Tipping Point’s View: Rd 1 Tips & Picks

Struggling to work out who to pick for a clash this week? With many mouth-watering and entertaining clashes ahead, there are some tough decisions to make but we have you covered here as our tipping guru casts his eye over the week’s fixtures. Would you tip the same teams he does or their opposition?

After what seems like an eternity, round one is finally here! A word of warning: you probably won’t get a harder round to pick all year because you simply have no reliable way to gauge form. Yes, trials and the Auckland 9s and the Charity Shield and the Indigenous All Stars are all great to watch, but they generally tell us precious little about how the first round clashes will go. It’s a lot of guesswork and luck. Unfortunately, that trend continues for the first five or six rounds when upsets reign supreme and you’re doing well to be batting at a 50% average. It’s best to tip conservatively in the opening weeks, ride the inconsistent results and look to jag the upset tips and the 50/50s when we have some form to consider. Anything above four out of eight this week would be considered par.

At a glance: Souths, Eels, Knights, Tigers, Cowboys, Panthers, Sharks, Storm
Stand-out: Sharks

Broncos v Souths, Suncorp Stadium

A bumper match to kick of 2015 with the reigning premiers taking on a new-look Brisbane outfit. This is a really tough way to start the round and I think this game is much closer than the betting suggests. The bookies have the Bunnies as fairly clear favourites (Broncos $2.35, Souths $1.62 [Odds through Sportsbet]) but I’m not sure it’s this clear cut. To me Souths are significantly weaker without Burgess, Te’o and Auva’a (Tuqiri is missing as well from their Grand Final side), and the Broncos squad is definitely stronger than last year’s edition – their pack is monstrous. The Broncos play exceptionally well at Suncorp (won six of their last seven at home in 2014), have a great record in round one fixtures but it’s just too hard to go past the reigning premiers. Part of me wants to tip the Broncos but it’s too high-risk this early in the season.
Tip: Souths.

Eels v Manly, Pirtek Stadium

This is another really tough call. Manly have their noses in front in the betting, but their injury toll worries me. Their overall squad is weaker in 2015 and they’re already down some troops in Matai, Taufua and Starling, with Lawrence, Lyon and Symonds all under a cloud (suffered injuries in their last trial). I think the Eels can get the job done given their strong record at Pirtek, and they’ll get home on the back of a massive game from Watmough.
Tip: Eels.

Knights v Warriors, Hunter Stadium

You can’t take the Warriors in round one clashes, and you can’t take them in away fixtures. The Knights should be too good, especially with a few rookies in the Warriors’ backline; expect Gagai and Leilua to have a field day. Tomkins is also under a massive injury cloud which will throw out the Warriors’ attack should he miss the game.
Tip: Knights

Titans v Tigers, CBus Super Stadium

This clash was a straight-out coin toss before the cocaine crisis, but now I’m reasonably confident the Tigers will get up. The Titans just have too many front-liners missing, and it wasn’t an overly strong squad to begin with. I’ll always give the Tigers a chance when Tedesco and Farah are on deck and Titans are awful at home.
Tip: Tigers

Cowboys v Roosters, 1300SMILES Stadium

I’m not completely convinced, but you have to take the Cowboys at home, especially with Friend missing for the Roosters. The Cows will still be rueing their heartbreaking loss in the semis last year, and I think the big Roosters forwards will struggle in the heat. I expect the Cowboys to make in 12 wins on the trot at Townsville, even though as a rule they start seasons poorly. This clash worries me, though.
Tip: Cowboys

Panthers v Bulldogs, Pepper Stadium

The Dogs are slight favourites in this clash mainly due to Penrith’s injury toll. They have a number of players out including Mansour, Docker and Plum. I am a big fan of the Dogs but I think the Panthers are the safer option: I saw Canterbury struggle on the road in 2014 and with a number of players coming back from off-season surgery the Panthers should get the chocolates. The Dogs will need some time to adjust to their new hooker and fullback, and the heat won’t favour their gargantuan pack.
Tip: Panthers

Sharks v Raiders, Remondis Stadium

This clash takes place at 6.30pm Sunday night, so it’s almost the tried-and-tested “Shark park in the Dark” rule, but even in the twilight the Sharkies should get home – they’ve got more points in them than the Raiders. It’ll be closer than people think, but the Raiders need time to adjust to their new recruits, in particular the new spine of Wighton, Austin, Cornish and Hodgson.
Tip: Sharks

Dragons v Storm, Jubilee Oval

I’ve got no wraps on the Dragons this year, and although I reckon the Storm are on the slide they should still be too good in this one. The Storm generally start seasons well and their forward pack is a class above their opponents. Cameron Smith is in doubt but even if he misses the game (unlikely), I’d still be taking Melbourne.
Tip: Storm

Follow Tipping Point on Twitter: @tpoint1908

Rd 1 NRL Teams

Here we are, Rd 1! It has come around mighty quick but the tension in the air is palpable. Fans are excited, players are excited and teams are excited. Some ripper clashes in Rd 1 for many reasons as mates play against mates and former players face-off against their old sides.

