Week 1 of the 2018 NRL Premiership kicks off with the Broncos facing traditional rivals the Dragons in the season opener on Thursday night. The Broncos will be looking to stamp their authority on the competition with a big performance against coach Wayne Bennett’s former side.
After capturing the World Club Challenge, the Melbourne Storm will be feeling confident about becoming the first side to defend their NRL title since the Brisbane Broncos. The Roosters and the Cowboys are two sides likely to challenge the Storm for the silverware in 2018. The Roosters are loaded with international talent, while the Cowboys will be looking to go one better in 2018 with Jonathan Thurston in the line-up.
St George Illawarra kick-off the 2018 season hosting the Brisbane Broncos at Jubilee Oval. Former Brisbane play-maker Ben Hunt gets the opportunity in the first round to go up against his former side since his off-season switch to the Dragons. Matt Duffy will start at fullback in the number eighteen jumper, following Josh Dugan’s move to the Sharks. The Broncos have settled on Corey Oates starting on the wing after his pre-season stint in the forwards. The Broncos have beaten the Dragons in their last four outings and look settled with Anthony Milford leading the attack.
The Broncos have had the wood on the Dragons and look good enough to spring an upset on their traditional rivals. Ben Hunt has had some issues with his consistency over the last couple of season in the NRL and the expectations may be too much for him against his former club in the opening round. I’m confident the Broncos will be able to grind out a win in Sydney.
Newcastle has recruited aggressively in the offseason adding Kaylen Ponga, Tautau Moga, Aidan Guerra, Jacob Lillyman, Heman Ese’ese and Mitchell Pearce. The Knights have had the dubious honour of winning the wooden spoon over the last three seasons and the spending spree will bring heavy expectations to the Hunter Valley. Manly have made no significant editions to their side, with Blake Green the only major departure. Dale Cherry Evans and Tom Trbojevic have been proven performers in the past against the Knights. The Sea Eagles have dominated the clashes in recent times, winning the last seven clashes. The Knights will improve this season, but they face a tough time containing the Manly backline.
All eyes will be on Mitchell Pearce, as the former Sydney City Rooster takes the field for the first time with his new club. The Sea Eagles have too much class across their backline and it’ll be difficult for Newcastle’s new recruits to trouble a slick Manly machine.
The Cowboys were the surprise packets of 2017, overcoming the losses of Jonathan Thurston and Matt Scott to make the decider against the Storm. The Cowboys have bolstered their pack with the edition of Jordan McLean to partner Matt Scott in the forwards. Without the burden of representative football, Jonathan Thurston will be wanting to finish his career with another premiership. The Sharks have added Matt Moylan to an exciting backline that includes Queensland flyer, Valentine Holmes. The Cowboys will be able to edge the Sharks in what shapes as a high-calibre match-up.
There’s some history between these clubs as Jonathan Thurston has destroyed Paul Gallen at Origin level. The Sharks backline looks promising with the editions of Josh Dugan and Matt Moylan. The problem for the Sharks is that they are up against one of the best forward packs in the NRL. The Cowboys will have too much class at home for Cronulla and should be able to put on some points.
The Roosters are justifiably the early season favourites for the NRL title, with the addition of Cooper Cronk. The premiership-winning halfback joins a backline jam-packed with international talent. James Tedesco will get a chance to test himself against his former club and will fancy his chances of getting on the scoresheet with Cronk running the show. The Tigers welcome back Benji Marshall to the side after a stint with the Broncos. The Roosters have too much strike power across the park and won’t be troubled by the Tigers.
Adding Cooper Cronk to the Roosters backline gives them an extra dimension in attack, as the former Storm playmaker is a cool customer under pressure. The Roosters will be hard to stop and won’t have any trouble dominating a Tigers side set to fight it out for the wooden spoon.
New Rabbitohs coach Anthony Seibold faces the intriguing prospect of coming up against the Warriors in the opening round. On paper, the Warriors have one of the most talented line-ups in the competition. For all their talent on the field, the Warriors possess a paper-thin defence and have only made the decider on one occasion in their history. New recruit Dane Gagai will start on the wing, outside of Greg Inglis. The Rabbitohs will be confident of collecting the points in Perth.
The Rabbitohs couldn’t have asked for a kinder draw, coming up against the Warriors in the first round. The Warriors have historically been poor travellers on the road and the trek from Auckland to Perth will take the wind out of their sails. Greg Inglis will be itching to get back on the park and don’t be surprised if GI bags a couple of tries in a South Sydney win.
The Storm are aiming to become the first side to defend the NRL title since the Brisbane Broncos accomplished the feat in the pre-Super League days. The Storm are well equipped to handle the loss of Cooper Cronk, by bringing in Brodie Croft to partner Ryley Jacks in the halves. Fullback Billy Slater won’t join the side until the second round, but the Storm have the talent to burn, with Cameron Munster shifting to fullback. The Storm will look to take advantage of the open space on offer at Optus Stadium with Suliasi Vunivalu looking to add to his impressive try-scoring record.
Kieran Foran will play an important part in the hopes of the Dogs this season. The former Warriors playmaker can be brilliant on his day, but questions still remain about his commitment to the game. The Storm were impressive in the off-season and there’s some good value in Vunivalu being the first try-scorer in a Melbourne win.
The Eels welcome back prodigal son Jarryd Hayne to the fold as they look to improve on their efforts in 2017. The Panthers have added the experience of James Maloney to their young line-up. Penrith have had to contend with question marks over coach Anthony Griffin as Matt Moylan and Bryce Cartwright headed out the exit door during the offseason. Corey Norman’s duel with opposite number James Maloney will be one to watch, with the Eels playmaker having the edge over his older rival.
Jarryd Hayne will make his first run since his stint on the Gold Coast and the Parramatta prodigal son will be eager to put his off-season dramas behind him with a good display. The battle of the halves will decide this intriguing match-up and this means the Eels will have the edge in a hard-fought win.
Things could not possibly get worst for the Titans after the troubles of 2017. Former Penrith coach Gareth Brennan takes charge of a side that is the pre-season favourite for the 2018 wooden spoon. Michael Gordon gives the Gold Coast a reliable goal-kicking option at fullback, but they’ll have a tough time coming up against an aggressive Raiders forward pack. Canberra will be wanting to bounce back from a disappointing 2017 campaign and will be confident of getting the points, having trounced the Titans in their last two meetings.
The Raiders will need to show some major improvement and a clash with the Titans is the perfect opportunity for the Green Machine to get rolling. The Titans will have a tough time making the eight in 2018 and Canberra will be able to find some form heading into round two.