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Thursday 8:05pm @ ANZ Stadium
Finally, Rugby League. Season 2014 kicks off with arguably the greatest rivalry in the NRL between the only two foundation clubs still in existence. The Roosters meet the Bunnies at ANZ Stadium on Thursday night and they won’t take long to warm up. Two very talented and very passionate football teams guarantee a beauty to get us going and the atmosphere will be magnificent. They meet for the 208th time to get the season rolling.
As noted during the week, the Chooks are essentially unchanged from their last NRL start. This Grand Final winning team now has the swagger it was missing and will have the upper-hand in this match. They are the favourites here and with a fire breathing forward pack, an all-star halves combination and a backline from hell, it’s no surprise. South Sydney will do all they can to contain the Roosters but it proves too tough over the 80 minutes.
Paul's Tip: Roosters 20-12
Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs v Brisbane Broncos
Friday 8:05pm @ ANZ Stadium
A test for the 'Dogs – after finishing season 2013 like an unwanted, flea ridden mongrel, the Bulldogs will need something new and fresh to bolster their attack. It was not a pretty site in this department last year and their best attacking weapon from recent history now bats for the other team. Not that there is anything wrong with that – young Benny Barba can play for whoever he likes, obviously, but the Blue and White faithful won’t forget.
Speaking of the other team, the Broncos needed a similar spark and have decided on the Ben Hunt/Josh Hoffman halves combination to lead them around the park on Friday night at ANZ Stadium. How lovely for the Broncos that they finally get a Friday night game – it feels like an eternity since they earned the prime time position. My bitterness aside, old heads Sam Thaiday and Corey Parker will contribute as always but the visitors will fall short.
Paul's Tip: Bulldogs 19-18
Saturday 4:30pm @ Sportingbet Stadium
A cracking game of footy. Obvious to anyone watching that Panthers Coach Ivan Cleary has a master plan for this club and each year, he gets closer to turning Penrith into a contender. This year, another experiment begins. Cleary seems like he has that perfect balance of youth and experience with the likes of Brent Kite, Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace on board. But make no mistake – the spark will be provided by the juniors that Penrith have been preparing for a couple of years now – Matt Moylan in particular the standout.
The Knights already have this balance right. They fell just shy of a GF appearance last year after a glorious semi-final run. They are good. Whilst the loss of Jarod Mullen will be difficult to overcome, it will be just another challenge for this battle hardened collection of footballers. They have the toughest forward pack in the league and with Kurt Gidley now anchoring the likes of Snowden, Mason, Scott and Smith – they’ll wrestle and rumble their way to a win.
Paul's Tip: Newcastle 18-8
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles v Melbourne Storm
Saturday 7pm @ Brookvale Oval
Another great Rivalry to kick off your Saturday night bottler from Brookvale Oval. The Eagles and the Storm have a celebrated recent history, with many bloody chapters highlighting some of the best players of the modern era. They’ve been the standard by which success is measured and now, another glorious chapter gets written by a new addition to this great contest of the NRL’s elite. Ben Roberts makes his debut for the Storm so try and contain yourselves, Storm fans.
Manly are placed well in this one. They have both Stewart brothers healthy and a forward pack lead by 2013’s breakout front rower, Brenton Lawrence. This kid has it all. Lawrence’s combination up front with Justin Horo and Anthony Watmough will be too much for the visitors. Out wide, Manly’s field position with allow the likes of Jamie Lyon to measure the Storm defence and then destroy them late in the game. Home side wins.
Paul's Tip: Manly 24-14
Saturday 9pm @ 1300SMILES Stadium
A couple of old cheeky halfbacks make their respective debuts in new coaching roles and we’d expect their personalities to shine through on Saturday night at 1300 Smiles Stadium in Townsville. Paul Green makes his NRL coaching debut for the Cowboys while ‘Sticky’ Ricky Stuart coaches his 4th NRL team, the mighty Green Machine. Canberra could actually be morphed into a defensive powerhouse, if all the planets align, whilst the Cowboys are a mystery.
What does Paul Green have in store for us? Well, if the Auckland Nines are anything to go by… actually… they’re not, so let’s move on. As has been the case since 2005, everything and anything good that happens in Townsville will happen because Jonathan Thurston says so. He’ll kick the Raiders out of this contest and when the likes of Papalii, Fensom and Edwards are too hot and too tired, the Cowboys run away.
Paul's Tip: North Queensland 30-12
St George Illawarra Dragons v Wests Tigers
Sunday 3pm @ ANZ Stadium
These two former powerhouses of the NRL finished 14th and 15th, respectively last year. Now, the long and painful road back begins on Sunday afternoon for a couple of blokes who’ve been given a second chance. Mick Potter is tasked with designing a Tigers structure without Benji Marshall and for the first time in more than a decade, Tigers fans will look to someone else for their reason to live. The Dragons’ Steve Price has more problems.
Price’s team had the worst attacking record in the competition last year and if the Red V are to drag themselves out of this stinking pit of drudgery, it will have to be via a strong halves combination, as it always is. Plenty of doubts about the Widdop/Witt combination. Speaking of doubts, there are absolutely none related to the Tigers captain Robbie Farah. He will pick apart the inexperienced Dragons defensive combinations and Wests win.
Paul's Tip: Tigers 30-20
Sunday 6:30pm @ Pirtek Stadium
Sunday night footy from the wild west as your 2012 and 2013 wooden spooners, the Parramatta Eels, gear up for a shot at the three-peat. At this point it would be great to research some stats to find out if any club has won three consecutive wooden spoons, so I did. Not since the mighty Gold Coast Seagulls teams of the early 90’s, has an NRL team achieved what still seems like the unachievable – but they did.
So, if Parramatta can repeat the performances of Wally Lewis, Dale Shearer and the mighty Adrian Vowles, they are well on their way history and let’s hope Jarryd Hayne’s name can be uttered with as much reverence in 20 years’ time. Speaking of time – it’s time to talk about the Warriors. They’ve apparently looked good in trials and with Chad Townsend taking some pressure off Shaun Johnson; they could be dangerous this week. Johnson the difference.
Paul's Tip: Warriors 24-22
Cronulla Sutherland Sharks v Gold Coast Titans
Monday 7pm @ Remondis Stadium
Your first edition of Monday night football comes from Remondis Stadium in the Shire with Cronulla in the same place they’ve always been, in deep doo doo. Perhaps a chance for the visiting Titans to catch them off guard, or perhaps not. The Sharks seemed to take it all in their stride last year as their season and individual careers looked threatened more every week. This year, even with people using words like ‘doo doo’ to describe their situation, they’ll be fine once more.
The usual suspects will give them the go-forward they need and Andrew Fafita leads this charge. Fafita is not only being included in ‘best front rower’ conversations, he is winning them. For the Titans – even more so than the Sharks – it’s the same faces up front. You’ll get plenty of courage from Bird, Myles and Harrison, but not much charisma. If Todd Carney is 90% healthy, the class and mobility of the home side proves too good.
Paul's Tip: Cronulla 20-18