SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 18: Jarryd Hayne of the Eels looks on during the round two NRL match between the Manly Sea Eagles and the Parramatta Eels at Lottoland on March 18, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Now, this is shaping up to be one hell of a season! Newcastle fans are partying like it’s 1997 after winning their opening two games, while Wests Tigers are stuffing up everyone’s tipping comps this year with back-to-back wins over the Roosters and the Storm.

Manly shocked the competition after shellacking Parramatta, while few tipped Brisbane tipped to upset the Cowboys, courtesy of a fantastic tackle from Brisbane’s goalpost padding. This week sees an ANZ doubleheader, a premiership heavyweight clash and a few ex-Bondi boys taking on their former club. Expect some cracking headlines coming this week.

Melbourne Storm vs. North Queensland Cowboys

AAMI Park, 8:05pm, Thursday March 22

Team News: Melbourne has named an unchanged line-up, while Michael Morgan has been named to return for the Cowboys, moving Te Maire Martin back to the bench and Corey Jensen out of the side. Coen Hess starts, moving Ethan Lowe back to the bench.
Injury Watch: Felise Kaufusi remains out for the Melbourne outfit while Lachlan Coote is inching closer to a return.
Prediction: The Grand Final rematch should be an absolute cracker, with the bulk of the Maroons squad to come up against each other. But having lost at home last week, Melbourne are certain to bounce back in a big way, with Cameron Smith to lead the way. Thurston will try his guts out, but it’ll be the men in purple that prevail. Melbourne by 8.

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs vs. Penrith Panthers

ANZ Stadium, 6:00pm, Friday March 23

Team News: Matt Frawley has been dropped, replaced in the side by Jeremy Marshall-King. Fa’amanu Brown joins the bench, while Aiden Tolman starts at lock, demoting Adam Elliot to the bench. Moses Leota replaces the injured Sam McKendry on the bench in Penrith’s only change.
Injury Watch: Sam McKendry’s third consecutive ACL tear is nothing short of heartbreaking for all rugby league fans, we wish him a full and speedy recovery.
Prediction: The Bulldogs will be desperate for a win, but Penrith are yet to concede a second-half point. If Penrith can start strong, then they’ll contain a lacklustre Canterbury outfit. Penrith by 10.

Wests Tigers vs. Brisbane Broncos

Campbelltown Stadium, 8:05pm, Friday March 23

Team News: Elijah Taylor is out, with Matt Eisenhuth starting at lock and Michael Chee-Kam joining the interchange. Tom Opacic starts in the centres replacing Jordan Kahu, with Jaydn Su’A returning from suspension on the bench. Jack Bird is an outside chance of making his Brisbane debut after being named on an extended interchange.
Injury Watch: Jack Bird is fighting to return this week after Jordan Kahu was ruled out for up to three months with a broken jaw. Josh Reynolds is some chance of returning next week for the Wests Tigers.
Prediction: Despite beating Melbourne and the Roosters, there’s still an aspect of inconsistency amongst the Wests Tigers. Brisbane was strong in their maiden win of the season last week and should back it up here. Brisbane by 4.

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Canberra Raiders vs. New Zealand Warriors

GIO Stadium, 3:00pm, Saturday March 24

Team News: Aiden Sezer starts at five-eighth with Blake Austin dropping back to the bench, with Joseph Leilua has been named despite an apparent ankle injury last week. Liam Knight has been named on the bench, while Joseph Tapine is the 18th man. Leivaha Pulu replaces Isaiah Papali’i in the starting side, with Agnatius Paasi joining the bench.
Injury Watch: Papali’i is expected to miss six weeks with a knee injury, while a groin injury has sidelined Canberra prop Charlie Gubb indefinitely.
Prediction: Canberra’s attack has been as good as their defence has been shocking. The uncertainty around the spine makes them hard to tip, but a sunny Saturday afternoon in Canberra will see them upset the Warriors to gain their first win of the season. Canberra by 7.

