NRL Preview: Hodgson returns, Mead to start & Murdoch-Masila set for Warriors debut

The 2021 NRL season gets underway on Thursday.

Melbourne Storm v South Sydney Rabbitohs (Thursday, 9:05am)

Well, what a way to kick off a new season as reigning champions Melbourne take on a surging South Sydney side that could cause plenty of problems of this year. Both sides come into this one after a good trials season and will be looking to hit the ground running. It will be interesting to see how the Storm cope without the legendary Cameron Smith while the Rabbitohs’ exciting contingent of Cody Walker, Damien Cook and Latrell Mitchell might just be one of the star trios to watch this year.

Team news: Brandon Smith starts at hooker for the Storm as Harry Grant sits out with a medial ligament strain. Reimis Smith is set to make his debut in the centres with Brenko Lee out while Nelson Asofa-Solomona covers for Dale Finucane at loose forward.

Both Jacob Host and Josh Mansour are named to start for South Sydney while Benji Marshall and Jai Arrow are on the bench.

Newcastle Knights v Canterbury Bulldogs (Friday, 7am)

The first game on Friday sees an interesting fixture between Newcastle and Canterbury. The Bulldogs narrowly avoided the wooden spoon last year but with some new additions this year in the likes of Nick Cotric, Corey Allan and Kyle Flanagan it could be a much better year for Trent Barrett’s side. The Knights, meanwhile, did not have the best trials period so lack some momentum going the new season and it will be worth noting how they can cope without injured star man Kalyn Ponga.

Team news: No Kalyn Ponga (knee), Hymel Hunt (hamstring) or Edrick Lee (foot) for Newcastle so Tex Hoy, Starford To’a and Gehamat Shibasaki are set to start.

Jeremy Marshall-King (foot) remains out for Canterbury so trialist Bradley Deitz has been named on the bench.

Brisbane Broncos v Parramatta Eels (Friday, 9:05am)

The Kevin Walters era at Brisbane begins on Friday as his side take on Parramatta at Suncorp Stadium. The only way is up for the Broncos as they succumbed to the wooden spoon last year while the Eels will want to prove they can be a consistent threat and true title challengers this year after struggling towards the end of 2020.

Team news: Brodie Croft partners Anthony Milford in the Broncos halves while youngster Tesi Niu switches to centre. David Mead also marks his return for Brisbane on the wing. Payne Haas is also out until round four.

Tom Opacic starts in centres for Parramatta with Michael Jennings suspended due to a performance enhancing drugs violation.

New Zealand Warriors v Gold Coast Titans (Saturday, 4am)

After falling to the wooden spoon in 2019, Gold Coast now looked to have found some stability since then and now going into 2021 they are now one of the most exciting sides in the league with some extremely noteworthy new acquisitions in the likes of David Fifita and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui while coach Justin Holbrook looks to be finding his feet as coach. Meanwhile the Warriors will be wanting to push themselves in to top eight contention as both Addin Fonua-Blake and Ben Murdoch-Masila give a huge boost to Nathan Brown’s forward pack.

Team news: New Warriors recruits Addin Fonua-Blake, Euan Aitken and Bayley Sironen are set to start while Ben Murdoch-Masila will come off the bench.

Patrick Herbert lines up against his former side at centre for Gold Coast while David Fifita and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui make their debuts.

Sydney Roosters v Manly Sea Eagles (Saturday, 6:30am)

Once again Sydney finds themselves as one of the main contenders for the title this season with plenty of elite talent still at their disposal as James Tedesco and Luke Keary continue to cement themselves as two of the best players in the game today. The Sea Eagles will want to put their 2020 injury nightmare behind them and push themselves back into NRL finals contention even though 2021 has not started out the best with Tom Trbojevic out again with a hamstring injury.

Team news: Lachlan Lam and Luke Keary are named in the halves for Sydney while Lindsay Collins starts at prop and Boyd Cordner misses out. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves sits on the bench and both Victor Radley and Sam Verrills could make their returns from ACL injuries next week.

Tom Trbojevic’s hamstring injury means Dylan Walker is selected to start at full-back for Manly and Josh Aloiai is Addin Fonua-Blake’s replacement in the front-row.

Penrith Panthers v North Queensland (Saturday, 8:35am)

Despite a disappointing Grand Final loss, Penrith were still the standout team of 2020 with some mesmerising displays. Going into a new season there is nothing to suggest that they can put together another year of a similar magnitude with talisman Nathan Cleary right of the forefront of their well-balanced side.

The Powerplay Sports Betting odds have the Panthers as favourites for the 2021 NRL crown. The Cowboys will need take a big step up following a poor season last year and coach Todd Payten will look to accomplish just that as he looks to find better assurance on both sides of the ball.

Team news: No James Tamou for Penrith as Moses Leota starts at prop alongside James Fisher-Harris and Paul Momirovski is set to make his Panthers debut at centre.

Michael Morgan and Jake Clifford are the preferred halves pairing for North Queensland as Scott Drinkwater is named to start at full-back. Valentine Holmes is on the wing and speedster Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow is at centre.

Canberra Raiders v Wests Tigers (Saturday, 5:05am)

The Raiders are another side who can consider themselves as true contenders this year after appearing in the Grand Final in 2019 and making the preliminary finals last year. Canberra welcome back Josh Hodgson who missed most of last year with an injury and it will be interesting to see how he links up with fellow countryman George Williams for a full year. The Tigers come into this one with some momentum after a convincing win over Manly during the trials and with their substantial squad revamp they will be looking to put the disappointment of the last couple of seasons behind them.

Team news: Canberra will be without Jarrod Croker (shoulder) so Sebastian Kris takes his place at centre. The trio of Ryan Sutton, Siliva Havili and Ryan James are on the bench with Emre Guler and Tom Starling pushed back to the reserves. Corey Horsburgh and Corey Harawira-Naera are both suspended for off-field incidents.

New addition James Roberts starts at centre for the Tigers and Moses Mbye lines up in the halves alongside Luke Brooks. Both Zane Musgrove and Adam Doueihi are suspended and Tommy Talau is on the bench with Asu Kepaoa on the wing.

St George Illawarra Dragons v Cronulla Sharks (Sunday, 7:15am)

The Dragons welcome new coach Anthony Griffin to Jubilee Stadium with his first regular season game in charge against rivals Cronulla. The Sharks on the other hand will be looking to build on from reaching the NRL finals two years in a row. They will have to cope without key man Shaun Johnson for the first couple of months though as he continues to recuperate from an achilles injury suffered at the end of last year.

Team news: As Cameron McInnes sits out with a season ending ACL injury, Andrew McCullough will make his Dragons debut at hooker. Cody Ramsey edges out Jordan Pereira for a place on the wing while Corey Norman is out due to suspension, so Adam Clune is named at stand-off.

No Shaun Johnson for Cronulla so Matt Moylan takes his place at stand-off.

Watch NRL and live stream every NRL game to keep up with how Tom Burgess, Josh Hodgson, Ryan Sutton, Elliott Whitehead, Luke Thompson and George Williams and all the others are getting on Down Under.

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