Without further adieu, here are the sides:

Brisbane Broncos v South Sydney Rabbitohs (#NRLbrisou); Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane; Thursday March 5. Kick-off: 8:05pm.

Broncos: 1. Jordan Kahu 2. Dale Copley 3. Jack Reed 4. Justin Hodges (C) 5. Lachlan Maranta 6. Anthony Milford 7. Ben Hunt 8. Josh McGuire 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Adam Blair 11. Alex Glenn 12. Sam Thaiday 13. Corey Parker.

Interchange: 14. Mitchell Dodds 15. James Gavet 16. Matt Gillett 17. Aaron Whitchurch 18. Kodi Nikorima (One to be omitted).

Coach: Wayne Bennett.

Rabbitohs: 1. Greg Inglis (C) 2. Alex Johnston 3. Dylan Walker 4. Bryson Goodwin 5. Joel Reddy 6. Luke Keary 7. Adam Reynolds 8. George Burgess 9. Issac Luke 10. David Tyrrell 11. Glenn Stewart 12. John Sutton 13. Ben Lowe.

Interchange: 14. Chris Grevsmuhl 15. Jason Clark 16. Chris McQueen 17. Thomas Burgess 18. Tim Grant 19. Cam McInnes 20. Daryl Millard (Three to be omitted).

Coach: Michael Maguire.

Parramatta Eels v Manly Sea Eagles (#NRLparman); Pirtek Stadium, Parramatta; Friday March 6. Kick-off: 7:45pm.

Eels: 1. Will Hopoate 2. Semi Radradra 3. Beau Champion 4. Brad Takairangi 5. Reece Robinson 6. Corey Norman 7. Chris Sandow 8. Darcy Lussick 9. Nathan Peats 10. Tim Mannah (C) 11. Manu Ma’u 12. Tepai Moeroa 13. Anthony Watmough.

Interchange: 14. Issac De Gois 15. Joseph Paulo 16. Junior Paulo 17. David Gower 18. Danny Wicks 19. Pauli Pauli (Two to be omitted).

Coach: Brad Arthur.

Manly: 1. Brett Stewart 2. Cheyse Blair 3. Jamie Lyon (C) 4. Clinton Gutherson 5. Peta Hiku 6. Kieran Foran 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Willie Mason 9. Matt Ballin 10. Brenton Lawrence 11. Feleti Mateo 12. Tom Symonds 13. Dunamis Lui.

Interchange: 14. Jesse Sene-Lefao 15. Blake Leary 16. James Hasson 17. Luke Burgess 18. Justin Horo (One to be omitted).

Coach: Geoff Toovey.

Newcastle Knights v New Zealand Warriors (#NRLnewwar); Hunter Stadium, Newcastle; Saturday March 7. Kick-off: 4:30pm.

Knights: 1. Kurt Gidley (C) 2. James McManus 3. Dane Gagai 4. Joey Leilua 5. Akuila Uate 6. Jarrod Mullen 7. Tyrone Roberts 8. Kade Snowden 9. Adam Clydsdale 10. Korbin Sims 11. Beau Scott 12. Robbie Rochow 13. Jeremy Smith.

Interchange: 14. Tyler Randell 15. Chris Houston 16. David Fa’alogo 17. Jack Stockwell 18. Sione Mata’utia (One to be omitted).

Coach: Rick Stone.

Warriors: 1. Sam Tomkins 2. Tuimoala Lolohea 3. Konrad Hurrell 4. Solomone Kata 5. Manu Vatuvei 6. Chad Townsend 7. Shaun Johnson 8. Jacob Lillyman 9. Thomas Leuluai 10. Ben Matulino 11. Bodene Thompson 12. Ryan Hoffman 13. Simon Mannering (C).

Interchange: 14. Nathan Friend 15. Ben Henry 16. Sam Lisone 17. Albert Vete 18. Suaia Matagi (One to be omitted).

Coach: Andrew McFadden.

Gold Coast Titans v Wests Tigers (#NRLgldwst); Cbus Super Stadium, Robina; Saturday March 7. Kick-off: 7pm (local time).

