The NRL is back, with 2021 promising to be the biggest year ever. There are five new coaches lining up their teams for what they hope will be much improved seasons. There are the teams that feel they could have won the lot last year and those that will be very happy just to play finals football again. It makes for some very interesting early clashes.
Experienced tippers will tell you that the first round of an NRL season always throws up a good share of upsets. People tend to pick on last year's form and many of the underachievers come in fired up to make a good start to their new campaigns. It often catches some of the more favoured teams off guard.
Good luck with your tips.
Thursday, March 11
Storm: 1. Ryan Papenhuyzen 2. George Jennings 3. Reimis Smith 4. Justin Olam 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 7. Jahrome Hughes 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Brandon Smith 10. Christian Welch 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenneath Bromwich 13. Nelson Asofa-Solomona Bench: 14. Chris Lewis 15. Tui Kamikamica 16. Tom Eisenhuth 17. Nicholas Hynes Reserves: 18. Darryn Schonig 19. Cooper Johns 20. Trent Loiero 21. Tyson Smoothy
Rabbitohs: 1. Latrell Mitchell 2. Alex Johnston 3. Dane Gagai 4. Campbell Graham 5. Josh Mansour 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Thomas Burgess 9. Damien Cook 10. Tevita Tatola 11. Jacob Host 12. Jaydn Su'A 13. Cameron Murray Bench: 14. Benji Marshall 15. Mark Nicholls 16. Keaon Koloamatangi 17. Jai Arrow Reserves: 18. Patrick Mago 19. Jaxson Paulo 20. Tautau Moga 21. Troy Dargan
Verdict: What a great start to the season, with the reigning premiers up against the team thought most likely to win the title this year. The Storm start their post-Cameron Smith life, quietly confident that they have all the pieces in place to make a smooth and successful transition. The Rabbitohs have been near the top for years and only have one recent title to show for it. The Storm have not lost a first round game in the club's history and the Rabbitohs have never beaten them in Melbourne. I have a feeling the Storm are not about to give those records up easily.
Tip: Storm by 4
Friday, March 12
Knights: 1. Tex Hoy, 2. Starford To'a, 3. Enari Tuala, 4. Bradman Best, 5. Gehamat Shibasaki, 6. Kurt Mann, 7. Mitchell Pearce, 8. David Klemmer, 9. Jayden Brailey, 10. Daniel Saifiti, 11. Tyson Frizell, 12. Mitchell Barnett 13. Connor Watson Bench: 14. Sauaso Sue 15. Jacob Saifiti 16. Josh King 17. Brodie Jones Reserves: 18. Hymel Hunt 19. Pasami Saulo 20. Jack Johns 21. Simi Sasagi
Bulldogs:1. Corey Allan 2. Nick Meaney 3. Will Hopoate 4. Nick Cotric 5. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 6. Jake Averillo 7. Kyle Flanagan 8. Ofahiki Ogden 9. Sione Katoa 10. Jack Hetherington 11. Adam Elliott 12. Corey Waddell 13. Josh Jackson Bench: 14. Bradley Deitz 15. Renouf Atoni 16. Raymond Faitala-Mariner 17. Dylan Napa Reserves: 19. Tuipulotu Katoa 20. Chris Smith 21. Brandon Wakeham 22. Ava Seumanufagai
Verdict: The Knights have navigated their way through some off-field dramas since last season and will look to halfback Mitchell Pearce to make amends on the field. They host the Bulldogs, who are operating under new coach Trent Barrett, and who boast a host of new signings looking to impress. This game would be a lot closer if it wasn't the first round, as Barrett and the Bulldogs are going to take time to develop into a genuine threat.
