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globalrugbyleague - Fri, 14 Mar 2008 09:42:00 GMT
Rugby League fans will be liberated from watching any more Rugby Union tonight when the 2008 NRL season kicks-off after a very long off-season.
Questions remain over the futures of at least five NRL coaches. No doubt the biggest name in that group is Broncos guru Wayne Bennett who informed officials that his 21st season at the club will be his last.
Bennett however was the only mentor who is being allowed to depart on his terms. Others may not be so lucky depending on results early in the season.
Can South Sydney handle higher expectations this year or could Cronulla break two-records with one stone by winning their first premiership when the game is celebrating it’s first century.
Who will take out the worst prize of all in the greatest game of all, the Wooden Spoon? That too would be an interesting way to help contribute to the one-hundred year celebrations.
These are all interesting schools of thought that need to be answered and will be very shortly.
Now all we need to do is sit back on our arses, get stuck into a few cold one’s and let all the players, club officials and media entertain us for the next 30 weeks.
May the worst teams lose!
FRIDAY

rabbitohs v roosters
March 14, ANZ Stadium, 7.30pm
Referee: Tony Archer
GRL Tip: South Sydney

As per usual there is no love lost between these two-teams on and off the field. Willie Mason told the media: “I hate Souths,” and then Peter Holmes A Court got mad that on the roosters website fans were told they could watch the game at Easts Leagues club. Both teams should be congratulated for picking up my ‘WHO CARES!” award. None of this verbal bitchin’ is going to make one iota of difference in tonight’s game. What will make a difference is this: Can the Roosters stop the dangerous angle running of Souths halfback Craig Wing? Is Isaac Luke going to be able to remain as quick-off the mark as a known quantity being given greater scrutiny from the opposition?. An important game for experienced players like Braith Anasta who want to reclaim some long-lost form and youthful rising stars like Eddie Paea who will be keen to increase their game-time in the toughest competition of all. The Rabbitohs last season scored the first try in a couple of their opening clashes and I believe they’ll do that again. Verdict: Souths by 2.

Gold Coast Titans v cowboys
March 14, Skilled Park, 8.30pm
Referee: Shayne Hayne
GRL Tip: Titans

Will he or won’t he? It’s the question that has been on the lips of Queensland League fans all week. The possible early return of Johnathan Thurston from a serious shoulder injury. If he does, it’s a hell of a gamble this early in the season and Titans players have admitted they’ll test him out. Not worth the gamble in my estimation but that’s for others to decide. The inclusion of Thurston would certainly make a difference not so much to the result but the manner in which the game is lost because the no.1 halfback in the game would probably be restricted to limited playing time. The Titans showed a propensity to win big during the trials (averaging 30 points against the Raiders, Cowboys and Tigers) and at a new home ground, they should be tough to get past. They are however still looking for their first win over the Cowboys. The North Queensland backline is probably a smidgen faster while the clash of the forwards will be entertaining particularly if Luke Bailey and Carl Webb are involved. Verdict: Titans by 8

SATURDAY

eels v BULLDOGS
March 15, ANZ Stadium, 5.30pm.
Referee: Jason Robinson
GRL Tip: Bulldogs

Some officials may regret not using this game as the launching pad for the new season when the crowd figures come through. Media reports this week suggested that this game will attract the highest attendance for an individual game in round 1 with up 40,000 expected to turn out. I think it could go even higher though some of the bad press in the off-season may have turned a few fans off. The Eels don’t have their best starting line-up via the absence of Tim Smith (recovering from shoulder surgery) and other players who stayed up past their bed-time. Still the Dogs are going to need a few weeks for the halves pairing of Ben Roberts and Daniel Holdsworth to gel. We know that while Feleti Mateo and Brett Finch aren’t the number 1 choice for a 6 and 7 pairing at Parramatta, they are still effective enough to assert quality decision making in games. The Eels backline if they get space out wide will be merciless against a Dogs outfit that is experienced up-front but a lot lighter. There is enough strike power in Canterbury to win this one if things don’t go right on the night for home side but on paper, Parramatta look strong enough to avoid a repeat of the way they started season 2007. The Eels haven’t won three straight games against the Bulldogs since 1986, the year they won their last premiership. Will a win over the Dogs be an omen of things to come? Verdict: Eels by 12

