ; R BLAYNEY 4 GOALS) d. WESTERN SUBURBS MAGPIES 4 ( I DE GOIS TRY)Caption: George Ndaira ? Dangerous at dummy half.

Tigers triumph over Dragons in opening night spectacle

FULLTIME: Round 1Wests Tigers 24 def. St George Illawarra Dragons 15Match summary:The NRL season opener lived up to all of the hype as the Wests Tigers defeated the St George Illawarra Dragons 24-15 at Telstra Stadium in an enthralling game.The Tigers took an early 4-0 lead as Paul Whatuira scored the first of his three tries after six minutes, when the Tigers created great space. Mark Gasnier and the Dragons responded very quickly, scoring the first of his three after 11 minutes, to level the game at 4-all. Following on from the opening exchanges, the Tigers squandered a few chances but went ahead again with a powerful try to Anthony Laffranchi. After 35 minutes the Dragons took an unlikely lead that they carried into half time with another Gasnier try, and a 10-8 half time lead.With some great end to end play, 18 minutes into the second half the Dragons extended their lead to 14-8 as Gasnier collected his third try, showing very skilled hands to juggle a kick and still dot down. The Tigers tied the match up on 66 minutes as Whatuira scored after a miracle Scott Prince offload. Trent Barrett broke the deadlock to give the Dragons a 15-14 lead with just seven minutes to go, when he nailed a picture perfect field goal. But the Tigers showed they had guts, as the kick-off hit the goal posts, and Barrett was hit very hard allowing the Tigers to come up with the ball 10 metres out. A Benji Marshall miracle ball put rookie Michael Crockett in the corner with mere minutes to go. Whatuira grabbed his third following frantic Dragons play to try and get the ball back, and sealed a very exciting and brave 24-15 win for the defending Premiers.Scorers:Wests Tigers: 24Tries: Anthony Laffranchi, Paul Whatuira(3), Michael CrockettGoals: Brett Hodgson 3/5St George Illawarra Dragons: 15Tries: Mark Gasnier(3)Goals: Wes Naiqama 1/3Field Goals: Trent BarrettVenue: Telstra StadiumCrowd: 25,000 (estimate)Referee: Paul SimpkinsHalf time: Dragons 10-8Live commentary:Put the stress ball away, stop shaking and turn off that inferior Friday television. The NRL is back for 2006!0 min: NEWS The Dragons kick the 2006 season off!3 min: NEWS Liam Fulton is taken off the field on the golf cart with an apparent shoulder injury. Mark Gasnier also down injured briefly.4 min: NEWS Dragons have given away two penalties already, both sides have made one mistake each.4 min: NEWS The Tigers make huge metres on attack and force a goal line drop out.6 min: TRY Wests TigersThe Tigers create space as the Dragons bounce off tackles creating an overlap, and Paul Whatuira scores out wide. Hodgson misses the kick. Tigers 4-09 min: NEWS The Dragons gain repeat sets as Benji Marshall spills a Trent Barrett cross field kick.10 min: NEWS The Tigers give away two very quick penalties as the Dragons are hot on attack.11 min: TRY St George Illawarra DragonsAfter some pressure on the goal line Gasnier slips through some tackles and scores out wide. Naiqama misses the conversion. Both teams very enterprising in attack.4 all.15 min: NEWS Dean Collis can't quite pull in a Scott Prince chip kick, Dragons gift possession almost straight back, and some players start waving their handbags at each other. Liam Fulton out of the rest of the game due to a dislocated shoulder.17 min: NEWS Daniel Fitzhenry bombs a certain try out wide as he drops the ball after great Tigers buildup.18 