Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, looks over all 16 teams and previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for all Round 1 matches.
|Dylan Edwards||1||Tom Trbojevic|
|Charlie Staines||2||Jason Saab|
|Izack Tago||3||Brad Parker|
|Stephen Crichton||4||Morgan Harper|
|Brian To’o||5||Reuben Garrick|
|Jarome Luai||6||Kieran Foran|
|Sean O’Sullivan||7||Daly Cherry-Evans|
|Moses Leota||8||Toafofoa Sipley|
|Apisai Koroisau||9||Lachlan Croker|
|James Fisher-Harris||10||Martin Taupau|
|Viliame Kikau||11||Haumole Olakau’atu|
|Liam Martin||12||Ethan Bullemor|
|Isaah Yeo||13||Jake Trbojevic|
|Mitch Kenny||14||Tolutau Koula|
|Scott Sorensen||15||Karl Lawton|
|Spencer Leniu||16||Sean Keppie|
|Matthew Eisenhuth||17||Taniela Paseka|
History: Played 36, Panthers 21, Sea Eagles 15
Last Meeting: Round 8, 2021: Panthers 28 def. Sea Eagles 16
Final Thoughts: The 2022 NRL season kicks off with a blockbuster between the defending premier Penrith Panthers against a Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles side hoping to go at least one win better in 2022 ($4.50 to make Grand Final).
While Nathan Cleary isn’t available for this one, the Panthers have a reliable replacement in Sean O’Sullivan. He’s not going to have the same impact, obviously. However, O’Sullivan can play the role of organiser while Jarome Luai, Api Koroisau and Isaah Yeo pick up more of the creative duties. O’Sullivan will have the benefit of playing behind one of the best forward packs in the NRL, too. The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles have a handful of injury concerns on their own, but most importantly, Tom Trbojevic isn’t one of them. The 2022 Dally M Medal winner is fit and firing ahead of Round 1 and it is going to be interesting to see how the Sea Eagles use their superstar fullback. If I’m Ivan Cleary, I’m doing everything I can to make life difficult for Trbojevic and forcing the Sea Eagles to shoot a different shot.
Cleary is is a significant out for the Panthers but they have the players to make up the difference for a week or two. Anticipating a somewhat ugly match in comparison to the free-flowing football we saw towards the end of the 2021 NRL season, defence will be the decider. The Panthers still present as one of the best teams in the competition in that regard with or without Cleary.
|Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad||1||William Kennedy|
|Nick Cotric||2||Sione Katoa|
|James Schiller||3||Jesse Ramien|
|Matthew Timoko||4||Ronaldo Mulitalo|
|Semi Valemei||5||Matt Ikuvalu|
|Jack Wighton||6||Matt Moylan|
|Brad Schneider||7||Nicho Hynes|
|Josh Papalii||8||Toby Rudolf|
|Josh Hodgson||9||Blayke Brailey|
|Joseph Tapine||10||Braden Hamlin-Uele|
|Hudson Young||11||Briton Nikora|
|Corey Harawira-Naera||12||Teig Wilton|
|Elliott Whitehead||13||Dale Finucane|
|Tom Starling||14||Aiden Tolman|
|Emre Guler||15||Siosifa Talakai|
|Adam Elliott||16||Royce Hunt|
|Corey Horsburgh||17||Andrew Fifita|
History: Played 45, Raiders 22, Sharks 23
Last Meeting: Round 18, 2021: Raiders 34 def. Sharks 18
Final Thoughts: The Canberra Raiders will be eager to get their 2022 NRL season off to a good start following their disappointing campaign last year. Meanwhile, all eyes are on the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks and their new-look side.
Jamal Fogarty is out for roughly half of the season which sees rookie half Brad Schneider start for Round 1. The 21-year-old has only one NRL match to his name, but the element of the unknown could work in his favour on Friday night. Elsewhere in the side, Charnze Nicoll-Klockstad has beaten out Xavier Savage at fullback while Adam Elliott makes his club debut. For the Sharks, Nicho Hynes and Dale Finucane both start for their new club, Ronaldo Mulitalo is into a new position in the centres, and Matt Ikuvalu will start on the wing.