MANLY SEA EAGLES v CRONULLA SHARKS
March 15, Brookvale Oval, 7.30pm.
Referee: Jared Maxwell
GRL Tip: Sharks

They say the most dangerous sharks are the one’s you don’t see coming. And that’s why this writer is probably the only person in Sydney with the balls to back Cronulla running away with their first win at Brookvale Oval since 2004. This is Manly’s first game without Travis Burns and Michael Monaghan. They went to the Grand Final last season so the pressure is on for them to go one better this year but with a different formula of talent. They lost only once at home last season, so playing 3 of their first four games there will help. But Lyon and Orford in the halves remains a big question. Lyon has to get more involved if he wants to keep the five-eighth role long-term. The Sea Eagles probably won’t get the most out of Lyon in the number 6 jersey as they would in the number 3. Orford is a solid worker but Monaghan seemed to be a bit more creative in the kicking department during crucial periods. Cronulla have four halfback options to choose from if things get sticky this season. Brett Kimmorley, Brett Seymour, Brett Kearney and Blake Green are all proven players who will give coach Ricky Stuart a selection headache but a nice one. Kearney will lurk up the middle so the Sea Eagles need to keep an eye on him while Luke Covell will be effective in breaking the line. If he has the right support players, this will be an even contest all the way. Verdict: Sharks by 4.

knights v Canberra Raiders
March 15, EnergyAustralia Stadium, 7.30pm
Referee: Tony De Las Heras
GRL Tip: Newcastle

A toss of the coin clash this one. These two teams won two trial games against teams expected to do much better then them. If they remain injury free the Knights will be ruthless for the full 80 minutes but Canberra love to throw in some surprise plays too which revolve around the fact they are a young team learning new skills. Two great five-eighths are running this show in the form of Jarrod Mullen (Knights) and Todd Carney (Raiders). At home, the Knights are hard to beat and do possess some great outside support players in their backline via Naiqama and MacDougall. Verdict: Knights by 10

SUNDAY

Brisbane Broncos v panthers
March 16, Suncorp Stadium, 2pm
Referee: Gavin Badger
GRL Tip: Broncos

The Panthers have started the season well over the last few years while the Broncos have been too hot and cold for their fans liking. It’s very difficult for coaches to get the best out of their players when teams know the brains behind the brawn won’t be around at the end of the season. Can Wayne Bennett buck that trend? That’s a good question which I think will be answered early in the season. Both teams are sending out a new number 7 who are seeking some certainty in their careers.These clubs have swapped talent with each other. Joel Clinton (Penrith) and Petero Civoniceva (Penrith) play against their former teams for the first time in a game that will field plenty of emotion. The Panthers squad is a bit too inexperienced heading into this clash but they’ll take a lot out of it and if they are quick learners will bounce back next week. Verdict: Broncos by 12.

Wests Tigers v ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
March 16, Sydney Football Stadium, 3pm
Referee: Sean Hampstead
GRL Tip: Dragons

Wests Tigers worry me. They really do. Not by the fact that they didn’t win any of their trial games but by the size of their last loss to the Gold Coast Titans (32-4).Theyhad their best talent on show and still couldn’t get beyond 10-points on the scoreboard. St George on trial form still don’t know how to put teams away while five-eighth Benji Marshall and hooker Robbie Farah are still trying to find enough of the creativity they need in attack to trouble teams. Certainly this clash will test how much these squads need to learn to be a force in 2008. Verdict: Dragons 6


MONDAY

Melbourne Storm v WARRIORS
March 17, Olympic Park, 7pm
Referee: Ben Cummins
GRL Tip: Storm

The first Monday night game of the year goes to Victoria to capitalise on the soaring popularity of League following Melbourne’s predicted premiership in 2007. Their huge win over Manly in the off-season suggests that other teams still have a lot of ground to make up if they want to play on the Storm’s level. So - Read More, Here