Eels v Bulldogs
ANZ Stadium, Thursday, 5.50pm
A tantalising battle of the halves awaits, as one of the fiercest rivalries in rugby league promises to throw up an epic clash, with both the Eels and the Bulldogs entering the clash off the back of solid wins orchestrated by their gifted playmakers.
The home side were perhaps the most outstanding side from last week, belting the Warriors 46-8 despite their line-up changing drastically over the off-season.
If halfback Zach Dockar-Clay even approaches last week’s form (two tries, one try assist, six tackle-breaks, two line-breaks) the Bulldogs could be in for some early season punishment.
Wingers Vai Toutai and Takai Moeakiola also provide dynamism, the pair bagging two tries each against the Warriors.
The Bulldogs, 2012 minor premiers, will need to be on song to emulate the 40-20 win they enjoyed over the Cowboys last week.
Five-eighth Moses Mbye sparkled with two tries, a try assist, three tackle-breaks and 25 tackles in a gargantuan effort that had first-grade written all over it.
This will be a battle royale and one that the halves and pivots are licking their lips over.
Tip: Eels by four.
Dragons v Broncos
WIN Stadium, Friday, 5.50pm
Both sides will line up in Wollongong feeling they need to improve dramatically to come away with a win this Friday night, neither the Broncos nor the Dragons convincing anybody with their stuttering performances last week.
The corresponding match last year turned into a Suncorp Stadium point-a-thon, with the Dragons sneaking away with a 42-34 win.
It was a vastly different-looking Red V last week, managing only two tries against the Melbourne Storm.
Meanwhile the Broncos, down 18-6 with 15 minutes left to play, showed they must have been praying over the summer – nabbing a two-point victory over the Sea Eagles in what can only be described as a miracle.
While halfback Kodi Nikorima was a sight to behold and second-rower Caleb Timu (two tries, 23 tackles, seven tackle-breaks, two line-breaks) was unstoppable for the Broncos, St George Illawarra lock Kal Collins put in less of a flashy display, racking up 53 tackles and 105 metres (the only Dragon to reach double figures) to prove his worth.
He and back-rowers Luke Dodge and Julian Flego will need to combine for greater power if the Dragons are a hope of earning their first two points of the season. Shaping as a battle up front, the Wollongong crowd will need to be at its loudest lest a second disappointment in as many weeks transpires.
Tip: Broncos by 10.
Cowboys v Storm
1300SMILES Stadium, Saturday, 2.15pm
Though neither were top-eight sides last year, the Storm and Cowboys showed glimpses of improvement last weekend, albeit inconsistently at times.
North Queensland’s 40-20 defeat was probably not indicative of their efforts against the Bulldogs, with some promise shown out wide from fullback Zac Santo (126 metres, three tackle breaks, one line break) and centre Javed Bowen (14 tackles, six tackle-breaks, one line-break)
Storm fans will be hoping their sublime forward pack continues its stellar form, led breathtakingly by prop Matt Lodge who racked up 224 metres, 23 tackles, a line-break and a tackle-break.
Four of the Storm’s forwards made over 100 metres in a sign that their season will be built on strength up the middle.
If Friday’s clash plays out that way, Melbourne are shoo-ins. The Cowboys produced only one forward who managed 100 metres, in the form of back-rower Andrew Niemoeller.
A little bit of razzle-dazzle would work in North Queensland’s favour and the coach will no doubt be instructing his players to throw the ball around a little bit. It’s obvious early that going around Melbourne will prove much more fruitful than any attempts to go through them.
Tip: Storm by eight.
Warriors v Roosters
Eden Park, Saturday, 5.15pm
The two sides couldn’t be heading into this emotional rematch with more different form.
While the Roosters were at times stunning in their miraculous two-point victory over South Sydney, it’s difficult to find a highlight from the Warriors’ efforts that saw them go down 46-8 against the Eels at Parramatta Stadium.
If form continues, the home crowd could be witnessing an ugly carve-up across the Tasman.
It wasn’t until second-rower Jack Noble capped off a hat-trick and a man-of-the-match performance in the 80th minute that the Roosters sealed the win, holding out a fast-finishing Rabbitohs outfit for the sweetest of victories.
Noble has been named 18th man for this clash and the tri-colours’ chances will be greatly improved if he takes to the field. Meanwhile the loss of talented forward Kelepi Tanginoa is a further headache the Warriors don’t need. Tanginoa was a standout for his side, churning through 162 metres and breaking six tackles.