There were already question marks around the Raiders halves before Fogarty’s injury. While expected to improve throughout the year, how the pair would link up to start wasn’t so clear. Now Jack Wighton is working with yet another new partner and we’ve seen what the inconsistency in the halves can do to his form and that of the Raiders. While Hynes is playing his first game for the Sharks and there a possible teething issues on that side, he isn’t quite so reliant on others like Wighton. The Sharks attack has stacks of potential and the addition of Finucane to the middle should provide them with some much-needed consistency through the centre-third. It’s difficult to get a read on teams this early in the season but the Sharks look the better-prepared of the two this week.
|Jamayne Isaako||1||Blake Taaffe|
|Corey Oates||2||Alex Johnston|
|Kotoni Staggs||3||Jaxson Paulo|
|Herbie Farnworth||4||Campbell Graham|
|Selwyn Cobbo||5||Taane Milne|
|Billy Walters||6||Cody Walker|
|Albert Kelly||7||Lachlan Ilias|
|Keenan Palasia||8||Tevita Tatola|
|Jake Turpin||9||Damien Cook|
|Payne Haas||10||Mark Nicholls|
|Kurt Capewell||11||Keaon Koloamatangi|
|Jordan Riki||12||Jai Arrow|
|Patrick Carrigan||13||Cameron Murray|
|Ryan James||14||Jacob Host|
|Rhys Kennedy||15||Siliva Havili|
|TC Robati||16||Thomas Burgess|
|Tyrone Roberts||17||Michael Chee-Kam|
History: Played 35, Broncos 22, Rabbitohs 12
Last Meeting: Round 15, 2021: Rabbitohs 46 def. Broncos 0
Final Thoughts: It’s not the Brisbane Broncos v South Sydney Rabbitohs/Adam Reynolds v his former club showdown we all hoped for in this one, but it still shapes as an interesting encounter.
With Adam Reynolds not available, Billy Walters will partner Albert Kelly in the Broncos halves. Meanwhile, Jamayne Isaako fills in for the injured Tesi Niu with Selwyn Cobbo and Corey Oates on the wing. It’s also a big game for Kurt Capewell, Ryan James and Tyrone Roberts who all make their club debut in this one. For the Rabbitohs it’s business as normal. Rookie coach Jason Demetriou will feel right at home at Suncorp Stadium and has named the side most anticipated. The only possible surprise is Jaxson Paulo in the centres, Taane Milne on the wing and Josh Mansour named in #19.
The expectation is for the Rabbitohs to handle the Broncos with relative ease. While they’re without Adam Reynolds after making the 2021 NRL Grand Final, the Broncos don’t have him either…Unfortunately for Kevin Walters, he starts this season with the same issues he finished with in 2021: A young side with plenty of talent but a lack of quality in key playmaking positions. The Rabbitohs, on the other hand, have named a side that can hit the ground running with the ball in hand. Brisbane’s probable issues with the ball does present an appealing tryscorer option, though. Running at Jaxson Paulo who has never started an NRL game in the centres and hasn’t looked especially comfortable there in the trials, Kotoni Staggs is set to benefit when the Broncos run out of ideas before passing him the ball and hoping for the best.
