NRL Round 1 Tips & Preview

After what has felt like an eternity, it’s back!

The 2020 NRL Premiership season will officially launch on Thursday night and without even looking at the schedule, I’m happy to say that eight exciting games lay on the Round 1 horizon.

Will the Roosters complete the hat-trick? Can Canberra go one better, or will a different club fly home and win the Premiership? Check out our 2020 NRL Round 1 Tips and preview below.

Parramatta Eels vs Canterbury Bulldogs
Eels (-9.5)

The Eels and Bulldogs will do battle in the season opener on Thursday night and as much as the NRL have tried to hype up the ‘traditional rivalry’ between the two clubs, there’s every chance that this game will prove to be an anticlimax.

A competitive season always seems to be expected of Parramatta prior to it actually beginning and their one win in the 2019 finals has ensured that is the case again. They are tied on the fourth line of 2020 Premiership betting at publish, but I’ll need to see them make the top four before I am at all sold on their chances. Centre Waqa Blake is under an injury cloud this week, but exciting forwards Ryan Matterson and Reagan Campbell-Gillard are both confirmed to debut.

The Dogs never looked good in 2019, but the new season renews optimism and the only way for them is up. They’ll enjoy their first full season with Dallin Watene-Zelezniak at fullback and that alone will surely put them in better stead this time around, but they still harbour a young and reasonably inexperienced squad and will frequently find the going difficult.

To their credit, the Eels do look a strong side on paper, and they should be winning this relatively easily.

Canberra Raiders vs Neds Gold Coast Titans
Titans (+9.5)

It’s set to be a baptism of fire for the Neds Gold Coast Titans, who have been charged with travelling to the nation’s capital to take on last year’s runners up.

There’s a new coach, new faces and of course, renewed optimism in the Titans’ camp this season, who it is fair to say were enormous underperformers in 2019. Justin Holbrook’s effort in the Super League well and truly make him the appropriate man to build Queensland’s newest club into a title contender and there has been a lot to like about the lead-up to the 2020 season. The big worry in Week 1, other than their strong opponents, is injuries. Ryan James faces another extended period on the sidelines, while names like AJ Brimson and Shannon Boyd also look set to miss Round 1.

They were unlucky not to go the whole way in 2019 and focus for the Raiders this season is surely to go one better. Englishman George Williams is set to debut for the Green Machine at halfback, but they’ll be without last season’s breakout star, John Bateman, who is injured.

There’s obviously no arguing with the Raiders’ clear favouritism, but without a few key personnel and this early in the season, I think they could be a little vulnerable. Happy to be with the Titans to cover.

North Queensland Cowboys vs Brisbane Broncos
Cowboys (-1.5)

Other than the NRL botching by choosing the Broncos as the Cowboys’ first-ever opponent at the new stadium in Townsville, who would have drawn a capacity crowd at literally any point of the season, this looks like being the match of the round. This really has become one of the NRL’s biggest and best fought rivalries, and it really is incredible that some many classics have been contested off the back of 2015’s decider.

The Cows enter this season off the back of a lovely win in the NRL nines and with high hopes, given their positive offseason signing drive that netted the likes of Valentine Holmes and Esan Marsters. Enforcer Josh McGuire, who typically keeps his best footy for games against his old club is injured, but also suspended.

Alex Glenn has been tossed the captain’s armband for the Broncos this season and for mine, that alone is an extremely positive start to the campaign at Red Hill. Glenn looks unlikely to line up in Townsville, likewise Jordan Kahu, Sea O’Sullivan and Matt Lodge. That is enough big names for me to think the Cowboys have a big enough advantage.

Newcastle Knights vs New Zealand Warriors
Warriors (+6.5)

An intriguing match will see the Knights and Warriors launch their respective campaigns in the Hunter on Saturday afternoon.

The Knights haven’t made the finals since 2013, but a new coach in Adam O’Brien along with some of the league’s strongest rosters on paper looks like ending that hoodoo in 2020. It’s obviously all about Kalyn Ponga, but it’s also about a sturdy backline, good halves and a big, mobile forward pack.

