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Crunch time comes early for Roosters, Broncos and Raiders

They say that premierships aren’t won in March and for many clubs (after their performances in round one), they will be counting their lucky stars there is still a long season ahead.

To use another one of my favourite rugby league clichés, "a week is a long time in footy" and there are a couple of teams which will have taken "a long hard look at themselves" and will put in dramatically improved performances this weekend.

Canberra Raiders

Here’s the thing about Canberra – they have the team to bounce back strongly against the Newcastle Knights at GIO Stadium on Sunday. But whether they will do so will depend on Ricky Stuart.

Their loss to the Titans last Sunday was one of the most thrilling and mind-boggling games of the round. When the Raiders were up by 18 points after just 10 minutes I completely wrote off the Titans and thought Garth Brennan was in for a horror initiation to the Telstra Premiership.

The Titans can thank players like Konrad Hurrell, Ryan James, Ash Taylor and Kane Elgey for coming into their own as the game continued, with the youngest halves pairing in the NRL in particular, contributing to each of the tries that the Titans scored.

Raiders five-eighth Blake Austin.
Raiders five-eighth Blake Austin. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

But for the Raiders, one player that proved to be a difference-maker was Siliva Havili. The hooker scored the first Raiders try by scooting quickly out of dummy half. He also contributed significantly to their attack and provided boundless energy.

This energy and spark in attack quickly disappeared when Aiden Sezer replaced him midway through the first half, but surprisingly it took until very late into the second half for Stuart to get Havili back on the field.

 Additionally, I know plenty of Raiders fans love Jack Wighton at fullback, but perhaps it’s time to consider whether what he provides in attack is outweighed by his poor positional play at the back.

Stuart has the troops to be a playoff contender, but will he use his troops properly to get results?

Sydney Roosters

Who saw this result coming? For all the talk about the Roosters being premiership contenders, last weekend they looked like pretenders.

To be fair, there are plenty of new faces. Cooper Cronk showed moments of brilliance in the 10-8 loss to the Wests Tigers, including a 40/20 late in the second half to put the Tricolours into good field position.

James Tedesco looked rattled (which may have been the result of the loud boos that echoed around ANZ Stadium every time he touched the ball).

Roosters hooker Jake Friend.
Roosters hooker Jake Friend. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

But while new combinations take time to develop, what was exceptionally disappointing for the Roosters was their lack of discipline.

This is something I am sure Trent Robinson would have focused before Friday’s game against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs. But much like the Tigers, the Bulldogs are an improved squad and if similar errors, dropped balls and missed tackles are present in the Roosters' performance, they could find themselves 0-2 at the end of the round.

Brisbane Broncos

The Brisbane Broncos were also exceptionally disappointing in their opening-round 34-12 loss to the St George Illawarra Dragons last Thursday.

There was a lot of focus on Ben Hunt this week and what the Broncos have lost with his move to the Dragons. Truth be told, I don’t think Hunt would have assisted a Broncos team that completed at just 50 per cent in the first half or a forward pack which was dominated with Matt Lodge being the only Broncos player to make over 100 metres.

This was in stark comparison to the Dragons pack which overpowered the Broncos at every opportunity with James Graham, Paul Vaughan and Leeson Ah Mau off the bench making over 100 metres.

A total of 14 teams have new halves combinations and what is clear is that the partnership between Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima still needs some time to develop but also that the Brisbane forward pack needs to pull its weight.

Broncos five-eighth Anthony Milford.
Broncos five-eighth Anthony Milford. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

We all know the Broncos perform strongly at Suncorp Stadium. In 2017, the team only lost three out of their 13 games at the venue, so I am predicting that we see a much improved Broncos outfit.

Unfortunately the Broncos are coming up against one of the strongest teams in the North Queensland Cowboys, and whilst I predict this game will be close, I think the Broncos will start this season 0-2.

But there’s no need to panic… yet. What round one showed us is just how strong the 2018 competition is going to be.

With the Newcastle Knights, Titans, Tigers and New Zealand Warriors (the teams that finished in the bottom four last year) all posting wins last weekend, these clubs have issued a stern warning to the competition heavyweights that they will not be pushovers.

Premierships may not be won in March, but a sluggish start to the season may make it difficult for some teams to feature come September.

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.

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