|James Tedesco||1||Kalyn Ponga|
|Daniel Tupou||2||Dominic Young|
|Billy Smith||3||Dane Gagai|
|Joseph Manu||4||Bradman Best|
|Paul Momirovski||5||Enari Tuala|
|Sam Walker||6||Jake Clifford|
|Luke Keary||7||Adam Clune|
|Jared Waerea-Hargreaves||8||David Klemmer|
|Connor Watson||9||Chris Randall|
|Lindsay Collins||10||Jacob Saifiti|
|Angus Crichton||11||Tyson Frizell|
|Sitili Tupouniua||12||Lachlan Fitzgibbon|
|Victor Radley||13||Kurt Mann|
|Drew Hutchison||14||Phoenix Crossland|
|Fletcher Baker||15||Mitch Barnett|
|Nat Butcher||16||Leo Thompson|
|Siosiua Taukeiaho||17||Jirah Momoisea|
History: Played 44, Roosters 31, Knights 13
Last Meeting: Round 19, 2021: Roosters 28 def. Knights 8
Final Thoughts: The Sydney Roosters are mostly fit and ready to fire after a disastrous injury toll in 2021. Unfortunately for the Newcastle Knights, they’re the first team forced to face Trent Robinson’s fired up side.
Luke Keary, Lindsay Collins, Joseph Manu and Billy Smith are all back for the Roosters while Connor Watson also returns for his second stint at the club. With Mitchell Pearce moving to France, Adam Clune will partner Jake Clifford in the Knights halves while Kurt Mann has been named in #13. Hymel Hunt, Jayden Brailey and Daniel Saifiti are all unavailable with Dom Young, Chris Randall and Leo Thompson taking their place.
Both the Roosters and Knights dealt with fairly significant injury tolls last year. While the Roosters have managed to name close to their best side, the Knights are dealing with a new round of banged-up bodies. Daniel Saifiti is a huge loss and swings the battle through the middle of the field further in favour of the Roosters. Newcastle finished 15th in the competition in attack last season. Their 17.5 points per game isn’t going to cut it again in 2022. While the expectation is for them to improve and for Kalyn Ponga to play closer to the ruck and on the ball more often, they will struggle to achieve that this week against a beaten pack. Stringing passes and shifts together in training is one thing. Doing it on the back foot against a premiership contender is another.
|Chanel Harris-Tavita||1||Tyrell Sloan|
|Dallin Watene-Zelezniak||2||Cody Ramsey|
|Viliami Vailea||3||Moses Suli|
|Rocco Berry||4||Zac Lomax|
|Marcelo Montoya||5||Mikaele Ravalawa|
|Kodi Nikorima||6||Talatau Amone|
|Shaun Johnson||7||Ben Hunt|
|Addin Fonua-Blake||8||Blake Lawrie|
|Wayde Egan||9||Andrew McCullough|
|Bunty Afoa||10||Aaron Woods|
|Euan Aitken||11||Jack Bird|
|Eliesa Katoa||12||Jaydn Su’a|
|Josh Curran||13||Jack de Belin|
|Jazz Tevaga||14||Moses Mbye|
|Ben Murdoch-Masila||15||Francis Molo|
|Aaron Pene||16||Josh Kerr|
|Bayley Sironen||17||Jack Gosiewski|
History: Played 32, Warriors 10, Dragons 22
Last Meeting: Round 16, 2021: Dragons 19 def. Warriors 18
Final Thoughts: The New Zealand Warriors are once again preparing to spend the whole NRL season based in Australia and host the St. George-Illawarra Dragons at Sunshine Coast Stadium – one of the many stadiums the Kiwi club will call home this year.
Shaun Johnson is back at the Warriors and his return is all the reason anybody needs to tune in for this one. Strangely, Chanel Harris-Tavita has been named to play fullback with Kodi Nikorima winning the #6 jersey. More encouragingly, however, is Viliami Vailea and Rocco Berry being named in the centres. As for the Dragons, Anthony Griffin has named the same starting 13 that won the Charity Shield a fortnight ago. George Burgess and Tariq Sims are the notable exclusions.
Good luck piecing together how these two clubs will play in the season opener. Dysfunctional for their own reasons last year, nobody knows what impact a summer has had on the playing group. Johnson’s return is a huge upgrade for the Warriors but questions still remain in the backline. They’re playing a five-eighth at fullback, too… The Dragons ended the 2021 NRL season in horrible fashion to lose their last eight games. While Talatau Amone, Ben Hunt and Tyrell Sloan has the look of a really good spine with Jack Bird, Jaydn Su’A and Jack de Belin also linking up across the field, there are a lot of new pieces being put together this week.