If the Kiwis are any hope they will need to improve in the halves. Roosters pivot Samisoni Langi last week set up three tries and made 22 tackles and will make a mockery of the Warriors outfit if he is not countered.
The Kiwi-based side won’t need any motivation to throw everything at the Roosters, with memories of being bundled out of last year’s finals race by the tri-colours still fresh in their minds.
Tip: Roosters by 10.
Titans v Raiders
Skilled Park, Sunday, 10.45am
Round 1 saw both these sides reverse their 2012 form, but that’s where the similarities end. While the Titans shone in a clinical 29-16 dismantling of the Cronulla Sharks, the Raiders were abysmal in limping to a 40-16 blowout at the hands of Penrith.
All logic points to a huge Titans win on the Gold Coast, but this early in the season things are nigh-impossible to predict.
Titans fans will be crossing their fingers that No.7 Jamal Fogarty is even half as good as he was against the Sharks. The playmaker not only scored two tries but made 138 metres and a tackle-break in attack and 23 tackles in defence.
His adversary in this encounter is Mitchell Cornish who will need to lift big time if he’s to help steer the Raiders towards redemption.
If Canberra are to win this they will need to capitalise on talent out wide. Centre Anthony Milford was clearly the best of a beaten bunch last week, making 128 metres, busting three tackles and breaking the Panthers’ line twice. He needs to see ball – and a lot of it.
With the Titans so brutal across the park last weekend it’s difficult to imagine a game style that would throw them this Saturday. Canberra perhaps need to throw caution to the wind and hope for the best.
Tip: Titans by 10.
Wests Tigers v Panthers
Campbelltown Stadium, Sunday, 12.45pm
Saturday afternoon could well feature the match of the round, with Campbelltown Stadium set to throw together two sides that were tough to split last year and simply sizzling last week.
A magnificent defensive display from the Wests Tigers saw the defending premiers kick off their season in style, running away 22-12 victors over the Newcastle Knights.
No less than seven Tigers made 20 tackles or more in the war of attrition, prop Brenden Santi standing out with 42 tackles and three tackle-breaks.
They will need a similar mindset on Sunday if they are to tame the Panthers, who piled on seven tries in a 24-point mauling of the hapless Canberra Raiders.
Halfback Sam Scarlett and centre George Jennings proved a lethal combination, setting up five tries between them and scoring one each of their own.
They face a much tougher test this week in the form of the brick wall that is the Wests Tigers and the dynamic duo will no doubt be a focus of the black-and-gold’s defences.
The longer this one stays close, the more it favours the Tigers who will be hoping for a slog-fest.
If there are early points to the Panthers, however, we could get an early look at the Wests Tigers credentials for going back to back.
Tip: Wests Tigers by two.
Sea Eagles v Knights
Brookvale Oval, Sunday, 4.15pm
A nail-biting, heartbreaking loss to the Broncos last week will have the Sea Eagles focussed squarely on revenge and redemption as they host the Knights to kick off Brookvale Oval footy for 2013.
Leading 28-12 with only 15 minutes remaining, the Sea Eagles – as they did on so many occasions last year – somehow found a way to lose.
Star prop Jake Trbojevic was a standout for Manly, scoring a try as well as making 99 metres and 26 tackles.
Meanwhile Newcastle will be working on discipline and ball control and will need to better the 12 points they managed against Wests Tigers last week.
It’s hard seeing this one pan out any way other than a forwards’ clash. Based on indicators from last week and the fact this is being played at ‘fortress Brookvale’, Manly are developing as close to specials.
Tip: Sea Eagles by six.
Rabbitohs v Sharks
ANZ Stadium, Monday, 4.45pm
Both teams take to ANZ Stadium this Monday in search of their first two points of the season. It was utter heartbreak for the Rabbitohs last week, leading until the 80th minute before a third try to Rooster Jack Noble drove a painful stake through their hearts.
The Bunnies displayed some periods of scintillating football and if five-eighth Dylan Walker finds a similar gear (two tries, 22 tackles, eight tackle-breaks, one try assist), one would imagine South Sydney will walk all over the Sharks.
The Shire boys were far less convincing in their 29-16 loss to the Gold Coast. Forced to defend for much of the match, Cronulla never really seemed a chance.
Hooker Scott Sorenson was forced to make over 40 tackles, while only one forward (prop Kurt Dillon) managed to rack up 100 metres in attack.
The teams last met in Round 24 last year, when the Sharks pulled off an impressive 12-point victory.
They will need to improve tenfold on last week’s display if they are to repeat that result. But in all likelihood, South Sydney will have their revenge.
Tip: Rabbitohs by four.