Tip: Knights by 10
Broncos: 1. Jamayne Isaako 2. Xavier Coates 3. Herbie Farnworth 4. Tesi Niu 5. David Mead 6. Anthony Milford 7. Brodie Croft 8. Tevita Pangai Junior 9. Jake Turpin 10. Matthew Lodge 11. Alex Glenn 12. Jordan Riki 13. Patrick Carrigan Bench: 14. John Asiata 15. Thomas Flegler 16. Ethan Bullemor 17. Ben Te'o Reserves: 18. Tom Dearden 19. Rhys Kennedy 20. Richard Kennar 21. Cory Paix
Eels: 1. Clinton Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Tom Opacic 4. Waqa Blake 5. Blake Ferguson 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Ryan Matterson 13. Nathan Brown. Bench: 14. Oregon Kaufusi 15. Isaiah Papali'i 16. Keegan Hipgrave 17. Will Smith Reserves: 18. Haze Dunster 19. Joey Lussick 20. Jordan Rankin 21. David Hollis
Verdict: Believe it or not I have this game marked as a potential upset. The Broncos were awful last year and simply must improve under new coach Kevin Walters, who will have them fired up for a big start in front of a home crowd. The Eels should win this, but they'll only have to be fractionally off their game, as they often are, and the Broncos could out-enthuse them and start their season with a surprise victory.
Tip: Broncos by 4
Saturday, March 13
Warriors: 1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 2. David Fusitu'a, 3. Euan Aitken, 4. Peta Hiku, 5. Ken Maumalo, 6. Kodi Nikorima, 7. Chanel Harris-Tavita, 8. Addin Fonua-Blake, 9. Wayde Egan, 10. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, 11. Eliesa Katoa, 12. Bayley Sironen, 13. Tohu Harris. Bench: 14. Jazz Tevaga, 15. Ben Murdoch-Masila, 16. Leeson Ah Mau, 17. Bunty Afoa. Reserves: 18. Adam Pompey, 20. Sean O'Sullivan, 21. Tom Ale, 22. Josh Curran
Titans: 1. AJ Brimson 2. Corey Thompson 3. Brian Kelly 4. Patrick Herbert 5. Anthony Don 6. Ashley Taylor 7. Jamal Fogarty 8. Jarrod Wallace 9. Mitch Rein 10. Moeaki Fotuaika 11. Kevin Proctor 12. David Fifita 13. Tino Fa'asuamaleaui Bench: 14. Tyrone Peachey 15. Sam Lisone 16. Jaimin Jolliffe 17. Erin Clark Reserves: 18. Phillip Sami 19. Beau Fermor 20. Herman Ese'ese 21. Sam McIntyre
Verdict: The Warriors have new coach Nathan Brown running the show and are once against stranded in Australia due to the pandemic. They responded well last year when Todd Payten took over as coach, so it will be interesting to see whether Brown can evoke a similar reaction. The Titans were the big improvers of 2020 and they have added some real firepower up front. This should be a very entertaining game with the Titans likely to finish on top.
Tip: Titans by 6
Roosters:1. James Tedesco 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Josh Morris 4. Joseph Manu 5. Brett Morris 6. Lachlan Lam 7. Luke Keary 8. Lindsay Collins 9. Jake Friend 10. Siosiua Taukeiaho 11. Angus Crichton 12. Sitili Tupouniua 13. Isaac Liu Bench: 14. Adam Keighran 15. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 16. Nat Butcher 17. Daniel Suluka-fifita Reserves: 18. Matt Ikuvalu 19. Fletcher Baker 20. Freddy Lussick 21. Sam Walker
Sea Eagles: 1. Dylan Walker 2. Jason Saab 3. Brad Parker 4. Moses Suli 5. Reuben Garrick 6. Kieran Foran 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Josh Aloiai 9. Lachlan Croker 10. Martin Taupau 11. Jack Gosiewski 12. Curtis Sironen 13. Jake Trbojevic Bench: 14. Tevita Funa 15. Andrew Davey 16. Morgan Boyle 17. Taniela Paseka Reserves: 18. Josh Schuster 19. Sean Keppie 20. Toafofoa Sipley 21. Morgan Harper
Verdict: This would have been one of those games to watch out for if it wasn't for Tom Trbojevic's hamstring[s]. The Sea Eagles lose way too much strike power with Trbojevic in the grandstand. The Roosters have to bed in a new halves combination, so it might not all be smooth sailing for them either. But at the SCG, the Chooks should be too good first up.