When looking at two bottom eight teams that are unpredictable, we look to the middle of the field – yardage. The Warriors look as though they will dominate in this area and give their side the best chance of scoring points.
|Daine Laurie||1||Ryan Papenhuyzen|
|David Nofoaluma||2||George Jennings|
|James Roberts||3||Reimis Smith|
|Oliver Gildart||4||Justin Olam|
|Ken Maumalo||5||Xavier Coates|
|Jackson Hastings||6||Nick Meaney|
|Luke Brooks||7||Jahrome Hughes|
|Alex Twal||8||Jesse Bromwich|
|Jake Simpkin||9||Brandon Smith|
|Stefano Utoikamanu||10||Christian Welch|
|Kelma Tuilagi||11||Felise Kaufusi|
|Luciano Leilua||12||Kenneath Bromwich|
|Joe Ofahengaue||13||Josh King|
|Tyrone Peachey||14||Tyran Wishart|
|Luke Garner||15||Jayden Nikorima|
|Zane Musgrove||16||Trent Loiero|
|Alex Seyfarth||17||Nelson Asofa-Solomona|
History: Played 34, Tigers 12, Storm 22
Last Meeting: Round 15, 2021: Storm 66 def. Tigers 16
Final Thoughts: There is one club no team in the NRL wants to play in Round 1. Unfortunately for the Wests Tigers, that team is Craig Bellamy’s Melbourne Storm who haven’t lost a season-opener since 2002.
Jackson Hastings, Oliver Gildart and Tyrone Peachey will play their first game for the Wests Tigers this week. The side is otherwise as expected considering Jacob Liddle, James Tamou and Adam Doueihi are all unavailable. The Storm are missing key players but we know better than to rule out their replacements. They’ve added Xavier Coates to the wing and Ryan Papenhuyzen is fit after being under an injury cloud.
The Wests Tigers kick off the NRL season as $3.50 favourites to finish it holding the wooden spoon. Their squad, while encouraging in some areas, has too many holes to fill. Out wide in the backline, in particular. Poor defensively last year and a few weeks away from forming new partnerships and developing in attack, it’s a big ask for the Tigers to host the Storm and even keep it close. Harry Grant is a significant out for the Storm but they will do just fine with Brandon Smith behind the ruck. Smith will be a factor in replacing Dale Finucane’s minutes at lock, too. With Cameron Munster looking the fittest he ever has, Jahrome Hughes carrying superb form over from 2021 and Ryan Papenhuyzen back in the #1 jersey, we’re looking at yet another Storm win in Round 1.
|Clinton Gutherson||1||Jayden Campbell|
|Sean Russell||2||Phillip Sami|
|Will Penisini||3||Brian Kelly|
|Waqa Blake||4||Patrick Herbert|
|Bailey Simonsson||5||Corey Thompson|
|Dylan Brown||6||AJ Brimson|
|Mitchell Moses||7||Toby Sexton|
|Reagan Campbell-Gillard||8||Moeaki Fotuaika|
|Reed Mahoney||9||Erin Clark|
|Junior Paulo||10||Isaac Liu|
|Shaun Lane||11||David Fifita|
|Isaiah Papali’i||12||Beau Fermor|
|Ryan Matterson||13||Tino Fa’asuamaleaui|
|Makahesi Makatoa||14||Will Smith|
|Oregon Kaufusi||15||Sam Lisone|
|Ray Stone||16||Jaimin Jolliffe|
|Jakob Arthur||17||Kevin Proctor|
History: Played 21, Eels 10, Titans 11
Last Meeting: Round 18, 2021: Eels 28 def. Titans 8
Final Thoughts: It’s that time of year: Claims of this being the year the Parramatta Eels end the premiership drought are in full circulation. A win over the Gold Coast Titans will only add to those claims for another week, too.