min: NEWS A decent fist fight is on the cards after the players come together for another bit of push and shove.20 min: TRY Wests TigersAnthony Laffranchi bursts across after a powerful attacking set. Hodgson just misses the conversion. Tigers 8-422 min: NEWS The Tigers are keeping the Dragons trapped down at the wrong end of the field, Prince finds touch mere feet from the corner post.20 min: TRY Wests TigersAnthong Laffranchi bursts across after a powerful attacking set. Hodgson just misses the conversion. Tigers 8-428 min: NEWS Tigers still have the running of the play. No idea why the score says 12-4.31 min: NEWS Video referee for a potential Dragons try.31 min: NEWS Try not awarded, ruled a knock on by Greenshields.33 min: NEWS Dragons hot on attack, putting immense pressure on the Tigers.35 min: TRY St George Illawarra DragonsGasnier scores off a kick, Naiqama converts. Dragons 10-839 min: NEWS Ryles is sent to the sin bin for dissent. Marshall carefully checking his jaw.40 min: NEWS Half time. The Tigers have had the run of the first half and are unlucky to be down 10-8.To be clear, the score is 10-8 to the Dragons at half time. Apologies for the slight updating issues in the first half. Everything should be all right now.40 min: NEWS The second half is underway!43 min: NEWS The Dragons have the early running in the second half, but can't finish.45 min: NEWS Fitzhenry returns a kick 30 metres to get the Tigers out of a tight situation, but the Tigers get run into touch.49 min: NEWS Ryles returns to the field, the Tigers unable to take advantage of the Dragons being a man down.50 min: NEWS The Tigers are making a plenty of mistakes and are gifting the Dragons good field position. Luckily for the Tigers, the Dragons are making enough mistakes too.54 min: NEWS The Tigers drop the ball as they are hot on attack.55 min: NEWS Ryles busts up the middle but throws the last pass to Galloway, who knocks on. Dragons on attack.57 min: TRY St George Illawarra DragonsGasnier collects a bomb, bobbles the ball and dots down for his third try out wide. Naiqama hits the posts. Dragons 14-862 min: NEWS Gasnier is going to give Marshall nightmares. He has him totally beaten. The Dragons are looking much fitter than the Tigers.66 min: NEWS Video referee for a potential Whatuira double.66 min: TRY Wests TigersWhatuira scores off a miracle Prince offload. Hodgson finally connects to lock the match up with just over 14 minutes to go. 14 all.68 min: NEWS Tigers hot on attack, Naiqama cooly lets the ball go dead in goal.71 min: NEWS The Dragons make a bad mistake and gift the Tigers the ball inside the 40.72 min: NEWS Hodgson loses the ball as he dives from dummy half at the line.73 min: FIELD GOAL St George Illawarra DragonsBarrett kicks the go-ahead point from 30 metres out. Dragons 15-1475 min: NEWS The kickoff hits the posts, Tigers recover. 77 min: TRY Wests TigersNewcomer Crockett shows his worth to the team with a handy try close to fulltime to snatch victory. Hodgson converts to extend the leadTigers 20-1579 min: TRY Wests TigersKiwi centre Paul Whatuira bags a treble for the night and puts the game beyond doubt. Hodgson fails to convert. Tigers 24-1580 min: NEWS Fulltime has sounded and the Tigers begin their 2006 campaign on the right foot, downing premiership favourites the Dragons by 24-15.-----------------------------------------Leagueunlimited.com players of the match:3 - Mark Gasnier (Dragons)2 - Scott Prince (Tigers)1 - Paul Whatuira (Tigers)-----------------------------------------

