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ROUND 1 PREVIEW
EASTS TIGERS v SOUTHS LOGAN
Langlands Park, Saturday 3pm
Referee: Chris Butler
Head to Head: Easts 20, Souths Logan 11
Two of Queensland's traditional rivals kick off the 2012 Intrust Super Cup season in what is expected be an entertaining contest. With the backing of the Melbourne Storm, the Easts Tigers clearly have the edge in class. NRL contracted Storm players Shea Moylan, Mitchell Garbutt, Kenny Bromwich and Luke Kelly boost an already strong Tigers outfit that is gunning for its first finals appearance since 2007.
Easts coach Troy McCarthy has been encouraged by his team's pre-season, despite injury setbacks to club captain Kevin Stephensen and former Rabbitoh Jamie Simpson. Their round one opponents also won't be at full-strength, with inspirational Magpies skipper Phil Dennis (knee) still a couple of weeks away from a return.
Ben Cronin and Dane Phillips will steer the Magpies around in Dennis' absence, while an opportunity has presented itself for athletic youngster Josh Damen to start the season at fullback after impressive 2011 rookie Mitch Cronin was snapped up by the Canberra Raiders. The Tigers also have a new fullback, with McCarthy selecting former Magpie Corey Thompson in the No. 1 jersey. An elusive runner of the football, Thompson has the pace and footwork to cause more than a few problems for his old teammates.
Interestingly, the Magpies team includes four players - Matt Templeman, Matt Duncan, James Tutuila and Mat Cameron - who represented Queensland Rangers in 2011.
The mystery punter says: Easts Tigers by 14. Too many big guns but Souths will push them early on in each half.
NORTHERN PRIDE v IPSWICH JETS
Barlow Park, Saturday 5.30pm
Referee: Nick Kalpakidis
Head to Head: Pride 6, Ipswich 3, Drawn 1
The Ipswich Jets return to the scene of their disastrous 2011 semi-final loss in arguably the toughest assignment facing any Intrust Super Cup away team in the opening round. The Jets went crashing out of last year's premiership race after being convincingly beaten by the Pride in the opening week of the finals.
The Pride are heavily backed to repeat the dose but the Jets won't be without a chance after an encouraging pre-season. One factor in Ipswich's favour is that they have ready-made combinations in place as there is just one new face - former Devil Javarn White - in their starting 13. The electric White will add another dimension to the Ipswich attack with club insiders viewing the 2011 Courier-Mail Best and Fairest as the ideal replacement for Luke Capewell.
The Ipswich bench is also in good shape, with Kurtis Lingwoodock and Luke Page set to add much needed muscle. Lingwoodock will make his first appearance for the Jets since starring for the club in its 2008 grand final loss as a 17-year-old, while Titans-contracted forward Page is capable of adding some grunt in the middle. The Jets pack will need to lift against a formidable Pride outfit featuring a number of big men from NRL affiliate the Cowboys.
Ricky Thorby and Scott Bolton have been included in coach David Maiden's 17 and several other Cowboys, including Robert Lui, are tipped to line up for the Cairns club. Pride fans are again expected to turn up in big numbers for the Barlow Park encounter, particularly as the team will be made up almost entirely of home grown talent from the Far North with mainstays Ty Williams, Brett Anderson, Ben Laity and Noel Underwood back for another season.
The mystery punter says: Pride by 10. Jets to surprise the Northerners and lead at half-time but the Pride charge home to win quite comfortably in the end.
WYNNUM MANLY v TWEED HEADS
BMD Kougari Oval, Sunday 2.10pm* Live on Channel 9
Referee: Michael Wise
Head to Head: Tweed Heads 11, Wynnum Manly 10
The grand final re-match welcomes in a new era for the Intrust Super Cup. Channel 9 will broadcast the match live throughout Queensland in the new Sunday timeslot as Tweed Heads attempt to avenge last year's Intrust Super Cup grand final loss to Wynnum Manly at Suncorp Stadium. Wynnum Manly scored an against-the-odds 16-10 victory in that match to clinch their first premiership since 1995.
Wynnum Manly has some of the most passionate fans in the competition and thousands of supporters are expected to turn out at BMD Kougari Oval on Sunday for the club's first home match since their stunning 2011 grand final triumph. Tweed has named a powerful outfit brimming with NRL talent from the Gold Coast Titans. Phil Graham, Kevin Gordon, Beau Henry, Michael Henderson and Luke O'Dwyer are among the Titans players in Ben Anderson's 17.
But Tweed's trump card will again be reliable skipper Brad Davis, who will steer the new-look side around the field with his accurate kicking game. Nine players from last year's premiership-winning Wynnum Manly outfit have been named for the round one encounter. All eyes will be on the newcomers and what they will bring to Paul Green's side.
Nathanael Barnes, who played for Tweed in last year's decider, is one of a host of new players in a Wynnum backline that includes former Melbourne Storm youngster Sean Loxley and ex-Devil Jacob Fauid. On the milestone front, Wynnum forward Dane Carlaw plays his 50th Cup match.