Tip: Roosters by 8
Panthers: 1. Dylan Edwards 2. Charlie Staines 3. Paul Momirovski 4. Stephen Crichton 5. Brian To'o 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Moses Leota 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Kurt Capewell 13. Isaah Yeo Bench: 14. Tyrone May 15. Spencer Leniu 16. Matthew Eisenhuth 17. Liam Martin Reserves: 18. J'maine Hopgood 19. Matt Burton 20. Robert Jennings 21. Mitch Kenny
Cowboys: 1. Scott Drinkwater 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Esan Marsters 4. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow 5. Valentine Holmes 6. Michael Morgan 7. Jake Clifford 8. Francis Molo 9. Reece Robson 10. Jordan McLean 11. Mitchell Dunn 12. Coen Hess 13. Jason Taumalolo Bench: 14. Jake Granville 15. Josh Mcguire 16. Corey Jensen 17. Lachlan Burr Reserves: 18. Shane Wright 19. Reuben Cotter 20. Murray Taulagi 21. Ben Hampton
Verdict: The Panthers, fresh from their Grand Final defeat, have had their roster partially plundered, taking some of the depth out of the club. They will still field a team more than capable of going deep into the season, but any injuries along the way will be a concern. The Cowboys have a new coach in Todd Payten and will be keen to improve on last year's efforts. The Panthers should be too strong first up at home.
Tip: Panthers by 12
Sunday, March 14
Raiders: 1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Bailey Simonsson 3. Sebastian Kris 4. Curtis Scott 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Jack Wighton 7. George Williams 8. Josh Papali'i 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Dunamis Lui 11. Hudson Young 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. Joseph Tapine Bench: 14. Siliva Havili 15. Ryan Sutton 16. Iosia Soliola 17. Ryan James Reserves: 18. Sam Williams 19. Tom Starling 20. Emre Guler 21. Harley Smith-Shields
Tigers: 1. Daine Laurie 2. David Nofoaluma 3. James Roberts 4. Joseph Leilua 5. AJ Kepaoa 6. Moses Mbye 7. Luke Brooks 8. James Tamou 9. Jacob Liddle 10. Joe Ofahengaue 11. Luke Garner 12. Luciano Leilua 13. Alex Twal Bench: 14. Tommy Talau 15. Thomas Mikaele 16. Stefano Utoikamanu 17. Russell Packer Reserves: 18. Jock Madden 19. Michael Chee Kam 20. Tuki Simpkins 21. Alex Seyfarth
Verdict: These two clubs have a long history of entertaining, hard-fought battles. The Tigers have added some old heads to their side and travel to the ACT to tackle a Raiders outfit which will be at full strength. Coach Ricky Stuart will want his Raiders to start the season with a win, and they should get the points at home.
Tip: Raiders by 10
Dragons: 1. Matthew Dufty 2. Cody Ramsey 3. Jack Bird 4. Zac Lomax 5. Mikaele Ravalawa 6. Adam Clune 7. Ben Hunt 8. Blake Lawrie 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Josh Kerr 12. Tariq Sims 13. Tyrell Fuimaono Bench: 14. Poasa Faamausili 15. Trent Merrin 16. Daniel Alvaro 17. Brayden Wiliame Reserves: 18. Jackson Ford 19. Kaide Ellis 20. Jordan Pereira 21. Max Feagai
Sharks: 1. Will Kennedy 2. Sione Katoa 3. Josh Dugan 4. Jesse Ramien 5. Ronaldo Mulitalo 6. Matt Moylan 7. Chad Townsend 8. Braden Hamlin-Uele 9. Blayke Brailey 10. Aaron Woods 11. Briton Nikora 12. Wade Graham 13. Toby Rudolf Bench: 14. Connor Tracey 15. Aiden Tolman 16. Jack Williams 17. Billy Magoulias Reserves: 18. Mawene Hiroti 19. Teig Wilton 20. Andrew Fifita 21. Braydon Trindall
Verdict: The Dragons have really struggled in recent years and new coach Anthony 'Hook' Griffin hasn't been given any new signings of note to work with. The Sharks are a hard team to pin down, with massive amounts of potential always seeming to outweigh their actual production. This could be another one of those first round upsets if Hook can motivate his men to fire up at a home ground these two teams will share this season.
Tip: Dragons by 2