Ben Barba's promising debut exceeded expectations and is great news for Broncos fans. Copyright Colin Whelan/NRL Photos.

Round 1: 5 things we learned

If Mick Potter lasts the year, it is going to be a long one

Billed as an early showdown for the wooden spoon, both Mick Potter and Steve Price were always under pressure before the Dragons and Tigers met on Sunday. And while Price will be sleeping a little easier with a handy first round win under the belt, the disappointing 44-24 loss for the Tigers has seen Potter shoot to the top of those unflattering ‘first coach to be sacked’ betting markets. Conceding more than 40 points against the second worst attack of last season will ensure the knives aren’t too far from coming out in Tiger Town, with lackadaisical marker defence and the effort on their own line softer than the first-place sponge cake at a country show worrying indicators of a side struggling to aim up in the most important aspect of the game.

Ben Barba’s best may be closer than we thought

He didn’t begin full training until December following ankle surgery, he spent much of January at the back of the pack during fitness drills and he hobbled off before the final of the Auckland Nines but Ben Barba showed in 80 minutes on Friday night what Broncos fans had been praying for since his signature was announced last year. His second touch of the ball was a darting run upfield, he laid on the first try with a perfectly timed grubber kick and his work as a link between the halves and outside backs was full of polish and class. The blistering speed off the mark may not be there just yet but the most scrutinised recruit of the 2014 season passed his first test with flying colours. The general consensus after the game was that if Barba had still been wearing blue and white, it would have been the Bulldogs who came away with the two points, which is exactly the reason Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin was so desperate to have him on his roster. He’s a match-winner, and while there remains much room for impro
vement, winning the opening game of the season is all we as observers could have asked for.

Manly need a fit and firing Brett Stewart to go one better than last year

We all know Manly are a much better side with Brett Stewart guiding them from the back, but the wash-up from yet another thrilling edition of the 'Battle of Brookvale' takes Stewart’s importance to another level. With Stewart chiming into the backline the Sea Eagles engineered their attacking plays with the fluency of a training run, torrential downpour be damned. Fast forward through a second half in which Stewart was confined to the bench with a troublesome hamstring and Manly had given up the biggest lead in the club’s history at their fabled fortress and added a measly single penalty goal to their tally after registering 20 points in the first half. The Sea Eagles have now won just two of their past 11 games in which Stewart hasn’t lasted the full stanza, and the early prognosis that he’s out for up to a month does not bode well for last year’s premiership runners-up. 

Josh Dugan can forget about a career as a goal kicker

It was one of thousands of questions Dragons fans had about their new-look side, but they can be safe in the knowledge that new recruit Gareth Widdop will turn four points into six more often than not after the Englishman booted eight from eight as he led the side’s demolition of the Tigers. Josh Dugan took on the goal kicking responsibilities after leading club point scorer Jamie Soward’s departure last season, but Widdop’s perfect form with the boot means the NSW custodian can hang up his kicking tee for the time being. Widdop also proved more than useful with the ball in hand, with four try assists giving the Red V faithful plenty of hope for the side’s prospects without Dugan over the first month of the competition.
 
Panthers backline are firing out West

Phil Gould’s recruitment drive out at the foot of the Blue Mountain looks to be paying off immediately, with new halves pairing Jamie Soward and returning prodigal son Peter Wallace setting alight what has the potential to be the hottest backline in the NRL. Running off the back of a powerful forward pack the experienced playmakers impressed after a disjointed first half, while outside men David Simmons, Dean Whare and Josh Mansour all ran riot as the Panthers scored 24 unanswered points. Mansour proved himself a particular handful with two spectacular tries that served as an early shout out to NSW coach Laurie Daley, and young Matt Moylan picked up where he left off last season with a mature performance at the back. The fact star signing Jamal Idris wasn’t even on the park will have plenty of sides on edge when taking on the boys from the west, especially out west.