Brad Arthur likes to keep fairly consistent and has named the same 17 that started for the Eels in their trial against the Panthers. Notably, Nathan Brown is on the reserves list for this one with Ryan Matterson named at lock. Meanwhile, Isaac Liu has been named to make his first start for the Titans with Jarrod Wallace failing to crack the side.
The Eels haven’t been short of regular-season success in recent years. They’re a side stacked with talent and their preparation and cohesion is often enough for them to beat the teams below them on the ladder. While guilty of looking for the easy option with the ball and trying to go around teams rather than up the middle at times, the structure of the Eels attack in their trial games is exciting. Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown looked a lot more willing to be patient with the ball and wait for their time to strike. That’s a concern for the Titans who – fittingly given the Moses element – have a tendency to part like the red sea in defence when the opposition build momentum.
The Titans attack is also a concern. AJ Brimson, Jayden Campbell and Toby Sexton are an exciting trio but very raw both in their NRL experience and experience together on the field. There is every chance they revert to 2021’s approach of give it to David Fifita and hope for the best. Of note: The Titans won seven of the 11 games Fifita scored last season but only two of the 11 he didn’t. The Eels are well-equipped to keep a lid on Fifita which should see them pick up two competition points.
|Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow||1||Matt Dufty|
|Kyle Feldt||2||Jayden Okunbor|
|Valentine Holmes||3||Braidon Burns|
|Peta Hiku||4||Brent Naden|
|Murray Taulagi||5||Josh Addo-Carr|
|Tom Dearden||6||Matt Burton|
|Chad Townsend||7||Jake Averillo|
|Jamayne Taunoa-Brown||8||Luke Thompson|
|Reece Robson||9||Jeremy Marshall-King|
|Coen Hess||10||Paul Vaughan|
|Heilum Luki||11||Jack Hetherington|
|Jeremiah Nanai||12||Tevita Pangai Junior|
|Jason Taumalolo||13||Josh Jackson|
|Reuben Cotter||14||Bailey Biondi-Odo|
|Jordan McLean||15||Corey Waddell|
|Mitchell Dunn||16||Max King|
|Tom Gilbert||17||Chris Patolo|
History: Played 36, Cowboys 17, Bulldogs 19
Last Meeting: Round 6, 2021: Cowboys 30 def. Bulldogs 18
Final Thoughts: The NRL circled this one as the last match of the round on purpose. The North Queensland Cowboys begin this season after losing 11 of their last 12 games in 2021 while the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs are looking to hand over the wooden spoon they were left holding after only three wins in 24 games.
Jason Taumalolo has been named to start at lock following a tumultuous 2021 campaign. While named at #13, it remains to be seen if that is where he spends all of his time in this one. Meanwhile, Chad Townsend, Peta Hiku and Jamayne Taunoa-Brown will all make their Cowboys debut. it’s a similar story over at the Bulldogs with Matt Dufty, Josh Addo-Carr, Matt Burton, Paul Vaughan, Brent Naden, Max King and Braydon Burns all running out in blue and white for the first time. Somewhat surprisingly, Burns has been named ahead of Aaron Schoupp in the centres.
There is a bit of pressure on Todd Payten to start this season well after finishing 15th in 2021. He joined the club with a decent reputation and needs to have that show in this one. He has taken some risks. Tom Dearden in the halves ahead of Scott Drinkwater absolutely takes away from the Cowboys’ attack, however, Payten seems intent on repairing their NRL-worst defence that conceded 31.5 points per game last year. It’s a positive sign and a look at their intent heading into this one. It’s the right approach against a Bulldogs side, that while a lot different to that of 2021, did finish last in attack. The lack of combinations didn’t make for great viewing in their second trial match either. Both have the potential to surprise but neither can be trusted. Given their home-ground advantage and focus on defence, the Cowboys should sneak home on Sunday evening.