Beware of the bounce back factor this week – after the hype and back slapping from Rd 1.
The challenge for all teams is get themselves up week after week in the NRL.
The old saying – winners have parties and losers have meetings – has always been true and you always review your performance a lot harder and learn a lot more when you lose.
This week will see a number of beaten teams return to the winner’s list.
My tips this week:
Dragons, Roosters, Cowboys, Warriors, Panthers, Storm, Sea Eagles, Raiders
The first weekend of the NRL has provided some thrilling football -and proved a nightmare for tipsters – as four of the bottom sides from last year joined the winners list in Rd 1.
None better than the new look Knights team beating the Sea Eagles in Golden Point extra time. The atmosphere at Hunter Stadium was fantastic and the team lived up to the hype and anticipation of the pre-season with a committed, gritty display. Plenty of accolades went the way of Mitchell Pearce and Kaylyn Ponga (and rightly so) but I thought Slade Griffin and Herman Ese’ese would have been among the votes for players’ player.
The major upset of the weekend was the revamped Tigers (and the return of Benji Marshall) with a last minute win over the Roosters who will take some time for their new look spine of James Tedesco, Cooper Cronk, Luke Keary and Jake Friend to click into gear.
And the NZ Warriors (and their under pressure coach Stephen Kearney) were the other impressive team of the week as they won their first game (in 10 attempts in Perth) against the Rabbitohs.
The increased salary cap for all teams seems to have levelled the playing field somewhat – which might see a much closer competition in 2018 than we have seen for some time.
The NRL – must be delighted to have off-loaded the Titans and the Knights from their books – as both clubs seem to be on a stronger footing and will have additional funding to compete with the stronger teams going forward.
Two teams that seem to be stronger than last year – are the Melb Storm who accounted for the Bulldogs comfortably in Perth as they unveiled their future halves pairing in Brodie Croft and Ryley Jacks while Cameron Munster was brilliant, deputising for Billy Slater, at fullback.
And the Nth QLD Cowboys – boasting an International front row of Matt Scott and Jordan McLean, former Dally M winner Jason Taumalolo at lock and a future Immortal in Jonathon Thurston at halfback - looked very strong first up against the Sharks.
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Round two kicks off with a mouth watering local derby tonight between the Sharks and the high flying Dragons after a successful start to the year against Brisbane.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan has buckled to the pressure after one week and will shift Josh Dugan to fullback and Valentine Holmes to the left wing after he was promised the fullback role when he re-signed on a long term big money contract 12 months ago.
In the end coaching is about making the best decision for the team and getting results.
It’s hard to argue with Holmes on the wing – who is an outstanding finisher and came up with a record number of tries for the Kangaroos in the World Cup. Ironically, he was playing outside Dugan who supplied him with a lion’s share of last passes.
The Broncos have been copped plenty of criticism, including their coach Wayne Bennett, as they take on the Cowboys tomorrow night in another ‘local’ derby.
I am expecting the Broncos to be better this week at home and they will have Andrew McCullough starting at hooker after the failed Sam Thaiday experiment, their halves have been put on notice by Bennett and Darius Boyd will be better after returning from hamstring problems.
My prediction in a few weeks – when Jack Bird returns from injury in the centres – will see Darius Boyd move to five-eighth ( a la Darren Lockyer a decade ago) and Anthony Milford to halfback and Jordan Kahu to fullback. Kodi Nikorima will find himself at No 14 on the bench.