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Preview of NRL round one

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 1/03/2017 Scott Bailey and Steve Zemek

Preview of NRL round-one matches (all times AEDT):

THURSDAY, March 2

Cronulla v Brisbane at Southern Cross Group Stadium 8.05pm

Head to Head: Sharks 20 Broncos 32

Last clash: Round 9 2016 - Sharks 30 bt Broncos 28 at Southern Cross Group Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Sharks $2.00 Broncos $1.80

FootyTAB: Sharks +1.5

Cronulla are the biggest outsiders in the NRL era to defend their title after the departures of Ben Barba and Michael Ennis over the off-season. They are also without Valentine Holmes through a hamstring injury, meaning Gerard Beale will deputise at fullback and Jayden Brailey debuts at hooker. They'll meet a Brisbane side who have copped plenty of criticism in the past week. Josh McGuire will have to take up the workload of the retired Corey Parker at lock, while Ben Hunt plays his first game since signing with St George Illawarra for next season.

Key: How Jayden Brailey performs on debut at hooker for the Sharks. He has a stack of potential as the player of the under-20s last year but Michael Ennis was so valuable in No.9 last year.

Tip: Broncos

FRIDAY, March 3

Canterbury v Melbourne at Belmore Sports Ground 6.00pm

Head to Head: Bulldogs 21 Storm 16

Last clash: Round 6 2016 - Bulldogs 18 bt Storm 12 at AAMI Park

Tab Sportsbet: Bulldogs $2.05 Storm $1.78

FootyTAB: Bulldogs +1.5

Canterbury have become something of Melbourne's bogey team, beating then the past six times the teams have met. However, they'll have to be at their best to pull off a similar upset on Friday evening at their traditional home of Belmore. Melbourne have named Cameron Munster at five-eighth, with the Storm saying they will change their game to suit him. Billy Slater is also still missing, with Young Tonumaipea replacing him at No.1.

Key: Whether Canterbury can revitalise their attack in 2017 through halves Josh Reynolds and Moses Mbye after a disappointing year last season with ball in hand.

Tip: Bulldogs

South Sydney v Wests Tigers at ANZ Stadium 8.05pm

Head to Head: Rabbitohs 15 Tigers 13

Last clash: Round 14 2016 - Tigers 30 bt Rabbitohs 14 at ANZ Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Rabbitohs $1.65 Tigers $2.25

FootyTAB: Tigers +3.5

The most-anticipated game of the opening round with Robbie Farah's grudge match against Jason Taylor and the Wests Tigers. Farah returns to first grade after being dropped to NSW Cup last season at Concord and should provide plenty of impact for the Rabbitohs out of dummy-half. They might also rely on his kicking game, with Adam Reynolds missing with appendicitis and Luke Kelly filling the halfback role. The Tigers are still without Matt Ballin at hooker - he's coming back from injury through reserve grade as Matt McIlwrick takes the NRL reigns.

Key: Robbie Farah's importance in this grudge match goes up exponentially with the absence of Adam Reynolds. He'll play an even bigger role in controlling the Rabbitohs' attack.

Tip: Rabbitohs

SATURDAY, March 4

St George Illawarra v Penrith at UOW Jubilee Oval 4.30pm

Head to Head: Dragons 18 Panthers 12

Last clash: Round 4 2016 - Dragons 14 bt Panthers 12 at WIN Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Dragons $3.00 Panthers $1.40

FootyTAB: Dragons +7.5

Penrith enter 2017 as favourites for the first time in the NRL era and, in the first round, they come up against a team tipped to go close to the wooden spoon. The Panthers' side is so strong they were able to leave former full-time Dragons hooker Mitch Rein out of the 17. At St George Illawarra, Josh McCrone has won the battle for the halfback role, edging out Jai Field who has still been named on the bench.

Key: The combination of Te Maire Martin and Nathan Cleary. While they should still account for the Dragons easily, if they perform, it bodes well for the Panthers' season.

Tip: Panthers

North Queensland v Canberra at 1300SMILES Stadium 7.00pm

Head to Head: Cowboys 16 Raiders 17

Last clash: Round 18 2016 - Raiders 26 bt Cowboys 12 at GIO Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Cowboys $1.40 Raiders $3.00

FootyTAB: Raiders +7.5

With their stars inching towards retirement and Matt Scott being heavily linked with a move to Newcastle, there's a feeling that North Queensland's premiership window is closing fast. The loss of James Tamou to Penrith is a big one. However, they still have a mighty engine room in Matt Scott and Jason Taumalolo. The Raiders are shaping as a premiership force. After finishing in second spot last year, they look set to push for a title this year. Their right side of exciting rookie Nick Cotric and Elliot Whitehead is untested but it's hard to find a weak link in their 17.

Key: Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson went close to earning the Dally M last year and will again be the attacking focus of Ricky Stuart's side.

Tip: Cowboys

Gold Coast v Sydney Roosters at Cbus Super Stadium 9.00pm

Head to Head: Titans 8 Roosters 6

Last clash: Round 10 2016 - Titans 26 bt Roosters 6 at Cbus Super Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Titans $2.25 Roosters $1.65

FootyTAB: Titans +2.5

The Roosters look set to be a premiership force again this year but are they the real deal? Mitchell Pearce swears he's a new man. Michael Gordon and Luke Keary are strong additions, while Trent Robinson's side are relatively injury-free after being bashed and bruised most of last year. We'll get a good look at what the future looks like for the Titans with Kane Elgey to partner Ash Taylor for the first time. Elgey spent last year sidelined and his return heralds an exciting new era on the Gold Coast.

Key: With a full pre-season under his belt, is Titans fullback Jarryd Hayne ready to get back to his best?

Tip: Roosters

SUNDAY, March 5

Warriors v Newcastle at Mt Smart Stadium 2.00pm

Head to Head: Warriors 18 Knights 15 drawn 1

Last clash: Round 14 2016 - Warriors 50 bt Knights 14 at Hunter Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Warriors $1.17 Knights $5.00

FootyTAB: Knights +14.5

Is this the year the Warriors finally put it all together? On paper, they have the best roster in the competition. But do they have what it takes between the ears? Star recruit Kieran Foran isn't back until round three, however newly crowned captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is back after an injury-plagued 2016. It's hard not to take pity on the Knights. Jarrod Mullen's drug suspension has left them with a giant hole in their roster. Brock Lamb will step into the No.6 jumper, while unheralded rookie Dylan Phythian gets a go at No.1.

Key: Shaun Johnson has been the Warriors' go-to man in recent years but are the Warriors now more than a one-man team?

Tip: Warriors

Manly v Parramatta at Brookvale Oval, 4.00pm

Head to Head: Sea Eagles 54 Eels 89 drawn 4

Last clash: Round 22 2016 - Eels 10 bt Sea Eagles 9 at Pirtek Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Sea Eagles $1.80 Eels $2.00

FootyTAB: Eels +1.5

It's a new era at Manly - but can the young Sea Eagles perform and save Trent Barrett's job? Jamie Lyon, Brett Stewart and Steve Matai have all retired. Fullback Tom Trbojevic is the new face of the club, while ex-Melbourne five-eighth Blake Green has been brought in to partner Daly Cherry-Evans. The Eels are trying to move on from their horror 2016. Corey Norman owes a debt to his teammates after serving an eight-game ban at the back end of last year.

Key: Eels flyer Bevan French is in his preferred position of fullback but will he suffer second-year syndrome?

Tip: Eels

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