The Warriors always seem to field a side with enormous potential, but rarely do they recognise it. I have them in a similar bag to the Eels in 2020 – I really need to see them do it before I consider them anything of a threat.

I certainly have the Knights in my six this season, but I think it will take them at least a few weeks to get going and they look under the odds to win this match to me ($1.42 at publish). I’m going to back the Warriors to cover a 6.5-point line as outsiders.

best bet
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Cronulla Sharks
Souths (-3.5)

South Sydney and Cronulla will do battle in the Saturday evening timeslot in Round 1 of the NRL.

Plenty of interest has been given to Souths’ campaign and chances in 2020 and they look the value in outright Premiership betting heading into Round 1 ($11 at publish). They’ve lost a couple of Burgesses and John Sutton, but they also secured the off season’s biggest signing when Latrell Mitchell put pen to paper. Regardless of whether or not he turns out to be a world-class fullback, securing any player of his quality is only going to increase your chances of a trophy.

The Sharks are an extremely difficult club to get a gauge on. Sure, they’ve got some world-class talent at their disposal, but they’ve lost club legend Paul Gallen to retirement, a couple of other notable players to the Super League and to add insult to their Round 1 credentials, are also harbouring several injuries.

They were good in the latter stages of the Charity Shield a couple of weeks ago and it’s tough imagining anything other than a comfortable Souths’ win materialising.

Penrith Panthers vs Sydney Roosters
Roosters (-6.5)

Two sides that are more than capable of big seasons in 2020 will kick off at the foot of the mountains on Saturday night when the Panthers take on the reigning premiers.

Penrith have lost the experience of James Maloney and Regan Campbell-Gillard but retain some of the league’s most exciting players. They’ll be without a couple of those in Week 1 but regardless, they were always going to face a big task in overcoming the Roosters.

The Roosters tuned up for this match with another quality performance and win over St Helens in the World Club Challenge. They were without several stars for that game, once again proving how much better the NRL is than the Super League but also, that they’ll be able to live without Cooper Cronk and Latrell Mitchell.

There’s always a big question mark on Round 1 but ultimately, I just think that the Roosters will be too classy.

Manly Sea Eagles vs Melbourne Storm
Sea Eagles to Win ($2.20)

Big things are expected of the Sea Eagles and Storm in 2020 and when that has been the case previously, we’ve been treated to some truly memorable moments, matches and rivalry.

Simply put, Manly are a different side with prodigal son Des Hasler at the helm. They were unlucky not to make the prelims last season and I think that if they had, they also would have rolled the Raiders on their way to the big dance. The Trbojevic brothers, namely Tom, staying fit is absolutely vital to their campaign, but they are in my top two if that does indeed happen.

There are no comments to be made about the Storm that haven’t already been said and they are a genuine top four shot yet again. They’ve lost a couple of players but retained some of the best and they will prove to be a difficult task for literally every side that they face in 2020.

At home, I’m happy to be with Manly first-up.

St George Illawarra Dragons vs Wests Tigers
Tigers to Win ($2)

Round 1 draws to a close in Wollongong on Sunday and one of the better contests of the week looks like materialising between the Dragons and Tigers (proudly sponsored by Neds).

The Dragons have underperformed for several seasons now and it really is make or break for Coach Paul McGregor in 2020. To their credit, they didn’t look awful in the Charity Shield a couple of weeks ago and improvement on that performance would see them into a competitive campaign. Josh Kerr and Matt Dufty look unlikely to line up, along with the big losses of Cameron McInnes and Korbin Sims.

The Tigers went close to sneaking into th finals last season and look to have plenty of upside ahead of the 2020 season. Captain Moses Mbye will miss Round 1 with a knee injury, as with both Russell Packer and Jacob Liddle, who will remain on the sidelines for several weeks to come.

I’m finding it difficult to split these sides, so I’m going to take the value around the Tigers as outsiders.