Let's do it all again! 'Blythy's Round 1 Rev Up' is back for its third year of weekly game previews, and what a stack of blockbusters there is lined up from the get go.
A Queensland derby, positional changes, new captains, new rules, and 16 clubs all vying to lift some silverware on the October long weekend.
2020. Round 1. The NRL is back. It's been a long off-season, so let's do this. Check out SportChamps for 2020 NRL tournament betting.
Parramatta Eels vs. Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
Bankwest Stadium, 8:05pm, Thursday March 12
Team News: Waqa Blake has been named despite injury concerns, while star signings Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Ryan Matterson make their Eel debut. Brandon Wakeham has won the race for the five-eighth role. Joe Stimson and Dean Britt make their club debut. Check out the SportsChamps tournament here.
Prediction: Here we go! We're back, and what better way than a local derby, at one of the premier stadiums, involving the side that everyone has spoken about all pre-season, Parramatta. They have by far the easiest starting line-up to pick, and look dangerous.
Meanwhile Canterbury are the opposite, following the scandal that not only saw Jayden Okunbor and Corey Harawira-Naera stood down, but also saw the club lose a $2 million, front of jersey sponsorship deal with Rashays. They've already lost Foran, and things won't be looking up for a while in Belmore. Mitchell Moses masterclass incoming. Parramatta by 22.
Canberra Raiders vs. Gold Coast Titans
GIO Stadium, 6:00pm, Friday March 13
Team News: Curtis Scott will play right centre for Canberra after being cleared by the NRL to take his place, while George Williams will play his maiden NRL game. Bailey Simonsson has claimed Jordan Rapana's wing spot. Corey Horsburgh will start on an edge in place of the injured John Bateman. Phillip Sami has been named at fullback with AJ Brimson named on the bench as he battles a back issue sustained at the Nines. Dale Copley moves into Sami's wing spot with recruit Sam Lisone starting in the front-row, and prop Jaimin Jolliffe will debut off the bench.
Prediction: This might not be the towel up it seems. While on paper, it's the 2019 wooden spooners up against the competition's runner-up.
However, Canberra have lost a lot of strike in Leilua and Rapana as well as the steady hand of Aidan Sezer, replaced by a more enigmatic running half in George Williams. John Bateman is also on the sidelines. The Titans on the other hand have zero expectations heading into the season after failing to win a game in the last three months of the NRL last year. Though Justin Holbrook seems to have instilled a sense of resolve in the side, and Ash Taylor is looking focused on football after a lay-off. They'll go toe-to-toe early, but expect the Raiders' class to shine through in the final quarter of the game. Raiders by 14.
North Queensland Cowboys vs. Brisbane Broncos
Queensland Country Bank Stadium, 8:05pm, Friday March 13
Team News: Val Holmes will make his NRL return, with Ben Hampton named on the left wing, recruit Esan Marsters partners Justin O'Neill in the centres, while Nines star Scott Drinkwater has officially won the race to the five-eighth role. Reece Robson is the bench utility.
Jack Bird was named at fullback on Tuesday, however an ACL tear sustained at training on Wednesday means that Isaako will likely go from the bench to fullback. Jesse Arthars has claimed the right wing spot. Captain Alex Glenn's absence means Tevita Pangai Jnr starts on an edge, with Jake Turpin starting over the benched Andrew McCullough. Check out the SportsChamps tournament here.
Prediction: Game of the round. The greatest rivalry in modern era rugby league, Valentine Holmes returning to the sport as Brisbane unveil their first long-term halfback since Ben Hunt's departure. Darius Boyd will find a new home in the centres, while Jake Turpin gets the nod as the new starting hooker.
Nines' Player of the Tournament is set to deliver magic in the 13-a-side format after being named at five-eighth, and you can't help but feel the club is finally turning a page since Thurston's retirement. It'll go down to the wire as these clashes always do, but it'll be a Michael Morgan field goal that separates them. Cowboys by 1.
Newcastle Knights vs. New Zealand Warriors
McDonald Jones Stadium, 3:00pm, Saturday March 14
Team News: Hymel Hunt shifts to the wing to make way for new centre duo Enari Tuala and Gehamet Shibasaki, with Kurt Mann and Jayden Brailey rounding out the spine. Chanel Harris-Tavita has been named in the halves with Kodi Nikorima to start from the bench. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown and Eliesa Katoa will make their NRL debut from the bench while Wayde Egan makes his club debut at hooker.
