DRAGONS V BRONCOS – 7:50pm (AEDT)/9.50pm (NZT) Thursday, March 8 @ Jubilee Oval
Ben Hunt playing his first game for St George Illawarra against his old club, controversial prop Matt Lodge making his Brisbane debut…the 2018 NRL season opener couldn’t be much juicier. The new-look Dragons have to deliver after shelling out for Hunt and James Graham, while the Broncos are under pressure to prove they’re still a premiership powerhouse. The Broncos have won 12 of their last 13 against the Saints but haven’t won at Jubilee Oval since 1998. Dragons by 4
The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Dragons (-1.5) $1.80, Broncos (+1.5) $1.95. Tip – Dragons 12 & Under @ $3
Warriors Fan Interest: The Warriors take on the Broncos and Dragons in Round 6 and 7 respectively, both at Mount Smart. Leeson Ah Mau is the only ex-Warrior on display, but there’s a healthy Kiwi contingent in the Broncos’ line-up plus TWL favourite Jason Nightingale in the Dragons’ side.
KNIGHTS V SEA EAGLES – 6pm (AEDT)/8pm (NZT) Friday, March 9 @ McDonald Jones Stadium
Must-see viewing with Pearce, Ponga, Watson et al turning out for the Knights for the first time. Can the biggest recruitment drive in Newcastle’s history pay early dividends? Meanwhile, all eyes are on Manly’s novice five-eighth Lachlan Croker. There’s also no Dylan Walker, but the DCE-Trbojevic-Trbojevic triumvirate is one of the best going around. Sea Eagles by 2
The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Knights $1.87, Sea Eagles $1.87. Tip – Either Team 6 & Under or Draw @ $2.70
Warriors Fan Interest: Former Warriors Lewis Brown and Shaun Lane are set to come off the bench for Manly, but we’ll be watching Jacob Lillyman cart the ball up for Newcastle with misty eyes. A tremendous servant for the club, all Warriors fans will be wishing Lillyman a happy career postscript in the Hunter.
COWBOYS V SHARKS – 7:50pm (AEDT)/9.50pm (NZT) Friday, March 9 @ 1300SMILES Stadium
Plenty of recent finals history between these sides, while the return of Thurston (stand and applaud his 300th) and Scott for the Cowboys and the addition of Moylan and Dugan to the Sharks’ line-up creates several fascinating sidelights. The depleted northerners went a modest 6-6 at home last year, but Townsville is one of the NRL’s toughest road trips. Cowboys by 12
The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Cowboys (-5-5) $1.50, Sharks (+5.5) $2.45. Tip – Cowboys -5.5 @ $1.87
Warriors Fan Interest: An early look at the Cowboys, who the Warriors take on in the Round 5 double-header at Mount Smart – and TWL’s pick to take out the 2018 title. (Memo: grind teeth as Townsend and Bukuya continue to play to their potential at the Sharks).
TIGERS V ROOSTERS – 4:30pm (AEDT)/6.30pm (NZT) Saturday, March 10 @ ANZ Stadium
James Tedesco dons the Tricolours for the first time against his former team, while Cooper Cronk’s first Roosters outing will attract just as much attention. Tigers coach Ivan Cleary has thrown reputations out the window by dumping David Nofoaluma and Chris McQueen to reserve grade. The premiership-favourite Roosters will be out to make an early statement; the unfancied, new-look Tigers are even more keen to prove pre-season predictions about them are off the mark. Roosters by 18
The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Tigers (+10.5) $3.50, Roosters (-10.5) $1.27. Tip – James Tedesco To Score 2 or More Tries @ $4.25
Warriors Fan Interest: It’s a Warriors reunion party on the Tigers’ team sheet, with Ivan Cleary naming Lolohea, Packer, Matulino, Taylor and Godinet. Taylor’s the only one of that bunch TWL was sad to see go. Meanwhile, best to not to think about the fact Taukeiaho was allowed to head to the Roosters after one game for the Warriors…
RABBITOHS V WARRIORS – 7pm (AEDT)/9pm (NZT) Saturday, March 10 @ Perth Stadium
The Mannering-less Warriors have five newcomers in their 17, while the Rabbitohs have Greg Inglis back on deck, a blue-chip recruit in Dane Gagai and a new coach in Anthony Siebold. The Warriors must confront a three-pronged hoodoo of never having won in Perth, a lengthy losing streak against Souths and a horrible record in Round 1 games. It’s difficult seeing the Warriors’ forwards matching their Rabbitohs counterparts. Rabbitohs by 6 FULL PREVIEW HERE
The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Rabbitohs (-6.5) $1.45, Warriors (+6.5) $2.60. Tip – Alex Johnston To a Score a Try & Souths Win @ $2.60
BULLDOGS V STORM – 9pm (AEDT)/11pm (NZT) Saturday, March 10, at Perth Stadium
If you’re looking for a Round 1 lock, put the house on the defending premiers. The Storm have won 15 straight season openers, while the rejigged Bulldogs under Dean Pay need time to find their feet. Billy Slater’s absence sees Cameron Munster revert to fullback, which leaves a green halves combination in Jacks and Croft, but they’ll be far too strong. Storm by 16
The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Bulldogs (+6.5) $2.70, Storm (-6.5) $1.42. Tip – Storm 13 & Over @ $2.60
Warriors Fan Interest: Let’s be honest, it would be bittersweet to see Kieran Foran return to his marquee-man best for the Bulldogs after an ultimately disappointing one-season stay in Auckland.
PANTHERS V EELS – 4:10pm (AEDT)/6.10pm (NZT) Sunday, March 11 @ Panthers Stadium
A mouth-watering Western Sydney derby to kick off Sunday arvo footy for 2018. The Panthers are out to quash chatter about disharmony in the squad, while the Eels enter the season with the added pressure of being everyone’s premiership dark horse. Maloney in Penrith colours, Hayne back in the Parramatta strip – it’s going to be a grudge match to remember. Eels by 7
The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Panthers (-1.5) $1.85, Eels (+1.5) $1.90. Tip – Eels Win @ $1.90
Warriors Fan Interest: Will former Warriors favourite Maloney keep his amazing Midas touch record intact at a fourth club? TWL still wishes Eels powerhouse Suaia Matagi was still on our books.
TITANS V RAIDERS – 6:30pm (AEDT)/8.30pm (NZT) Sunday, March 11 @ Cbus Super Stadium
Two of 2017’s biggest sliders will be hell-bent on starting the season in positive fashion. A popular tip for the spoon, the Titans have a highly-rated new coach plus a handful of excellent recruits, but firepower out wide remains their biggest weakness. Ricky Stuart showed his hand by benching Blake Austin in a line-up that otherwise – save for Hodgson’s injury and the introduction of 2017 rookie sensation Cotric – took the Raiders to a prelim in 2016. Raiders by 2
The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Titans (+3.5) $2.20, Raiders (-3.5) $1.62. Tip – Jordan Rapana First Try Scorer @ $7
Warriors Fan Interest: The Titans are the Warriors’ Round 2 opponent, while the Warriors travel to Canberra in Round 3. A patchy start by both sides would be preferable. No Gubb or Hingano for the Raiders, but we always like to keep tabs on how Konnie’s going for the Titans.
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