Here we go again. The NRL Telstra Premiership. Round One. Each team has hit the restart the button. Six clubs enter the season with new head coaches. We have positional changes, first grade debuts, new recruits, and age old rivalries.
The premiers, the Sydney Roosters, will be hunted. Wooden spooners, Parramatta Eels, will be hungry. Both clubs, and every side in between them on last year’s ladder, all aiming for one common goal – a premiership.
Welcome to the 2019 season, and welcome back to Zero Tackle for this year’s first edition of Blythy’s Round Rev Up.
Let’s do this.
Melbourne Storm vs. Brisbane Broncos
AAMI Park, 7:50pm, Thursday March 14
Team News: Jahrome Hughes takes the vacant fullback role following Billy Slater’s retirement. Kenny Bromwich will start in the back-row with Joe Stimson out. Matt Gillett returns from injury at lock, with Tom Flegler making his NRL debut from the interchange bench.
Prediction: Melbourne are first round specialists, with their last opening round loss coming back in 2001. The loss of Billy Slater however is huge, and first choice fullback Scott Drinkwater is out for 3-4 months with a pec tear. New Brisbane coach Anthony Seibold will be eager to impress the Broncos’ fanbase early, and should have his team firing for this match. The Brisbane forward pack especially looks dangerous, with a mixture of youth and experience sure to intimidate Melbourne’s pack. This should be low scoring, along the 14-12 type score line as Seibold hands Craig Bellamy his first ever opening round loss as an NRL head coach. Looking at Zero Tackle’s tipping pool on Superbru, 74% of users are tipping the Storm to win, although we believe Seibold get lead the Broncs to victory. Brisbane by 2.
Newcastle Knights vs. Cronulla Sharks
McDonald Jones Stadium, 6:00pm, Friday March 15
Team News: Newcastle will have a whopping seven club debutants, with Kalyn Ponga named at five-eighth. Herman Ese’ese is the unlucky man to miss out. Briton Nikora will make his NRL debut at Cronulla in the back-row, with Kurt Capewell filling Luke Lewis’ vacant right edge spot. Blayke Brailey also debuts from the interchange bench, while star signings Josh Morris and Shaun Johnson have both been named.
Prediction: Seven club debutants for Newcastle may make them look clunky together, but let’s not forget that they had eight in the opening round last year – and still won. Newcastle have been the talk of the pre-season, Ponga’s move to the halves and the recruitment of some genuine superstars. Cronulla have been busy as well – snaring internationals Josh Morris and Shaun Johnson, and actually head into this game as somewhat underdogs. But in a packed McDonald Jones Stadium, it’ll be the Knights that get the job done on the back of a strong showing from Mitchell Pearce, although 58% of the ZT community are with the visitors. Knights by 10.
Sydney Roosters vs. South Sydney Rabbitohs
SCG, 7:55pm, Friday March 15
Team News: Brett Morris will line-up on the right wing while recruit Angus Crichton will start from the bench following off-season shoulder surgery. The Rabbitohs have a new look back five, with Greg Inglis shifting to the right centre spot, Braidon Burns at left centre and Dane Gagai shifting to the wing. Cameron Murray starts at lock with Sam Burgess on the right edge, with club debutants Ethan Lowe and Liam Knight named on the bench alongside NRL debutant Corey Allan.
Prediction: The NRL’s longest rivalry gets going again in this one, with the premiers looking to defend their title on their new home ground, the SCG. Angus Crichton will take on his former side for the first time, but the bigger headline will be the dawn of the Wayne Bennett era in Redfern. How he changes the Rabbitohs’ attack and defensive game will be huge, but the style won’t be perfected yet. Inglis vs. Mitchell will be a huge match up, but it’s the level headed Chooks that will narrowly get home in this one, with 77% of tipsters backing the reigning premiers to start 1-0. Roosters by 1.
New Zealand Warriors vs. Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
Mt Smart Stadium, 3:00pm, Saturday March 16
Team News: Adam Keighran debuts at five-eighth for New Zealand, while Nathaniel Roache will start at hooker in place of the injured Isaac Luke. Will Hopoate has held onto the fullback spot, while Christian Crichton makes his first appearance for the Bulldogs on the wing. Dylan Napa is a straight swap for Dave Klemmer in the front-row.
Prediction: Two teams heavily tipped to miss the eight will be out to prove from the get go that they’re contenders. Fans will be treated to two brand spanking new halves combinations that have never taken the field together before. Isaac Luke is injured and Shaun Johnson has left, but the Warriors still have enough firepower to overcome a Bulldogs outfit tipped for the wooden spoon, with 71% of the Zero Tackle pool going with the hosts. Warriors by 8.
Wests Tigers vs. Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
Leichhardt Oval, 5:30pm, Saturday March 16
Team News: With Moses Mbye and David Nofoaluma out, Corey Thompson shifts to fullback, with Mahe Fonua and Robert Jennings on the wings. Former Roosters Ryan Matterson and Paul Momirovski start in their respective positions. Thomas Mikaele debuts off the bench. Brendan Elliot will start at fullback for Manly, with fellow former Titan Kane Elgey partnering Cherry-Evans in the halves. Reuben Garrick debuts on the wing.
