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Biggest early-season surprise: NRL.com experts have their say

Two rounds into the new season, which team has made the most surprising start to 2019? This week our panel name the team that has exceeded or fallen short of expectations the most so far.

NRL.com's experts view

Jamie Soward (Former Blues five-eighth)

They may have lost another superstar but Melbourne continue to be a dominant force in the league. I tipped them to just sneak into the eight this season but I’ve been impressed by how they’ve continued to evolve in attack and they are playing like a top-four side once again.

 

Steve Renouf (Maroons legend)

The Wests Tigers have come out of the blocks on fire this year to sit on top of the ladder and are the biggest surprise packets for mine. I had doubts about the wisdom of signing Robbie Farah when they did last year but he has been in superb form and is a key reason why they are firing. His game smarts, and that of his old sparring partner Benji Marshall, are the perfect complement to Luke Brooks behind a pack that is playing tough and with commitment.

Michael Chammas (NRL.com chief reporter)

While the Dragons have been surprisingly disappointing, the upside in the Parramatta Eels takes the cake. It’s amazing what happens with a bit of confidence, but also when you don’t have so many generals calling the shots. Brad Arthur has been justified in some of his big off-season decisions, including letting go of Corey Norman and signing Blake Ferguson.

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Margie McDonald (NRL.com senior reporter)

Newcastle. Hurts to say it because they’ve struggled a long time to get here. But that’s the thing – the Knights have arrived. They were at full strength and had the backing of near-full home stadium for the first two rounds but came away with one win. Kenny-Dowall, Ponga, Pearce, Klemmer, Levi, Glasby, Gavet, Mata’utia and Guerra have played internationally or in State of Origin – that’s a strong argument for winning your opening two games at home when you’re all fresh and fired up. Let’s hope those missed two competition points don’t separate eighth from ninth after round 25.

Brad Walter (NRL.com senior reporter)

Newcastle. After a massive off-season recruitment drive and the shift of Kalyn Ponga to five-eighth, the Knights had been expected to jump out of the blocks but they’ve so far managed just two tries in each of their opening round clashes with the Sharks and Panthers to record a narrow win and a narrow loss.

Paul Suttor (NRL.com editor)

St George Illawarra. They clearly haven’t clicked as a unit at 0-2 with Corey Norman at five-eighth and Gareth Widdop at fullback. Bringing Matt Dufty off the bench and shaking up the spine isn’t working, he should be only used if there’s an injury in the outside backs. Their immediate draw is rough the next few weeks so they need to get going now or the finals will quickly slip away.

Hit or Miss - Round 2

Dan Walsh (NRL.com reporter)

South Sydney. Always had them pegged as premiership contenders, but didn’t expect the pieces to come together quite so quickly under Wayne Bennett given Anthony Seibold seemed so integral to their overhaul last year. Outgunned the Roosters and only needed 40 minutes of solid footy to put away the Dragons. The Bunnies might not need a breaking-in period at this rate.

Joel Gould (NRL.com reporter)

The Gold Coast Titans have proven to be a major disappointment in the two opening rounds of the NRL, particularly in attack where they have scored just one try. Admittedly they are missing first-choice halves Ash Taylor and Tyrone Roberts but the lack of creativity has been notable. Jai Arrow has been a standout in the forwards, but the rest of the big names in the pack have not fired a shot in anger.

Maria Tsialis (Big League editor)

I expected the Bulldogs to struggle this season but I didn't think they would be on the receiving end of such wallopings. One thing about the club that has always stuck is their toughness and willingness to compete the full 80 minutes, even in the face of a loss. We're not seeing a lot of that at the moment and it's going to be a long season for Bulldogs fans if that doesn't change.

Alicia Newton (NRL.com reporter)

I’ve gone with the Panthers. I expected them to shoot out of the blocks against Parramatta. They’re just lacking that killer blow and got lucky against the Knights. The next couple of weeks will prove a big test for them.

Chris Kennedy (NRL.com reporter)

I did tip the Eels to sneak into the eight so I’ll say the form of Wests Tigers has been the biggest surprise so far. They defended their way to quite a few early wins last year but so far they’ve been strong in both attack and defence and Michael Maguire looks to be having a big impact while their old stagers like Farah and Marshall are on fire. It will be interesting to see if they can keep it up.

Brett Keeble (NRL.com reporter)

The Titans look like playing catch-up for the rest of the season after a wretched start, losing halves Tyrone Roberts and Ash Taylor to injury while dropping their first two games to Canberra and Cronulla. At full strength, they had a team capable of competing with anyone and making a push for the play-offs but have only managed one try in 160 minutes. The road ahead looks even more daunting as they face the Rabbitohs, Warriors in Auckland and Panthers in their next three.

Every try from Round 2

Tony Webeck (NRL.com reporter)

Given how late Michael Maguire came to the club I thought it would take time for his winning methods to rub off on the Wests Tigers. How wrong I have been. They look re-energised, well-drilled and committed, which is a great formula to win plenty of games of football. They’re now genuine top-eight contenders.

Lone Scout (NRL Fantasy expert)

I wasn’t shocked the Eels beat a distracted Panthers side and a poor Bulldogs one, or that the Tigers made light work of Manly and the Warriors, but the manner of the South Sydney Rabbitohs’ early-season success has been stunning. With a coaching change effectively forced upon them (even if they did pick up a legendary mentor in the process) and a couple of key changes to their line-up, Souths could have been forgiven for a slowish start but have looked the team to beat in the opening fortnight of the season.

Jonathan Healy (NRL.com reporter)

Most people thought the Wests Tigers would be pushing for a finals berth this season, but not many expected them to be sitting pretty on top of the NRL ladder after two rounds. There's still plenty of water to run under the bridge, but the early signs are very good for Michael Maguire's team.​

Mary Konstantopoulos (Ladies Who League)

The team that has surprised me the most (in a good way) has been the Parramatta Eels. What has surprised me most about this team is that the Eels are displaying resilience and cool heads in situations where they would have gone to pieces last year. They stayed in the game against Penrith in round one, even when the Panthers were fighting back after being 14-0 down, and also overcame the Bulldogs after giving them a ten point head start in round two. This week the Eels play the Roosters which should give us a better indication of where they are. Are they top eight contenders or simply just pretenders?

Kenny Scott (NRL.com podcaster)

For surprise starts, it has to go to the Parramatta Eels. Blake Ferguson has proved to be an excellent buy for the club and the whole team looks to be playing with the enthusiasm they severely lacked in 2018. The real test will be how they handle their first loss, which might not be that far away with their next game against the highly fancied Roosters on Friday night. Still, there are only three teams with a perfect record at this stage and had the fact that one of these is the Eels is not only surprising, it’s quite refreshing too.

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Scott Hazlewood (NRL.com reporter)

It's hard to go past the Wests Tigers for the biggest surprise of the season so far. They have the best for-and-against in the NRL so far, Robbie Farah is turning back the clock and an upcoming draw that could see them cement their place in the top eight early in the season.

Corey Rosser (NRL.com reporter)

The Bulldogs were never tipped to set the competition alight in the opening rounds, but given some of their performances at the back end of last season – which included victories over eventual top-eight side Brisbane, St George Illawarra and the Warriors – coupled with what is on paper a decent forward pack, I'm surprised how poor they have been in the first two games.

Tanisha Stanton (NRL.com reporter)

From the bottom of the ladder to the top, it’s been interesting to see how a complete rejig of the Eels line-up this year has made the world of difference. In 2018 it took seven rounds before they could scrap together their first victory but this season it’s clear to see that new combinations have already start to work wonders.

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

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