Prediction: Newcastle have gone for a defence orientated centre pairing in Shibasaki and Tuala, while Brailey plugs their middle third. They're still a strike centre and back-rower away from being true contenders, but they're on the right track. The Warriors look a mess, ACL tears to youngsters Bunty Afoa and Jackson Frei leaves them light in the middle, especially after Sam Lisone's exit.
Tohu Harris is a huge return with little fanfare so far, but the likes of Daniel Saifiti and Dave Klemmer will run rampant through the middle. Take out Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and this is a cricket score in Newcastle's favour. His inclusion closes the gap but not close enough for the Kiwi club. Knights by 16.
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs. Cronulla Sharks
ANZ Stadium, 5:30pm, Saturday March 14
Team News: Latrell Mitchell has been named in the number one jersey for the first time since 2016, while Cam Murray starts on the left edge with Liam Knight the new lock. Alex Johnston will come off the bench alongside club debutant Hame Sele. Keaon Koloamatangi will come into the side if Ethan Lowe isn't passed fit.
Matt Moylan, Bronson Xerri and Josh Dugan are all out. Will Kennedy will start at fullback with Jesse Ramien making his Cronulla comeback in the first game post-Paul Gallen. Jack Williams has been the recipient of Gal's lock position, with Connor Tracey making his Sharks debut years after leaving the club, while Toby Rudolf makes his long awaited NRL debut.
Prediction: It's a new era for both these clubs. South Sydney have lost Sam and George Burgess, John Sutton and Greg Inglis, with just three members of their 2014 premiership-winning squad remaining. Cronulla have lost stalwarts Paul Gallen and Matt Prior, with just four remaining from their own premiership win. Latrell Mitchell is now a fullback and a Rabbitoh, while Jesse Ramien returns a year after departing for Newcastle.
It's a blockbuster with plenty of question marks to be answered. How will Latrell fare in a full game at fullback? Can Jack Williams fill Gallen's shoes? Can Adam Reynolds handle the captaincy? It'll all be answered Saturday afternoon, though with the backs crisis Cronulla has and their inexperienced spine, it'll be a Round One win for Wayne. Rabbitohs by 8.
Penrith Panthers vs. Sydney Roosters
Panthers Stadium, 7:35pm, Saturday March 14
Team News: Caleb Aekins is the fullback replacement for Dylan Edwards, with recruits Zane Tetevano and Api Koroisau named in the starting side. Surprisingly, James Fisher-Harris will come off the bench after starting every game for Penrith in 2019. Angus Crichton and Kyle Flanagan fill the departures of Latrell Mitchell and Cooper Cronk respectively, with Boyd Cordner's absence meaning Sitili Tupouniua starts on an edge. Jake Friend will start after coming off the bench in the Grand Final, with Sam Verrills set to make the 14 jersey his own.
Prediction: Penrith are 2020's biggest mystery box. They have the skill and the youthful exuberance to finish in the top four. They have such inexperience they could finish bottom four. It depends on how the spine clicks, and how Ivan Cleary can mix the young forwards with the older heads and find winning combinations.
The Roosters? They're the premiers, you know what you get from them. Goal line defence second to none, creativity, class, they know how to win. Cooper Cronk mightn't be as big a loss as first thought with young Flanagan ready to take over, though Latrell Mitchell's strike and importantly goal kicking can't be emulated. He's a massive loss. They've been to England and back so they might be a little clunky to start, but the Chooks should win this in second gear. Roosters by 12.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles vs. Melbourne Storm
Lottoland, 4:05pm, Sunday March 15
Team News: Not only is Tom Trbojevic named to return from injury, both brother Jake and Addin Fonua-Blake have been named to make shock returns after originally being slated to miss the opening month. Danny Levi will start at hooker, with Lachlan Croker named on the bench to cover him. Melbourne look set to be without Nelson Asofa-Solomona, who was named 18th man as he battles a hamstring injury. Marion Seve has beat out Brenko Lee for the right centre spot. Harry Grant will finally make his NRL debut, named on the bench.