Rival Souths proposal won't go ahead

A consortium that was set to challenge Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes A Court's privatisation bid for South Sydney has decided not to go ahead.The consortium, which was headed by Champion Australasia CEO Vaughan Richards, was expected to be launched as early as today. Holmes A Court, whose proposal requires the backing of 75 per cent of Rabbitohs members at an extraordinary meeting on March 19, welcomed the decision by Vaughan not to proceed.

NSC's 2006 NRL Predictions

SEASON 2006 is here at last. The reigning premiers may have little respect with the bookies and their punters but no one can take away the Wests Tigers 2005 title.But who will fight tooth and nail for the 2006 premiership?NSC will release the 2006 Rugby League Players Almanac on the weekend through the League Unlimited Online Shop but here is a look at the predictions for the NRL season.NRL 2006Premiers:BulldogsRunner Up: Sydney RoostersTop 8 (in order of regular season finish):BulldogsRoostersCowboysKnightsBroncosEelsTigersRaiders Also Rans (in order):DragonsSea EaglesStormSharksPanthersWarriorsWooden Spoon:RabbitohsDally M Winner:Andrew Johns ? NewcastleRookie of the Year:Sam Perrett ? SydneyCoach of the Year:Michael Hagan ? NewcastleTop Tryscorer:Ty Williams ? North QueenslandTop Pointscorer:Hazem El Masri ? BulldogsState of Origin:NSW 2-1Anzac Test:AustraliaCity-Country:City OriginTri-Nations:Australia * And for the record: Round 1 TipsTigers Eels Bulldogs Raiders Warriors Roosters Cowboys And Wests Tigers winger Jamaal Lolesi to score the first try of the season from a Scott Prince cross kick.Regards,Warrick NicolsonNicolson Sports [email protected]: 0402 851 485 Fax: 02 9653 1483

Warriors to start on minus four points

THE New Zealand Warriors will go into their opening round encounter against Melbourne on minus-four competition points after the NRL today confirmed the penalty for salary cap breaches would stand.Earlier this week the Warriors provided the NRL with a written submission contesting the breach notice which penalised the club four competition points and $430,000 for salary cap breaches in 2004 and 2005. The Warriors had argued against the severity of the four-point penalty and confirmed the efforts they had undertaken to remedy all breaches.But after considering the Warriors' written submissions, the NRL decided to proceed with the penalties as outlined to the club last week. The club, which now complies with the salary cap following a final audit of all existing contracts and projections, will not lodge any further appeal.

North Sydney begin their season

IT?S finally that time of year again, round 1 in the greatest game of all. Season 2006 begins for the North Sydney Bears Premier League and Jersey Flegg teams.The Steve Carter Coached Jersey Flegg team will be the main match when they take on the Central Coast RIP at the Bears alternate home ground, T G Milner Field in Eastwood, on Sunday 12th March at 3:00pm. The Bears Junior Rep teams will play their round 3 fixtures prior to the Flegg with the Harold Matthews starting at midday.Meanwhile the Premier League Coach, Josh White, is hoping his Bears can hammerhead the Sharks into oblivion when they travel to Toyota Park on Saturday afternoon at 3:30pm.?I?m very excited, it all starts this weekend. I?ve told the boys we want to be consistent week in week out. I think we are a competitive team and our goal is to reach the finals?.On Thursday night as part of the lead up to the season the Premier League team will view specially edited highlights from their pre-season training and trial matches by New Zealand production company ButoBase.PHOTO: Bears fullback John Russell is expected to turn many a head this season with his passionate brand of attack and defence. Photo: Steve LittleTeam Lists for this WeekendNorth Sydney Premier League vs. Cronulla Sat March 11th at 3.30pm at ToyotaPark1. John Russell2. Andrew Moodie3. Karl Johnson4. Daniel Watkins5. Richard Retimana6. Daniel Russell (C)7. Ben Black8. Aaron Trinder9. Ben Ellis10. Eddie Sua11. Chris Saab12. Scott Perrin13. Luke Fatnowna14. Brendon Crabb15. Ryan Russell16. Reihana Peters22. John Kagi25. Michael HarperCoach ? Josh WhiteNorth Sydney Jersey Flegg vs. Rip, Sun March 12th at 3pm at TG Milner Field1. Joel Bennett (VC)2. Chris Heasman3. Daniel Phillips4. Paddy Kilmurray5. Rhyce Williams6. Jason Saliba7. Anthony Delaivuna8. Mitch Erickson9. Sean Bovis10. Tupou Peaua11. Mick Morris (C)12. Arnold Mano13. Chris Dears14. Blayden Baird15. Blayne Davis16. Blake McLean17. James Maloney19. Pio Rokomaqisa20. Martin Field21. James VainakoloCoach ? Steve Carter

Trial form means nothing: Hornby

ST George Illawarra halfback Ben Hornby believes ordinary trial form will count for nothing when his side meets Wests Tigers in the NRL season opener at Telstra Stadium tonight.Both clubs have struggled in the pre-season, with the defending premiers losing the World Club Challenge to Bradford in England and then copping a 42-18 flogging from Manly in their last trial game.The Dragons were overrun in their traditional Charity Shield encounter against South Sydney before succumbing to the Sydney Roosters in their last hit-out.