The mystery punter says: Tweed Heads by 2. A cracking match to kick off the new Channel 9 coverage, but Tweed silence the Wynnum faithful with a late try.
CENTRAL QLD CAPRAS v SUNSHINE COAST
Browne Park, Sunday 2pm
Referee: Tim Rutherford
Head to Head: Central 4, Sunshine Coast 3
Two of the competition's rebuilding clubs face off in a round one encounter that could go either way. The Central Capras (formerly Comets) have made a number of significant changes in the off-season. The club has embraced local talent from the Central Queensland region and has appointed John Harbin, one of the most recognised and respected rugby league figures in the area, as head coach.
The Capras will build their side around key forwards Tim Glasby, James Taputu-Crombie and Alan Rothery, but the majority of other players are relative newcomers to the Intrust Super Cup. The Sea Eagles have a touch more experience and have retained the majority of players who captured the hearts of the Sunshine Coast public with their stirring finish to the 2011 season.
The Coast have speed to burn in the backs, with fullback Hughie Stanley and centre Mitchell Buckett two of the fastest players in the competition. The match will be Dave Cordwell's first in charge of the Sunshine Coast's top grade team after taking over the reins from Adam Mogg. Cordwell, a well known league identity on the Sunshine Coast, steps up after coaching the Sea Eagles' FOGS Cup team last year.
The mystery punter says: Sunshine Coast by 4. The energetic Sea Eagles take up from where they left last year to kick their season off in style.
REDCLIFFE DOLPHINS v MACKAY CUTTERS
Dolphin Oval, Sunday 2pm
Referee: Chris Anderson
Head to Head: Redcliffe 4, Mackay 3, Drawn 1
The Cutters have lost their last three matches at Dolphin Oval but the Mackay team is more than capable of grabbing their first win at the venue since 2008. Coach Anthony Seibold has assembled a strong squad in the off-season, with David Milne (Canberra Raiders) and Jason Schirnack (Wests Tigers) among the newcomers.
The Cutters will also be boosted by their partnership with the North Queensland Cowboys throughout the season and the club has already been given the services of Moses Pangai, Michael Morgan, Tyson Martin and Dane Hogan for the opening week. Seibold has been encouraged by the pre-season and is eager to make a winning start following a disappointing finish to 2011.
Likewise, Redcliffe coach John Dixon will be keen to kick off the Dolphins' 2012 campaign in style. The Dolphins were patchy in the pre-season trials after undergoing some key off-season personnel changes.
However, the inclusion of proven Cup performer Isaak Ah Mau in the front-row alongside hard-working prop and captain Chris Farrell should provide optimism for Dolphins fans. The home team is also expected to be boosted by the late inclusion of Broncos stars Nick Slyney, Luke Capewell and Dane Gagai.
The mystery punter says: Mackay by 6. The Cutters stamp themselves as a major player with a gritty win in a low scoring affair.
BURLEIGH BEARS v NORTHS DEVILS
Pizzey Park, Sunday 3pm
Referee: Robert Gallacher
Head to Head: Burleigh 19, Norths 13
New Norths Devils coach Craig Hodges takes control of an Intrust Super Cup side for the first time. The former Wynnum Manly assistant coach comes up against one of the competition's most successful coaches in Paul Bramley, a former premiership-winning mentor with Souths Logan. Both men will trot out teams rich in talent, making it hard to pick the winner in this Pizzey Park blockbuster that completes the opening round.
Burleigh has recruited smartly in the off-season, with James Stuart, Michael Brophy, Tyron Haynes, Todd Seymour, Pele Peletelese and Darren Griffiths among the signings. Griffiths and Seymour have previously played under Bramley at the Mackay Cutters and both players will take up an important leadership role. Griffiths is the co-captain alongside Kurt Sorensen while Seymour will provide the team with much needed direction from halfback.
Seymour's halves partner is impressive Titans recruit Aidan Sezer, who will be out to press his claims for an NRL berth after joining the Gold Coast from the Canterbury Bulldogs. Fellow Titans Bodene Thompson and Brenton Lawrence add to the Bears' firepower. Norths have flown under the radar for most of the pre-season but the new-look Devils have the strikepower to worry any opponent.
The big question is whether the likes of Broncos contracted players including Dale Copley, Scott Anderson and Kurt Baptiste can gel with seasoned Intrust Super Cup performers including new skipper Matt Smith, Trevor Exton, Jay Aston and Ryan Hansen. Perhaps the key to the Devils hopes is Brendon Gibb, a powerful back-rower who has returned to the Broncos after a one-year stint with Penrith. Gibb last played for the Devils in the 2010 grand final against the Northern Pride.
The mystery punter says: Norths by 6. The Devils just edge out the home team in a see-sawing end-to-end contest that provides some of the biggest hits and best tries of the opening round.