Prediction: Manly are everyone's dark horse it seems. But are they overhyped? Dylan Walker is a forced five-eighth and Danny Levi struggled to make the Knight's 17 at time over the last two years. He's a natural running hooker, but look at how Des restricted the likes of Michael Lichaa at Canterbury.
Fonua-Blake and Jake Trbojevic are big ins but you don't want them underdone this time of year. There's something exciting about Ryan Papenhuyzen playing a full season as a starting fullback. He's electric. Play just unfolds around him. It's the beginning of the end for the best wing pairing in the comp, with both Addo-Carr and Vunivalu set to move on at the end of the year. But for the record, this is Craig Bellamy's 18th season as head coach of the Storm - and he's yet to lose an opening round. Melbourne in a low-scoring affair. Storm by 4.
St. George Illawarra Dragons vs. Wests Tigers
WIN Stadium, 6:15pm, Sunday March 15
Team News: Former Rabbitohs' Isaac Luke and Billy Brittain will share the hooking duties, Zac Lomax shift to fullback, Euan Aitken has been dropped for Brayden Williame, and Tyrell Fuimaono makes his club debut off the bench in a stack of changes for the Red V. Trent Merrin will start at lock in his return to the club.
The Dragons have shifted from their original plans, now naming Corey Thompson at fullback with Adam Doueihi in the centres, with Billy Walters at hooker and Josh Reynolds named on the bench. Zane Musgrove will play his first game since 2017.
Prediction: The depleted Dragons, up against the Wests Tigers, whose line-up reeks up coming changes. You look at their 17 for this contest and know the Round 25 team list will be very different. You don't have that with the top teams, you look at the Rooster's or Melbourne's line-up and you know that team will be fairly consistently picked through the year.
The Tigers just seem like there is so much that'll change, Harry Grant may sign, Doueihi will likely shift to fullback, Moses Mbye has to return somewhere, as does Russell Packer. Despite that, they should still snag a win over the Dragons missing their most consistent player in Cam McInnes, and their most composed in Gareth Widdop has departed. Isaac Luke is a lot better than some pundits are giving him credit, but it won't be enough to stop a Tigers team that won't be scared to throw the footy around - especially with the Leilua brothers on board. Tigers by 10.
Point To Prove: Latrell Mitchell. Who else? He is easily the most talked about man in the pre-season, and joining his old club's arch rivals and a positional change after winning back-to-back premierships certainly didn't silence critics, that's for sure. The 'will he be fit enough' debate is rubbish, he only started pre-season one week after he was scheduled too. Despite playing all his juniors at fullback, he hasn't featured there in three and a half years, he'll need time to really adjust but when he does... Look out.
Struggle Street: Corey Norman. You can excuse his 2019, sure. He didn't get a full pre-season at the club, he was constantly shifted between the halves ad fullback. There's no more excuses now. Norman turns 30 this year, and is still yet to register his first Finals game win. There's no doubt he's got class but too often he looks more interested in his off-field life than his on-field performance. Time to live up to the status.
Rookie Watch: Toby Rudolf. The 24 year-old prop has such a laid back personality, but you couldn't tell if you only knew him for his on-field performances. Rudolf played Holden Cup with the Rabbitohs, even featuring as a member of their top squad in 2017, however the prop failed to make an impact, and wasn't re-signed by the club. He won a comp with the Redcliffe Dolphins in 2018, earning a two-year deal with Cronulla in the process. The man of the match in the 2019 State Championship. And now he replaces Matt Prior in the Cronulla line-up. Keep an eye out for those luscious locks on Saturday, because Toby is here for the long haul.
Best Bet: Parramatta 13+/Melbourne 1-12. Parramatta look set to inflict punishment on a team in disarray, having to stand down two players which cost them a $2 million front of jersey sponsor just days before the opening round. And Melbourne haven't lost a first round game since 2001, and have an alright record at Lottoland in recent years. Get on it.
Rumour of the Week: Corey Harawira-Naera and Jayden Okunbor were both stood down by Canterbury for code of conduct breaches after they had an after hours visit from some Port Macquarie school girls. But meanwhile, there is a high profile player at an out of Sydney club that has had a similar experience recently - without media attention. The player in question hasn't done anything illegal, but there would be heavy repercussions if the club knew what he was doing after dark.