Warriors to learn their fate

THE New Zealand Warriors will today learn if they'll go into their opening NRL match against Melbourne at Ericsson Stadium on less than zero points.Earlier this week the Warriors provided the NRL with a written submission contesting the breach notice which penalised the club four competition points and $430,000 for salary cap breaches in 2004 and 2005. The NRL is expected to announce today that the points penalty will stand.

Injuries hit Hull

HULL have suffered a double blow as they prepare for their engage Super League match against champions Bradford, with the loss of hooker Richard Swain and prop Ewan Dowes. Swain, Hull?s captain, is likely to be sidelined for at least six weeks with a torn bicep - while Dowes suffered a recurrence of a hamstring injury in Friday?s 10-6 home defeat by Harlequins. ?Richard?s injury and loss puts pressure on us - but it also opens a door for someone else to step up to the plate and take their chance,? said coach John Kear.Hull, who have lost their last two matches, crashed to a club record 71-0 on their last visit to Odsal in the play-offs last October.Meanwhile, Bradford, who have the chance to leapfrog St Helens into top spot, are enjoying a 17-match unbeaten run stretching back to last July - but coach Brian Noble believes Hull represent dangerous opposition. ?There will be a lot of emotional issues in their thinking for this game,? he said. ?The last time they were here they lost 71-0, and it will have been in their minds during the close season. They have an early opportunity to put the record straight. ?They also started the season very well but have now lost two games in a row, and that is something they will want to put right.?New Zealand Test winger Lesley Vainikolo, who has played only one of the Bulls? opening four League matches because of an ankle injury, is included in the squad. Bradford Bulls v Hull FC, Odsal, Friday March 10 2006Bradford 18-man squad: Hape, Deacon, Vagana, Fielden, I. Harris, B. Harris, St Hilaire, Lynch, Bai, Gene, Pryce, Ferres, Vainikolo, Henderson, Langley, McKenna, Withers, Cook.Hull 18-man squad: Briscoe, Brough, Carvell, Chester, Cooke, Domic, Dixon, Hill, R. Horne, King, Lupton, Radford, Raynor, Thackray, Tony, Wheeldon, Yeaman, Whiting.Referee: K Kirkpatrick

Warriors and Wolves hungry for points

WIGAN and Warrington meet at the JJB Stadium on Friday night desperate for points, having found themselves in the wrong half of the table after the first four rounds. While the Wolves have shown a gradual improvement since their opening-round defeat by Salford, Wigan are fresh from a crushing 28-10 defeat at Salford - a result coach Ian Millward is confident was a one-off. ?I?m disappointed that we?ve not got more than one win,? he said.?But if you look at the three games we lost the only one that has really upset me was the poor performance at Salford. ?I?d like to think it was a minor setback; I?m very confident that it was. ?We?ve made some mistakes but we?re working hard to rectify them, and I think people will see how hard we?ve been working on Friday night. ?I know where we?re going. Nothing has been lost, but we have a lot to gain. Twenty-four games is a lot of games.?Millward is boosted by the return of his captain Sean O?Loughlin and he will make a late decision on whether to play Australian Test forward Bryan Fletcher or give him another run-out with the Under-21s as he continues his rehabilitation from major stomach surgery. Warrington coach Paul Cullen, with virtually a full-strength pack to choose from, has dropped prop Danny Lima after a run of 50 successive appearances. ?Rob Parker?s recovery from injury gives me the opportunity to rotate the pack,? said Cullen, who is delighted with his side?s improved form. ?We have improved with every outing since round one. Unfortunately we came up against the best side in the competition last week - and we were one score off them. ?It is a mark of our progress that we were very disappointed we didn?t win. The mood in the camp is positive.?Wigan Warriors v Warrington Wolves, JJB Stadium, Friday March 10 2006Wigan 18-man squad: Ashton, Brown, Calderwood, Dallas, Godwin, Hargreaves, Hansen, Higham, Paleaaesina, Logan, Moran, O'Loughlin, Orr, Prescott, Richards, Seu Seu, Tickle, Vaealiki.Warrington 18-man squad: Grose, Fa'afili, M. Gleeson, Kohe-Love, Briers, Sullivan, Leikvoll, Clarke, Hilton, Swann, Wainwright, Noone, M. Gleeson, Westwood, Wood, Barnett, Parker, Bridge.Referee: A Klein

