Friday, 13 March 2009
: Round One of the NRL has already created headlines and a ball has not even been played yet. Betfair's Mathew Thompson looks at round one for Racing and Sports readers.
MELBOURNE STORM V ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
This will be an intriguing battle between two new look teams.
This entire season represents a huge challenge for Melbourne who've been a dominant force for two years, but face the task of maintaining their high standards despite the departures of Israel Folau, Michael Crocker, Jeremy Smith, Antonio Kaufusi and Matt Geyer to name a few.
The Dragons have bolstered their playing depth and usher in a new era with Wayne Bennett at the helm as coach, and will be primed for their first trip to Olympic Park since last season's spiteful match that prompted an extraordinary tirade from then Dragons coach Nathan Brown.
From a betting viewpoint, this is a hazardous match and a hard way to start the season.
If forced to play, I would back the Dragons with the 6.5 points start. The market leans towards a Storm smash-up but I can't see there being much in this.
BRISBANE BRONCOS V NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS
The Queensland derby will be an entertaining, open match. Brisbane's new coach Ivan Henjak has named an exciting backline, packed with youth and speed.
Conversely, the Cowboys will rely heavily on a giant forward pack full of mongrel, and hope Johnathan Thurston can build something on the back of their go forward.
I am leaning towards Brisbane at home, but the good bet here is over 38.5 match points.
NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS V PARRAMATTA EELS
Betfair punters have backed the Warriors heavily in the overall premiership market. They are now third favourites to win the NRL title and have established great depth in their playing squad.
The Eels had a dreadful season last year, eventually leading to the resignation of coach Michael Hagan. New mentor Daniel Anderson needs to engender some spirit within a club that has been engulfed by political in-fighting over the summer.
Parramatta might go better in 2009, but they will start off on a sour note this weekend. The Warriors to win -6.5 looks the bet of the weekend.
CANTERBURY BULLDOGS V MANLY SEA EAGLES
It has been a shocking week for the Manly club, and the game itself.
One thing we can say is controversy has a way of galvanising teams and I expect that will be the case on Saturday night.
Brett Stewart is big loss for Manly but they have so many outside backs that they should be able to cover temporarily for his loss.
Bulldogs fans are excited by their new look side, and so they should be. 2009 should be a good ride for an exciting, emerging team.
I expect Manly to be to good this weekend, but the Bulldogs will improve markedly as the weeks go by.
CRONULLA SHARKS V PENRITH PANTHERS
The Sharks have recruited as well as anyone in the off-season and officially welcome internationals' Trent Barrett and Anthony Tupou against the Panthers this weekend.
What do you say about Penrith? Awful last season, relying heavily on their emerging players to fire if they're to go any better this time around.
The only concern with the Sharks this weekend is how their new combinations around five-eighth, halfback and hooker come up in their first match together.
Regardless, they will beat Penrith. Play it safe and back the Sharks straight out.
GOLD COAST TITANS V NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS
I have a feeling these teams will be the genuine improvers of 2009. Injury ruined the Titans last season, and Newcastle played some outstanding football at times but were let down by a lack of experience at others.
I love the Gold Coast halves. Mat Rogers and Scott Prince can light up a game when they are on song.
I don't like the Knights halves pairing at all. Ben Rogers is not suited at five-eighth and Jarred Mullen is better suited in the 6 than the 7.
This will be a cracking game of football, but I am happy to tip the Gold Coast at home. Follow these teams throughout the season, I think they will upset some of the genuine premiership heavyweights.
SYDNEY ROOSTERS V SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS
When Russell Crowe wrote the book of hates, this is the match he had in mind. Put simply, the Roosters hatred of South Sydney is matched only by the Rabbitohs hatred of the Roosters.
Betfair punters have deserted the Roosters in premiership betting. Only Souths and Penrith have attracted less money in the premiers market and I am not inspired by the team Brad Fittler will put on the park in week one.
I am one of the few people that can see Souths having a good season. They played very well in winning the Charity Shield and I actually think they will make the finals.
I'll be backing Souths to turnover the Chooks.
WESTS TIGERS V CANBERRA RAIDERS
On paper, these teams are two of the most exciting attacking forces in the game.
However, Betfair punters have dismissed both the Tigers and Canberra as premiership contenders and have both in single figures in the wooden spoon market.
The general consensus is that the Tigers might lack some forward grunt and Canberra certainly lack depth under their new coach David Furner.
The Raiders improved their awful away record last year but still find it hard to win consistently away from home, and have lost a stack of players from last year.
The Tigers have a similar squad to 2008 and have Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah at full fitness at the same time, which hasn't been the case for several seasons.
The Tigers will be to good here, and I would be happy giving away the 6.5 points start.