Newcastle Knights v St George Illawarra Dragons
Hunter Stadium, Thursday 7:45pm - follow it LIVE here.
Your 2012 season opener - and a beauty it promises to be. The Newcastle Knights have it all... on paper. They have the cash, they have the coach, they have 'the killer' and they have Kade. The visiting Dragons will face a home crowd baying for blood at Hunter Stadium on Thursday night and fingers crossed; these frenzied Novocastrians get their wish.
Rugby League 'mercenaries' Wayne Bennett and Darius Boyd will ensure the home side are well prepared for the Saint's attack and with that handicap already in place, the 2010 premiers will find the going tough. Add a sloppy surface to the mix along with some rusty footballers and you have a street fight between two of the NRLs heavyweights. The Knights open their season of promises with a win.
Parramatta Eels v Brisbane Broncos
Parramatta Stadium, Friday 7:45pm - follow it LIVE here.
It has been a rough few years for Eels' fans. Their recent seasons have produced heartbreak, controversy, a grand final loss, a near wooden spoon and with coach Stephen Kearney now in his second year at the helm of this proud Sydney club, expectations will be high. To meet these expectations, the Eels unveil a new halves combination in their season opener against the visiting Brisbane Broncos. This is where their season's success or failure will be decided.
Chris Sandow and Ben Roberts bring speed, instinct, creativity and most importantly, the occasional heart attack for Parra fans who should be prepared to see all of this in the opening 10 minutes on Friday night. By contrast, Brisbane have a proven collection of talent and will show why they are no longer the 'baby broncos'. The wet weather keeps things close here but only for so long.
Canberra Raiders v Melbourne Storm
Canberra Stadium, Saturday 5:30pm - follow it LIVE here.
Funny how every club's best 17 for round 1 look so good on paper and give hope to long suffering fans... Unfortunately for many, things will change rapidly in the coming months and no better example of this exists than with the boys from our nation's capital. Dugan, Campese, Learoyd-Lahrs.... these are representative footballers who all missed large chunks of last season which cost the Raiders any hope of success.
So, as season 2012 gives us all another chance... what better way to kick things off for the Green Machine than hosting the mighty Melbourne Storm. Fresh from the 2011 Minor Premiership, the Storm will do as they have always done - control the ruck, kick to perfection, frustrate the opposition and then when you are left exhausted, release Cameron Smith and Billy Slater to tear you apart. The same happens here.
Penrith Panthers v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
Centrebet Stadium, Saturday 7:30pm - follow it LIVE here.
The lovely folk of Sydney's west will be treated to a ripper to open the season at the foot of the mountains and hopefully the inclement weather will not keep them away. The last time these two coaches went head to head was in the 2011 decider but this match will be a vastly different environment. Both coaches will be testing their combinations and hoping for a disciplined performance to start the season. Boring.....
I'd rather see Travis Burns and Michael Ennis wired for sound in this game and see/hear the NRLs best sledging on display... alas we won't be privy to this... What we will see is the 'Dogs Trent Hodkinson control proceedings better than his opposite number and just when his forwards get on top of the mountain men, Ben Barba strikes as only he can... A Saturday night special from Centrebet Stadium. Can't wait.
North Queensland Cowboys v Gold Coast Titans
Dairy Farmers Stadium, Saturday 9:30pm (AEDST) - follow it LIVE here.
Saturday Night at Dairy Farmers is always a great way to finish your evening on the couch and what better nightcap than this Queensland derby. The Titans can only get better this year after a horror 2011 that brought them a wooden spoon andthe Cowboys, as they always do, have high hopes with the best halfback on the world on their books; and rightly so.
However, this early in the season, nothing is proven except that Thurston and Bowen are still dangerous, Matt Scott is the best front rower in the NRL, the Titans do not travel well and the conditions up at Townsville in March are steamy to say the least. Keep an eye on new signings Jamal Idris and Nate Myles who should put some resolve back in the visitors, but it won't be enough.
North Queensland 28-22
Warriors v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
Eden Park Auckland, Sunday 12:00pm (AEDST) - follow it LIVE here.
Surprise surprise: rain predicted for another NRL match this weekend. If you haven't had your fill of wet weather footy at this stage, tune in for another slip 'n' slide Sunday afternoon from Eden Park as the Warriors host Manly. A Grand Final replay should ensure the intensity is there but if not, you can count on the likes of Matai and Watmough to liven things up for your viewing pleasure.
Speaking of which, these two clubs have some big names all across the park which should make for an outstanding game of footy even with both teams debuting new coaches. Not much will change in the way of tactics though; the defending premiers will attempt to bash the Warriors into submission but my money is on the Warriors to turn the tables. Shaun Johnson will lead the fight-back and be entertaining as hell when he does.
Wests Tigers v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
Leichhardt Oval, Sunday 2:00pm - follow it LIVE here.
Match of the Round for mine. In fact I can't wait for this one to kick off from the hallowed dust bowl that is Leichardt Oval. Sunday afternoon, two Sydney clubs, heavy under-foot, Paul Gallen, Benji Marshall and just a hint of hatred between these teams should make for an absolute bolter. The visiting Sharks bring a brand new front row with them and you won't find anyone angrier than Bryce Gibbs this weekend.
If that is not entertaining enough, heralded signing Adam Blair debuts for the Tigers and the one-and-only Todd Carney continues his tour of NRL franchises. It all points to the greatest game of all delivering as only it can. The Tigers will need a few more games to warm up for mine and the ruthlessness of the visitors pack should lead them to an unlikely victory. Nathan Gardner and Gallen the standouts.
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Sydney Roosters
ANZ Stadium, Sunday 3:00pm - follow it LIVE here.
To finish off your five day feast of footy for the first week of fixtures, a 104 year rivalry continues at ANZ Stadium on Monday night. For those of you who love the numbers, this is the 204th meeting between these teams and it promises to be just a bitter as the previous 203. Whilst on the field will be wild, you can bet that in the stands a true hatred exists between the legion of bunnies' fans and the hundreds of chooks supporters.
Hate to sound like a broken record, but the story of this match is in the halves. Rookie Adam Reynolds will learn from the best in Mitchell Pearce as the Roosters kick off their season with a win. They will withstand a battering from an impressive South Sydney forward pack but come out smiling as the experience of Pearce, Anasta and Minichiello proves the difference. The young Roosters back rowers make a name for themselves here.
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