Round 1 NRL preview

WELCOME back League fans. You may now refrain from cupping your hand towards your forehead and screaming ?C?mon!??yes, the season has arrived. And not before time either! Whilst I was going to impart some wise and philosophical thoughts on the eve of a new season, we've all been waiting so long that I thought it might be better to wipe the foam from our collective mouths and just to get stuck in straight away.Tigers v DragonsFor Dragons fans 2006 begins with the same team that ended their 2005 title aspirations. The reigning premiers take on the pride of Kogarah, and Wollongong, in the first match of the year which promises to be a real ripsnorter.A healthy rivalry is developing between these two joint venture clubs and this game should crystalise its? credentials as a grudge match. The Tigers are missing a few players from their all-conquering Premiership team, namely Pat Richards, Mark O?Neill and Shane Elford, who have either left the club or are injured. In Elford?s case, he tried to leave, then came back and is now injured. The backline has been boosted with the acquisition of Jamaal Lolesi and the earlier than expected return of Benji Marshall reuniting with Scott Prince in the halves.The Tigers forward pack has never looked so good. Last year all the talk was on their smallish stature but that won?t be a problem for them in ?06. My only concern is they may lose a little mobility, which was one of their best assets. In contrast, the Dragons pack is pretty much the same except for the omission of club stalwart Lance Thompson (Sharks) and the injury to Shaun Timmins. Newcomer Andrew Price finds himself locking the scrum containing two Australian props and a couple of other handy forwards in Young, Payne and Simms.The backline is also much the same, with regulars in Gasnier, Cooper, Naiqama with Greenshields taking the field. Reece Simmonds finds himself on the other wing after being given a chance by coach Brown. He appears to be the only weak link in the backs, with Captain Barrett leading the charge at five-eighth and Hornby subbing for the injured Head.This game is a hard one for punters to start with as the Tigers have been good starters over the past few years and the Dragons notoriously slow. Strangely, I think all the pressure is on the Dragons, who are favourites to win the comp, whereas the Tigers are the longest priced Premiers in history. I give it to the Tigers by a few.Knights v EelsA truly bizarre set of circumstances waits to unfold before us at the opener of Super Saturday for 2006. With Smith and Hagan set to complete the unprecedented coach swap at the end of the year, it got me thinking about what might happen at halftime. Will Smith get a bit edgy and try to find his way to the home team?s locker room at the break just to find out what it will be like? Maybe Hagan will see something in a player at Parramatta he doesn?t like and sneak in to the away side?s change room to correct it? Whatever the case, it couldn?t be more ironic or well-timed that these two teams take the field.Thaiday for Newcastle is under a bit of a fitness cloud, but otherwise both teams should take the field as announced. Once again neither team has gone through any drastic makeovers during the off-season and they are sporting pretty much their strongest outfits. Newcastle?s strength lies in their halfback (obviously) and also their back-row. Big, mobile and skilful, they?ll be looking to exploit Parra on the fringe of the rucks and get a roll-on for Johns to take advantage of. If they succeed they will be hard to stop in front of a home crowd that love their team.Parra are a little different. Whilst they have Hindmarsh to counter Newcastle?s back-row, it?s their three-quarters that will have the edge on their opponents. Burt, Smith, Tahu and Grothe are frenzied attackers and McKinnon is superb in bringing the ball back. Along with the boisterous nature of Smith at half, they could really cause Newcastle some headaches.It?s a tough one to pick, but I?m going to take the home side. Johns will have to dust off a few cobwebs, but I think he can get them home. Their transient winger from Ireland should be an interesting one to watch as well.Bulldogs v PanthersThe 2004 Premiers meet the 2003 Premiers after both of them failed to even make the semi?s last year. Each of these sides have undergone some upheaval in their player ranks with the ?Dogs losing long-time five-eighth Braith Anasta to the Chooks backline mainstay Lolesi to the Tigers. For Penrith, it might be easier to name who?s still there.Galuvao, Ross, Rogers, Pomeroy, Crossman, Donato and Franze have all moved on with the only notable purchases being Hookey, Youngquest, Norrie and Stapleton, none of which saw regular first grade in the NRL last year. I?d be a bit worried if I were a Panthers fan and the Gower issue hasn?t exactly helped their off season preparation. It could take this team a few weeks to gel and in the meantime they need some of the senior players to stand up.The Bulldogs are probably a happier camp though with the only off field dramas being the injury to wonderboy Sonny Bill Williams. It?s a bit of a mystery what?s going on with his knee, but they?ve got to take the field