We’re back! The NRL returned last weekend with an absolute bang. The rugby league gods certainly nailed the scripts for the first round, providing moments some can only dream of?
Ben Hunt scoring an intercept try from a Matt Lodge pass? Check. Mitchell Pearce kicking the winning field goal in his first match as a Dragon? Check. A team tipped by many to come last, beating premiership-favourites the Sydney Roosters in the dying stages? You betcha!
Round 2 comes with a host of intriguing storylines and long-running rivalries. Cronulla face nemesis St George Illawarra, while Brisbane up against North Queensland has easily been the best matches over the past few seasons. Saddle in, because this season has only just begun.
For full team lists, click here.
Cronulla Sharks vs. St George Illawarra Dragons
Southern Cross Group Stadium, 8:05pm, Thursday March 15
Team News: Aaron Gray will make his debut for Cronulla, replacing the injured Sione Katoa on the wing. Hame Sele has been named on the bench for St. George Illawarra, demoting Jeremy Latimore to 18th man.
Injury Watch: Katoa is set to miss a month of football following a broken jaw on debut, while Luke Lewis is at least a fortnight away.
Prediction: Cronulla were valiant in defeat last weekend, but the Dragons were one of the standout teams in the opening round. Provided their spine plays as well as they did last week, the Dragons will make it 2 from 2 this Thursday. Dragons by 8.
Sydney Roosters vs. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
Allianz Stadium, 6:00pm, Friday March 16
Team News: Luke Keary returns from a fractured jaw, replacing Mithcell Cornish at five-eighth. Boyd Cordner returns to the starting line-up. Canterbury is unchanged.
Injury Watch: Both teams enter the clash relatively full strength.
Prediction: The Roosters were disappointing last week, no doubt. But with Keary returning to the fray, expect the tricolours to lift big time against a Bulldogs outfit that lacked spark in their first outing. Roosters by 10.
Brisbane Broncos vs. North Queensland Cowboys
Suncorp Stadium, 8:05pm, Friday March 16
Team News: Andrew McCullough returns to the starting line-up, returning Sam Thaiday to the interchange. Tom Opacic replaces the suspended Jaydn Su'A on the bench. Michael Morgan has been named on an extended bench for North Queensland.
Injury Watch: Morgan is an outside chance of returning for the Cowboys, while Lachlan Coote's niggles see him remain sidelined. Jack Bird is targeting Round 4.
Prediction: The NRL's best modern rivalry, this should be a real nail-biter. Brisbane will lift on their home turf, but it'll be the boot of Jonathan Thurston that'll see the Cowboys take the points. Cowboys by 1.
New Zealand Warriors vs. Gold Coast Titans
Mt Smart Stadium, 3:05pm, Saturday March 17
Team News: Both sides are unchanged following opening-round victories.
Injury Watch: Simon Mannering is aiming for next week, while Jarrod Wallace serves the last week of his suspension this round.
Prediction: The Warriors are a different team this year. Their fitness is at an all-time high, and while the Gold Coast did manage to scrape a win past Canberra, New Zealand will be too tough an opposition at home. Warriors by 12.
Penrith Panthers vs. South Sydney Rabbitohs
Panthers Stadium, 5:30pm, Saturday March 17
Team News: Dean Whare joins an extended bench in an otherwise unchanged line-up for Penrith. Adam Douiehi will debut at halfback for South Sydney, replacing the injured Adam Reynolds. Cameron Murray starts at lock, pushing Sam Burgess to prop and Mark Nichols to the bench. Tyrell Fuimaono replaces Hymel Hunt on the bench.
Injury Watch: Adam Reynolds knee injury will see him sidelined for 2-3 weeks. Campbell Graham is still recovering from a broken hand.
Prediction: South Sydney was one of the more disappointing teams in Round 1, proving their handling remains one of their biggest weaknesses. They'll improve, but Penrith is simply too strong a team. Penrith by 14.
Melbourne Storm vs. Wests Tigers
AAMI Park, 7:35pm, Saturday March 17
Team News: Billy Slater has been named to play his 300th NRL game. Cameron Munster shifts back to five-eighth, dropping Ryley Jacks out of the side. Wests Tigers have named the same line-up that held the Sydney Roosters to a single try last weekend.
Injury Watch: Chris McQueen made a successful return to footy last weekend in reserve grade. Josh Reynolds will miss a month with a hamstring tear. Melbourne is at their full strength.
Prediction: Melbourne always lifts for their milestone games. Defeating the Roosters is one thing, but Melbourne in Melbourne is a whole other ball game. Expect the Storm to put an exclamation point on this one. Melbourne by 16.
Manly Sea Eagles vs. Parramatta Eels
Lottoland, 4:10pm, Sunday March 18
Team News: Brad Parker replaces Matt Wright at centre, while Jackson Hastings and Lloyd Perrett replace Lewis Brown and Frank Winterstein on the interchange. Parramatta is unchanged.
Injury Watch: Dylan Walker is a nearing a return for Manly, while Clint Gutherson is a month away still.
Prediction: While both teams played strong in their losses, Parramatta will learn a lot of lessons from their second-half fade away last weekend. A packed Lottoland will make this the game of the round, and it's a hard one to split. I can see this one going to golden point. Manly by 1.
Canberra Raiders vs. Newcastle Knights
GIO Stadium, 6:30pm, Sunday March 18
Team News: Joe Tapine will miss the clash with a broken finger, shifting Elliot Whitehead to the back-row, Luke Bateman to lock and Charlie Gubb onto the bench. Newcastle has named the same line-up that defeated Manly last weekend.
Injury Watch: Tapine will miss a fortnight with a broken finger. Newcastle's top squad remains fit.
Prediction: Canberra was unlucky to fall last weekend, while Newcastle pulled off a famous victory. This contest will be tight, but with all the uncertainty around the Raider's spine, the new-found experience in Newcastle's pack will see them pull off a narrow win on the road. Newcastle by 6.
Point To Prove
Josh Dugan. The New South Welshman and Kangaroo rep was told he wasn’t worth his asking price by Paul McGregor last year. Watch Dugan fire on the Shark’s right edge playing opposite Tim Lafai.
Moses Mbye. Had some promising touches last week, but with Luke Keary returning to partner Cooper Cronk in the halves, expect Mbye to be put under a heap of pressure at the back this Friday night.
Adam Douiehi will debut for South Sydney at halfback, and could certainly make his name known. The half played all of Lebanon's World Cup clashes in the centres, before two strong performances in the halves during the pre-season. Certainly, one to watch this weekend.
Photo of the Week
It's refreshing to see Mitchell Pearce finally enjoy his football again. The town has given them their full support, and deservedly so. What a champion. pic.twitter.com/N2yZslLK2Q
— Jack Blyth (@jblesfooty224) March 12, 2018
Quote of the Week
"As part of the process, we always have a face-to-face meeting with the player and we’ll need to satisfy ourselves on two things. One, that he’s done the work to get to this point in time; and two, what that work looks like in the future to ensure that there’s no repeat." – NRL CEO Todd Greenberg, discussing the potential return of Todd Carney to the NRL.
Billy Slater to score a try. Returning from a shoulder injury, Slater will play his 300th NRL game in front of a home crowd at AAMI Park. Expect the flying fullback to mark the occasion with a four-pointer.
Despite recently re-signing with the club, Dean Pay is keen to move on Aiden Tolman as soon as possible. With Dave Klemmer and Aaron Woods locked in as starting props, Tolman offers little impact from the bench. Expect Cronulla to emerge as front-runners for his signature.