By Stephen Gallagher
Thursday, March 8
Saint George Illawarra Dragons v Brisbane Broncos, UOW Jubilee Stadium, 21.50 NZT
This is going to be a great way to kick off the competition. Ben Hunt, the big off season signing for the Dragons gets to face his old club in what should be a brutal Thursday night affair.
The Dragons new recruits will be out to challenge ghosts of years gone by with an even bigger forward pack, and the Broncos will want to haunt the Red V some more with another win over them.
TIP: Broncos 1-12
Friday, March 9
Newcastle Knights v Manly Warringah Sea Eagles, McDonald Jones Stadium, 20.00 NZT
Both these sides have recruited fairly well for 2018. There’s going to be plenty of neutral league fans watching this with anticipation, especially to see how Newcastle will get on.
No doubt about it there will be electricity in the crowd. A side with three consecutive wooden spoons needs to deliver.
Manly do have the team to spoil the party, however.
I feel like this could end up being the game of the round.
TIP: Knights 1-12
North Queensland Cowboys v Cronulla Sutherland Sharks, 1300SMILES Stadium, 21.50 NZT
The Cowboys will want to start their year strong. After the hurt of last year, there’s much to be excited about for the Cowboys.
Thurston is rearing to go, a handful of new signings, and going up against the Sharks will bring the best out of them.
Cronulla let themselves down towards the end of the year, and need to make amends for it. Another strong match up which can go either way.
TIP: Cowboys 13+
Saturday, March 10
Wests Tigers v Sydney Roosters, ANZ Stadium, 18.00 NZT
TIP: All eyes will be on James Tedesco going up against his old side. In a star-studded tri-colours side, the Roosters have it all to lose in this one. Add in the fact Cooper Cronk is playing for the Roosters and it’s going to be a thriller.
The Tigers have an almost unrecognisable side from 2017, and are ready to end their finals drought.
They will compete for 80 minutes, but it’s going to be a tough ask.
TIP: Rooster 1-12
South Sydney Rabbitohs v New Zealand Warriors, Perth Stadium, 21.00 NZT
The Warriors abysmal track record on Perth is due to continue. The Rabbitohs pre-season form has been really impressive. Their tough Charity Shield win showed a lot of character.
The Warriors will need to blow all their doubters and critics away with a massive performance, but it’s unlikely.
The Rabbitohs have the Warriors on paper, and should also have their numbers on the field, too.
TIP: Rabbitohs 13+
Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs v Melbourne Storm, Perth Stadium, 23.00 NZT
In the second of the double headers at the brand new Perth Stadium is the Bulldogs going up against the reigning premiers.
I imagine the crowd will be fizzing for this one. A huge contest. The Bulldogs under a new coach, and the Storm somewhat starting a new era, but wanting to create a dynasty.
If the Bulldogs can slow the Storm down, it will be a mammoth effort.
Can’t see the Storm being grounded in this one. They’re just too good.
TIP: Storm 1-12
Sunday, March 11
Penrith Panthers v Parramatta Eels, Panthers Stadium, 18.10 NZT
It’s always a good watch when these two Western Sydney clubs go face to face, even more so when opening the season!
A lot of pressure will be on Cleary and Maloney to deliver, a new halves pairing with the makings of something good.
The Eels have their prodigal son return, and Hayne will look to repay the faith showed by the blue and gold.
Penrith are going to be a hard nut to crack this year, and what better way to prove themselves against the unpredictable Parramatta.
TIP: Panthers 1-12
Gold Coast Titans v Canberra Raiders, CBus Super Stadium, 20.30 NZT
The Titans, in brand new jerseys, and hopefully a crowd of more than 4000 people will be hoping to get their season on track with a win in round one.
Ricky Stuart’s Green Machine will be still stinging after a let down season in 2017. I can imagine the whole pre-season training has reinforced that they need to start strong.
Canberra will have to control the game from the outset, and keep the Titans away from their 20.
TIP: Raiders 1-12
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