without him on Saturday night and looking at their forward pack, they certainly have some grunt. Asotasi and Mason starting with O?Meley set to continue his impersonation of a wrecking ball from the bench. Andrew Ryan, as captain, needs to put in a lot more this season and the new combination of Sherwin and Holdsworth with provide some interesting viewing.I?m backing the Bulldogs here.Sea Eagles v RaidersA great stoush to finish off the weekend awaits us at Fortress Brookvale where the Raiders will travel north to do battle with the folk from the peninsula.Manly have a pretty new-look about them with Storm players Orford and Bell joining the team. These guys will have a big impact upon proceedings on Saturday night with Bell scooping the centre spot vacated by Terry Hill and Orford pushing former halfback and captain Monaghan to the five-eighth role. I?m glad they?ve stuck him there instead of hooker though as I prefer Shane Dunley in the no.9 uniform. The Sea Eagles back-row is terrific and if Kennedy, Menzies and Watmough can get the upper hand in the forwards, then Manly will dominate.For the Raiders, well I?m not getting caught in this trap again. For the past two years I?ve feared for their safety on the football field and they seem to come up with gutsy victories when you least expect it. But this week you?ve really got to wonder. No Schifcofske is the big factor, but injuries throughout the forwards and backs have decimated their line-up. Jason Smith is going to need one hell of a game if he?s to pull off a victory here.I can?t see it happening though, Manly by plenty.Warriors v StormSunday?s first game sees us travel across the ditch to New Zealand where the Warriors take on the Storm in a must win game for the home team. The beginning of a new season is hard enough without having four points stripped from you before a ball is even kicked in anger. But that?s the situation the Warriors find themselves in and they need to get back to square as soon as possible. When you look at it, they?re effectively being stripped of their byes, so when their first week off comes around they won?t be able to slouch about.The Storm have some new blood in their side with the inclusion of Cooper Cronk at halfback and hothead Michael Crocker. He?s got a bit of mongrel in him though and they could use a bit of it. The backline looks sensational, with current, former and future State of Origin reps popping out everywhere. They?ll be very hard to contain over in Auckland and have the size to match it with some of the bigger Kiwi guys.But both these teams have some new combinations to work out after losing their established halfbacks at the close of ?05. Jones will be sorely missed at New Zealand and it remains to be seen if Cronk can fill Orford?s boots sufficiently. All this points to a potentially scrappy affair, especially if there?s bad weather.I?m going to take the Storm as they tend to get out of the block pretty quick each year thanks to their coach?s tough fitness standards.Broncos v CowboysNext we move on to our all Queensland affair, with last year?s runners-up facing off against a Broncos outfit with a few question marks floating around it.Big Gordie doesn?t seem to need an invitation to bag his old club these days and one must wonder what sort of an effect that might have on his former team mates. It?s funny though how players can?t say anything about the NRL without a neat $10,000 fine, but it?s perfectly acceptable for a current NRL director to give his thoughts on the coaching situation and specific players whenever he has a microphone stuck under his nose.Anyway, back to the footy. The Cowboys lost the big one last year and I bet it?s still stinging. I?m sure they want to get in there and erase the memory of their last game pretty quickly. They?ve lost Rauhihi from the engine room and dropped Webb and Hannay, but the side they put on the field is still a very good looking one.I?m backing the Cowboys in this one as I think they enjoy playing at Suncorp and I really don?t think it poses much of a threat to visiting teams. I think the Broncos will take a little while to get into the swing of things this year.Rabbitohs v RoostersOur third game this week at Telstra Stadium sees the Roosters travel to their next-door neighbours new home ground. The Rabbits have taken up residence in Homebush and will be keen to notch their second victory there after taking home the Charity Shield in their first trial game.Anasta and Harrison both turn out in their new clubs colours for the first time but the unfortunate injury to Joel Monaghan weakens the backline somewhat. In the forwards it will be interesting to see how Fitzgibbon goes at prop. Morley and Tupou will pitch in where needed but they are far from imposing. The Bunnies look like they have the forwards to match them in this one. Geddes and Cusack up front with Fa?alogo and Stuart in the back-row are tradesmen and will get the job done. Their backs look a little skinny though. Mad Dog is in the mix with Hegarty, but I?m not sure why Buddy Gordon got the brush. Merritt on the wing could pose a risk in defense being so small.Although I think the Bunnies will have a bright year, my money?s on the Roosters this week.

