NRL Preview: Williams set for Canberra debut, Roosters looking for three-peat and Watkins to start
The NRL season gets underway this weekend.
Parramatta Eels v Canterbury Bulldogs
The opening night of the 2020 NRL season sees a first round match up between rivals Parramatta and Canterbury in what could be an absolute blockbuster at Bankwest Stadium. The Eels were undoubtedly a surprise package in 2019 finishing fifth and will look to go one better this year whereas the Bulldogs’ second half of last season was certainly more inspiring than their first. Since seeing its first game last year, Bankwest has been a fortress for Brad Arthur’s side meaning Canterbury will have it all to do come Thursday. The Bulldogs hard nosed defence will be critical against a side that boast one of the best back fives in the league.
Waqa Blake makes his return form shoulder surgery in the off-season, while Ryan Matterson and Reagan Campbell-Gillard make their debuts.
The long-term injury to Keiran Foran is the Bulldogs’ biggest issue, with Brandon Wakeham named to take his place at scrum half.
Canberra Raiders v Gold Coast Titans
It was a tale of two seasons as Canberra almost completed a fairytale season last year whereas Gold Coast had one to forget. However, a new season beckons with the slate wiped clean and with new coach Justin Holbrook in charge, the Titans can give themselves a huge confidence boost with a win.
That impressive defence is key for Ricky Stuart’s side once again and it will also be interesting to see how Super League recruit George Williams slots in alongside his fellow countryman. If the Titans want to take it to the Raiders, then the combinations of Ash Taylor and Tyrone Roberts needs to start materialising.
New Canberra centre Curtis Scott has been given permission to play despite facing police charges. The trio of John Bateman (shoulder), Ryan Sutton (suspension) and Hudson Young (suspension) face spells on the sidelines.
Kallum Watkins is named at centre and injury doubts see AJ Brimson and Moeaki Fotuaika named on the extended bench for Gold Coast. Ryan James is out for the season after suffering an ACL injury.
North Queensland Cowboys v Brisbane Broncos
The rugby league gods have been kind with this one as North Queensland take on Brisbane. There is plenty of room for improvement as both teams had below par seasons with the Cowboys finishing 14th and the Broncos scraping into the finals.
The premise is on Michael Morgan to add some influence in to the Cowboys set up and with the returning Valentine Holmes and promise of Scott Drinkwater and Jake Clifford, Morgan has all the ingredients. It may be Darius Boyd’s final season but the Broncos have some of the best youngsters in the game today who can take up the mantle and plenty of eyes will be on Payne Haas, David Fifita and Kotoni Staggs.
Holmes has been named at full-back while Scott Drinkwater is selected at stand-off for the Cowboys. Josh McGuire (suspension) is out.
The quintet of Alex Glenn (hamstring), Sean O’Sullivan (knee), Jordan Kahu (shoulder), Keenan Palasia (knee) and Matt Lodge (knee) remain out for Brisbane.
Newcastle Knights v New Zealand Warriors
There is no question that both these teams will be looking for a much improved 2020 after missing out on NRL finals action last year. As round one player match ups go, the one between full-backs Kayln Ponga and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is right up there with both men two of the best in the world at their position.
The chemistry between Mitchell Pearce and dummy half prospect Jayden Brailey is pivotal for the Knights when looking to unleash players like Ponga whereas the Warriors’ devastating offensive duo of Tuivasa-Sheck and Ken Maumalo is going to be difficult to stop.
Youngster Phoenix Crossland (pelvis) is out for Newcastle while Bradman Best and Sione Mata’utia will miss the first few rounds.
Chanel Harris-Tavita has beaten out Kodi Nikorima to the number six spot for the Warriors and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck looks to have overcome a foot complaint.
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Cronulla Sharks
A new year and a new era for both the Souths and Cronulla as both teams saw the departures of influential figures. The Rabbitohs are without Sam Burgess and John Sutton whilst Cronulla have no Paul Gallen due to retirement as well as no Matt Prior or Sosaia Feki, who are both in Super League.
The addition of young superstar Latrell Mitchell is a huge boost for Wayne Bennet’s side while the Bunnies’ inexperienced forward pack will look to the likes of Tom Burgess to lead from the front. The displays of the likes of Shaun Johnson are detrimental to the Sharks chances this year and when fit they also have one of most electric backlines in the league.
An injury scare for Cronulla sees Josh Dugan (knee), Bronson Xerri (shoulder) and Matt Moylan (calf) all miss out but Ronaldo Mulitalo and Shaun Johnson are good to go.
No major injury concerns for Souths with Ethan Lowe (knee) and Mark Nicholls (shoulder) both included.
Penrith Panthers v Sydney Roosters
Even without Latrell Mitchell and Cooper Cronk, the Roosters still look primed for another run at NRL glory this year as they continue to boast a side with plenty of premier talent. However, there will be some pressure on new signing Kyle Flanagan to take over from Cooper Cronk.
The Panthers did not live up to expectations last year and are now without the experienced James Maloney with playmaking duties falling squarely on the shoulders of Nathan Cleary who may look to Manly recruit Api Koroisau to help unlock the side’s attacking talent.
Both Kurt Capewell (quad) and Dylan Edwards (ankle) are out for the Panthers.
No Boyd Cordner for the Roosters after he is given another week to recover from a calf injury.
Manly Sea Eagles v Melbourne Storm
Another mouth-watering first week clash sees Manly take on 2019 Minor premiership winners Melbourne. Despite key injuries, Des Halser did wonders for the Sea Eagles last year after finishing sixth while the Storm shrugged off any doubts with another dominating year.
If Manly wish to put one over their counterparts then the presence of Daly Cherry-Evans and Tom Trbojevic is immensely integral while Melbourne’s performance is dictated by the impact of both Cameron Smith and Cameron Munster.
A huge boost for Manly sees both Jake and Tom Trbojevic overcome injuries to be named in the starting 13. The duo of Taniela Paseka (ankle) and Jack Gosiewski (infection) are unavailable.
Brandon Smith (face) and Christian Welch (knee) are out for the Storm. Nelson Asofa-Solomona (hamstring) takes a place in the reserves.
St. George Illawarra Dragons v Wests Tigers
Both these sides have plenty to prove coming into the new season. The Dragons helplessly fell to 15th place on the ladder while the Tigers came up just short in the race for the top eight.
Now without Gareth Widdop to run the offence, the likes of Ben Hunt and Corey Norman will need to step up their offensive duties. The Tigers may have missed out on NRL finals action last year but with Paul Momirovski, the Leilua brothers, Luke Brooks, David Nofoaluma and Benji Marshall – they have plenty of attacking prowess to exploit St George Illawarra’s weaknesses.
Captain Cameron McInnes (knee), Korbin Sims (arm) and Matt Dufty (face) are all out for the Dragons.
A knee injury sees Mose Mbye miss out for the Tigers alongside Russell Packer (foot).
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