South Sydney Rabbitohs vs. Manly Warringah Sea Eagles

ANZ Stadium, 5:30pm, Saturday March 24

Team News: Hymel Hunt replaces Tyrell Fuimaono on the bench in the only change for South Sydney. Manly are unchanged after their huge win over Parramatta.
Injury Watch: A dislocated toe has sidelined Tyrell Fuimaono indefinitely.
Prediction: If you were to look at the form, you’d say Manly have this hands down. However, teams usually struggle the week after scoring 50 points, while South Sydney will be desperate in their first home game of the year. South Sydney by 2.

Parramatta Eels vs. Cronulla Sharks

ANZ Stadium, 7:35pm, Saturday March 24

Team News: Beau Scott replaces Will Smith on the interchange, while Kenny Edwards returns from injury, replacing Brad Takarangi on the bench. Jesse Ramien replaces Aaron Gray for Cronulla.
Injury Watch: Luke Lewis has been named outside the seventeen as he fights to return from injury for the Sharks.
Prediction: Two teams tipped by many to feature in the top four, two teams sitting 0-2 to start the season. To go 0-3 could be catastrophic, so it’s a must-win game for both sides. Brad Arthur will have Parramatta firing this week, and defeat a Sharks outfit lacking creativity. Parramatta by 4.

Gold Coast Titans vs. St. George Illawarra Dragons

Clive Berghofer Stadium, 4:10pm, Sunday March 25

Team News: Ash Taylor returns to the side, pushing Bryce Cartwright back to lock. Jarrod Wallace returns from suspension via the bench, pushing Keegan Hipgrave out of the side.
Injury Watch: Both sides are fielding their strongest outfit.
Prediction: Gold Coast take this game to Toowoomba in a bid to spread the game to regional areas. While fans will turn out in force to support their Queensland-based outfit, the Dragons have started this season with a bang and will continue their strong form here. Dragons by 12.

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Sydney Roosters vs. Newcastle Knights

Allianz Stadium, 6:30pm, Sunday March 25

Team News: Reece Robinson replaces the injured Daniel Tupou on the wing. Dylan Napa and Jared Warea-Hargreaves swap spots between the bench and a starting role. Jamie Buhrer returns on the bench for Newcastle, pushing Jacob Saifiti to the reserves.
Injury Watch: Daniel Tupou will miss six weeks with a pec injury.
Prediction: This is one of the most anticipated games of the season. Knights have claimed back to back wins to start the year, but it’s the personal headlines that will define this one. The Roosters have the stronger squad on paper, but a BIG game from Mitchell Pearce will see Newcastle claim the upset of the round. Newcastle by 1.

Point To Prove

Mitchell Pearce. An easy decision, Pearce was released by the Sydney Roosters after signing Cooper Cronk, despite Pearce’s 238 games of service. Pearce will line-up with fellow former Roosters in Aiden Guerra, Connor Watson and Shaun Kenny-Dowall as the half looks to replacing him with Cooper Cronk was a mistake.

Struggle Street

Jarryd Hayne. Much had been touted of the ‘Hayne Plane’s’ return to Parramatta, but he’s barely been spotted so far in two subpar performances for the Eels. In a desperate bid to not go 0-3 to start the season, Hayne has to get involved if he wants to prove his worth to Brad Arthur.

Rookie Watch

Liam Knight has faced controversy already in his young career, but the wraps on the young prop are huge. Expect a strong display in the front-rowers club debut for the Green Machine.

Photo of the Week

Quote of the Week

I’m sure we’ll get plenty of Knights fans that come down. We seem to get a lot more than the Roosters fans.” – Mitchell Pearce lighting the fuse ahead of his clash against his former club.

Best Bet

Melbourne Storm 1-12. To put it simply, Melbourne doesn’t lose two in a row. Especially at home. Craig Bellamy will be incredibly disappointed after last weeks shock defeat to the Wests Tigers, and while North Queensland are coming off a loss themselves, Melbourne is too clinical to falter.

Rumour Mill

The chances of Josh Mansour remaining a Panther in 2019 are growing slimmer and slimmer. One of the strongest wingers in the competition, Mansour’s carries from his own end of the field are invaluable. Canterbury, Parramatta and the Roosters are already preparing the chequebook to snare the Kangaroos winger.


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