No axe hovering over Bennett, say Broncos

THE Brisbane Broncos says there's no axe hovering over Wayne Bennett's head despite former skipper Gorden Tallis saying the coach will have little choice but to quit if his NRL side flops in 2006.Tallis believes Bennett has put himself under enormous pressure by sacking Kevin Walters, Gary Belcher and Glenn Lazarus from his coaching staff following another finals collapse last year.

Payne sticks with Cowboys

HOOKER Aaron Payne has re-signed with the North Queensland Cowboys until the end of the 2008 NRL season.The 23 year old debuted with the Cowboys in 2002 and has played 62 games for the 2005 grand finalists. The Cowboys open their season in a Queensland derby with the Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday.

Wests Tigers outsiders on eve of NRL opener

WITH the 2006 NRL season upon us, defending premiers Wests Tigers are considered unlikely to go back-to-back in the premiership race.Centrebet Sports have Wests Tigers listed at 15/1 to win this year's premiership, that's 10th in the rankings and well out of favour with the punters.St George Illawarra Dragons (6.00), Parramatta Eels(7.00) and Sydney Roosters (7.50) head up the list of favourites to take out the 2006 premiership.South Sydney Rabbitohs and Canberra Raiders are the rank outsiders at $61.00.For Friday night's match, Wests Tigers are paying $2.75, despite taking on an under-strengthed Dragons outfit. Saints are favourites to win the NRL opener at $1.48.All things considered, Wests Tigers are looking like specials this weekend.ROUND 1 BETTINGWESTS TIGERS 2.65 v ST GEORGE-ILLAWARRA 1.48 NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS 1.80 v PARRAMATTA EELS 2.00 THE BULLDOGS 1.38 v PENRITH PANTHERS 3.05 MANLY SEA EAGLES 1.23 v CANBERRA RAIDERS 4.15 NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS 1.72 v MELBOURNE STORM 2.10 SOUTH SYDNEY 3.65 v SYDNEY ROOSTERS 1.28 BRISBANE BRONCOS 1.65 v NORTH QLD COWBOYS 2.25 PREMIERSHIP BETTINGST GEORGE-ILLAWARRA 6.00 PARRAMATTA EELS 7.00 SYDNEY ROOSTERS 7.50 NORTH QLD COWBOYS 10.00 THE BULLDOGS 10.00 BRISBANE BRONCOS 11.00 NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS 11.00 MANLY SEA EAGLES 13.00 MELBOURNE STORM 15.00 WESTS TIGERS 15.00 CRONULLA SHARKS 23.00 PENRITH PANTHERS 23.00 NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS 41.00 CANBERRA RAIDERS 61.00 SOUTH SYDNEY 61.00 For all the latest odds, margins etc, log onto www.centrebet.com

Holmes a Court suspects Singleton involved in rival bid

PETER Holmes A Court suspects fellow multi-millionaire businessman John Singleton is behind a rival bid to privatise the South Sydney rugby league club.Holmes A Court, whose proposal requires the backing of 75 per cent of Rabbitohs members at an extraordinary meeting on March 19, believes Singleton is involved in a rival $4.8 million counter-bid to buy the famous NRL club.Singleton has denied any involvement.

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