Sydney Roosters v South Sydney Rabbitohs
The 2013 season kicks off with the clash that all NRL fans have been waiting for at Allianz Stadium on Thursday night. Following plenty of hype during the off-season, both teams will carry a certain weight of expectation going into Round 1.
The Roosters were probably the most active in the player market during the off-season, with the likes of James Maloney, Michael Jennings, Luke O’Donnell and the returning Sonny Bill Williams bolstering a Tricolours squad that has disappointed in the last couple of years. The Rabbitohs are coming off their best season in decades, and the addition of Ben Te’o and Jeff Lima will have Bunnies fans salivating at the thought of another stint of September football.
If you think... the cardinal and myrtle will continue the momentum from their 2012 season after adding to their monster forward pack, then Souths are the smart tip.
If you think... Sonny Bill will have an immediate impact and the Maloney/Pearce combination will send the Roosters all the way to September, take the Roosters as a difference maker.
Brisbane Broncos v Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
Both teams finished 2012 in very disappointing fashion and were relatively quiet on the player market, but expectations will be quietly high at both Suncorp and Brookvale.
The return of prodigal son Scott Prince will provide the composure and class lacking in the Broncos halves since the retirement of Darren Lockyer, while they still maintain a representative-standard forward pack and imposing home record. The Sea Eagles will want to put their AAMI Park boilover behind them and get back to their best with a quality roster and winning culture.
If you think... Scott Prince will be influential in his return to Suncorp in his twilight years, then the Broncos are the way to go.
If you think... the Silvertails will rebound from their disappointing finish to 2012 and be dominant again this year, the Sea Eagles should be your tip.
A new coach and a new attitude surround both the Eels and the Warriors in 2013 as they look to rebound from missing the top eight in 2012.
For the first time in 15 years the Eels will be without either Nathan Hindmarsh or Luke Burt, and will rely heavily on Jarryd Hayne and Chris Sandow to stand up and be counted. Matthew Elliott’s reign across the ditch started in uncomfortable circumstances (following the axed Brian McClennan) but you can be sure he’s excited at the prospect of harnessing the endless potential of the Kiwi boys. The loss of James Maloney will be tough but Thomas Leuluai and ex-Eel Feleti Mateo will still create havoc for Parramatta.
If you think... Ricky Stuart has already worked wonders with Parramatta and Jarryd Hayne will relish the co-captaincy, take the Eels at home.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v North Queensland Cowboys
The Bulldogs are set for another big season with a stronger and smarter squad following a grand final in 2012, while the Cowboys' shrewd recruitment provides them with a lot more depth across the park.
Tony Williams was the biggest name recruit of 2013 until his namesake joined his eastern rivals. T-Rex’s impact shouldn’t be discounted in a forward pack that took the game to their opponents last year. Rob Lui’s arrival in Townsville will allow him to be the perfect foil for Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen as the Cowboys hope to cash in on their untapped potential as a team.
If you think... the Des Hasler revolution has only just begun at Belmore, take the Bulldogs at home.
Penrith Panthers v Canberra Raiders
The Panthers have cleaned house over the 2013 pre-season with coach Ivan Cleary making a number of tough calls to build a successful future out west. The Raiders however are looking for a season of consolidation following a very good finish to 2012.
The Panthers will have a fairly different looking squad for Round 1, with Sika Manu, Lewis Brown and Dean Whare headlining the fresh faces. The Raiders' only name recruit was Joel Edwards, but a young squad is maturing in the nation’s capital and could take a bigger step forward in 2013.
If you think... the refreshed Penrith squad will respond to the wise words of Ivan Cleary, take the home side here.
Melbourne Storm v St George Illawarra Dragons
The rivalry which eventuated from the 1999 Grand Final lives on in 2013, as the defending premiers take on the 2011 premiers at AAMI Park.
The Storm retain the majority of their premiership-winning squad, and if the World Club Challenge is anything to go by, they won’t take long to hit top gear. The Dragons have to cope with the loss of two lengthy servants in Ben Hornby and Dean Young, as well as filling the hole at fullback, where Gerard Beale looks to get first crack.
If you think... Slater, Cronk and Smith will dominate again this year, take the Storm.
Cronulla Sharks v Gold Coast Titans
The porch light is still switched on at Sharks Stadium but a massive recruitment drive in the Shire is hoping to bring the trophy home come October 6. Further up the coast, the somewhat new-look Titans will take to the park in the NRL for the first time without Scott Prince.
The Sharks splashed their money around this year, bringing Luke Lewis, Beau Ryan, Chris Heighington and Michael Gordon down south in search of that special touch, while Todd Carney aims to overcome an Achilles injury before kick-off. For the Titans, Dave Taylor comes in to provide the impact and size they’ve lacked on the fringes, but a lot of pressure will be placed on halves Aidan Sezer and Albert Kelly.
If you think... the recruitment by the Sharks will come together to start the season well, take them at home.
Newcastle Knights v Wests Tigers
The NRL’s most experienced coach faces a first timer in Monday Night Football. The honeymoon period may be over in the Hunter, as Wayne Bennett seeks to put his magic touch on the Newcastle squad this season. At Concord, rookie coach Mick Potter will hope to turn the Tigers into the premiership force many tipped them to be in 2012.
The Knights have strengthened their forward pack considerably with representative forwards Jeremy Smith and Beau Scott joining the squad, as well as a fit Kurt Gidley returning to the halves. Wests welcome Braith Anasta to town and have plenty of positions up for grabs, including the halfback spot partnering modern marvel Benji Marshall.
If you think... Hunter Stadium will become the fortress it once was with an imposing forward pack, take the home side in this one.
If you think... Mick Potter’s words of encouragement will see Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah display more brilliance than ever, tip the Tigers.