Prediction: Saturday afternoon, the sun is shining on Leichhardt Oval, and Benji Marshall leads his side down the tunnel, followed closely behind by Robbie Farah. Goosebumps. Manly’s side looks disappointing on paper, and new signing Kane Elgey is yet to prove himself in the NRL. The sense of occasion will be there for both sides playing under a new coach, but it’ll be the Tigers that get home in front of a packed Leichhardt hill. At least, that’s what 69% of tipsters believe. Tigers by 12.
North Queensland Cowboys vs. St. George Illawarra Dragons
1300Smiles Stadium, 7:35pm, Saturday March 16
Team News: Jordan Kahu makes his North Queensland debut at fullback, joining club debutants Tom Opacic and Nene Macdonald in the backline. New captain Michael Morgan replaces Thurston at halfback, with Te Maire Martin partnering him in the halves. Josh McGuire will come off the bench. Gareth Widdop shifts to fullback, with Corey Norman at five-eighth and Matt Dufty on the bench. Jack de Belin is out, with Tyson Frizell shifting to lock and Jacob Host starting in the back-row. Mikaele Ravalawa debuts on the wing.
Prediction: Losing Ben Barba saw the Cowboys written off in many people’s eyes, but signing a player of Jordan Kahu’s calibre so late in the season has seen them bounce back. They’ve got the best forward pack in the competition, and the Dragons will be vulnerable with Jack de Belin out. Corey Norman is the new man in St George Illawarra’s spine, but too many cooks can spoil a broth, and the Dragons’ attack will be clunky. Morgan will be the man to lead his side to victory, and it’ll be a dominant performance. This match is tough to split according to the tippers, although we may need to side with 55% of our community. Cowboys by 13.
Penrith Panthers vs. Parramatta Eels
Panthers Stadium, 4:05pm, Sunday March 17
Team News: Jack Hetherington replaces Villiame Kikau in the starting side, with Tyrell Fuimaono and Hame Sele on the bench. Winger Maika Sivo and five-eighth Dylan Brown debut for Parramatta, with Shaun Lane. Junior Paulo returns in the front-row after a stint with Canberra, and Blake Ferguson shifts from the premiers to the wooden spooners on the wing.
Prediction: The western Sydney rivalry will be on full display when Parramatta travel to Panthers Stadium as they try to distance themselves from the unwanted kitchen utensil they picked up last year. Penrith haven’t made any significant recruitment moves, where as the Eels have brought in premiership winning winger Blake Ferguson, former blue and gold prop Junior Paulo and back-rower Shaun Lane. Dylan Brown has huge wraps on him as he debuts in place of Corey Norman, but he won’t be able to just take off from the get go. It’ll be the experienced Blues halves that grab the game by the scruff of the neck. This match-up looks like the most one-sided of the round according to Superbru, with 83% of our pool backing a home win. Panthers by 8.
Gold Coast Titans vs. Canberra Raiders
Cbus Super Stadium, 6:10pm, Sunday March 17
Team News: Michael Gordon has won the fullback role, demoting young gun AJ Brimson to the bench. Tyrone Peachey and Shannon Boyd make their club debut at centre and prop respectively, while Tyrone Roberts returns from the Super League in the halves. Recruit Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad is the Canberra custodian, while NRL debutant Bailey Simonsson lines up on the wing outside Joseph Leilua. Former Wigan Warrior John Bateman starts at lock while fellow English recruit Ryan Sutton is on the bench, with the uncapped Corey Horsburgh.
Prediction: Gold Coast head into the 2019 season as a legitimate dark horse for a top eight spot. They were heavily tipped for the wooden spoon throughout the pre-season but the recruitment of Shannon Boyd, Tyrone Peachey and Tyrone Roberts has given faith to a club still hunting for their maiden premiership. Canberra on the other hand, have a well below par squad in 2019. Wighton’s shift from fullback to five-eighth fails to excite, they haven’t recruited any NRL calibre props after losing their two international starting front-rowers, and their depth looks weak. The Titans should roll over Canberra here, and make an early statement, despite our ZT community almost split down the middle with a 51-49 advantage to the hosts. Titans by 16.
Point To Prove: Mitchell Moses. The Parramatta halfback finally has the reigns to the team, and will need to be dominant if he is to ease Dylan Brown’s transition into first-grade. Moses’ kicking game must be inch perfect if the Eels are to climb off the ladder’s bottom rung this year.
Struggle Street: Greg Inglis. The South Sydney captain has had a shocking pre-season, starting with being stripped of the Kangaroos’ captaincy and finishing with a minor injury and being labelled 14kgs overweight by the media. Shifted to the right edge for the first time in his career, GI will directly face off against the man compared to himself on the daily – Latrell Mitchell.
Rookie Watch: There’s a lot of debutants, but Dylan Brown is the pick of the bunch. A classy running half, provided that Moses directs the team off the park, it should free Brown to play his game and make his mark on this league early.
Best Bet: Newcastle Knights 1-12. The Knights will rise in front of their home fans, but Cronulla are too classy to be blown off the park. It’ll be a tight affair, but Mitchell Pearce is in for a career year, and should take hold of this one.
Rumour of the Week: Des Hasler wants to completely overhaul the Manly roster. The first Chess piece came with Frank Winterstein released, and there’s a high chance that Dylan Walker’s days in Brookvale are all but over. So who is the first high profile player Hasler wants? None other than St George Illawarra’s Euan Aitken. Paul McGregor is a big fan of the hard running centre, but with young gun Zac Lomax a natural right centre, the Red V wouldn’t stand in Aitken’s way.