Titans: 1. Will Zillman 2. David Mead 3. James Roberts 4. Josh Hoffman 5. Kevin Gordon 6. Aidan Sezer 7. Daniel Mortimer 8. Luke Douglas 9. Kierran Moseley 10. Eddy Pettybourne 11. Ryan James 12. Matt Robinson 13. Nate Myles (C).

Interchange: 14. Agnatius Paasi 15. Mark Ioane 16. Lachlan Burr 17. Matt Srama 18. Ryan Simpkins (One to be omitted).

Coach: Neil Henry.

Tigers: 1. James Tedesco 2. Kevin Naiqama 3. Tim Simona 4. Chris Lawrence 5. Pat Richards 6. Mitch Moses 7. Luke Brooks 8. Aaron Woods 9. Robbie Farah (C) 10. Keith Galloway 11. Curtis Sironen 12. Sauaso Sue 13. Dene Halatau.

Interchange: 14. Ava Seumanafagai 15. Martin Taupau 16. Matt Lodge 17. Brenden Santi 18. Kyle Lovett.

Coach: Jason Taylor.

North Queensland Cowboys v Sydney Roosters (#NRLnqlsyd); 1300 Smiles Stadium, Townsville; Saturday March 7. Kick-off: 9pm (local time)

Cowboys: 1. Michael Morgan 2. Justin O’Neill 3. Matthew Wright 4. Kane Linnett 5. Antonio Winterstein 6. Robert Lui 7. Johnathan Thurston (C) 8. Matt Scott 9. Rory Kostjaysn 10. Ben Hannant 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Ethan Lowe 13. Jason Taumalolo.

Interchange: 14. Jake Granville 15. Glenn Hall 16. Scott Bolton 17. James Tamou 18. Kelepi Tanginoa 19. Ray Thompson (Two to be omitted).

Coach: Paul Green.

Roosters: 1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Michael Jennings 4. Blake Ferguson 5. Shaun Kenny-Dowall 6. James Maloney 7. Mitch Pearce 8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 9. Matt McIlwrick 10. Sam Moa 11. Boyd Cordner 12. Aidan Guerra 13. Issac Liu.

Interchange: 14. Mitch Aubusson 15. Dylan Napa 16. Kane Evans 17. Sio Siua Taukeiaho 18. Martin Kennedy 19. Nene Macdonald (Two to be omitted).

Coach: Trent Robinson.

Penrith Panthers v Canterbury Bulldogs (#NRLpencby); Pepper Stadium, Penrith; Sunday March 8. Kick-off: 4pm.

Panthers: 1. Matt Moylan 2. George Jennings 3. Dean Whare 4. Jamal Idris 5. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 6. Jamie Soward 7. Peter Wallace (C) 8. Sam McKendry 9. James Segeyaro 10. Brent Kite 11. Sika Manu 12. Lewis Brown 13. Elijah Taylor.

Interchange: 14. Tyrone Peachey 15. Jeremy Latimore 16. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 17. Bryce Cartwright 18. Isaah Yeo 19. Apisai Koroisau (Two to be omitted).

Coach: Ivan Cleary.

Bulldogs: 1. Brett Morris 2. Curtis Rona 3. Josh Morris 4. Tim Lafai 5. Sam Perrett 6. Josh Reynolds 7. Trent Hodkinson 8. Aiden Tolman 9. Michael Lichaa 10. James Graham (C) 11. Josh Jackson 12. Tony Williams 13. Greg Eastwood.

Interchange: 14. Sam Kasiano 15. David Klemmer 16. Frank Pritchard 17. Tim Browne 18. Moses Mbye (One to be omitted).

Coach: Des Hasler.

Cronulla Sharks v Canberra Raiders (#NRLcrocan); Remondis Stadium, Cronulla; Sunday March 8. Kick-off: 6:30pm.

Sharks: 1. Michael Gordon 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Gerard Beale 4. Ricky Leutele 5. Mitch Brown 6. Ben Barba 7. Jeff Robson 8. Andrew Fifita 9. Michael Ennis 10. Matt Prior 11. Jayson Bukuya 12. Wade Graham 13. Paul Gallen (C).

Interchange: 14. Chris Heighington 15. Tinirau Arona 16. Anthony Tupou 17. David Fifita 18. Valentine Holmes 19. Jack Bird (Two to be omitted).

Coach: Shane Flanagan.

Raiders: 1. Jack Wighton 2. Sisa Waqa 3. Jarrod Croker (C) 4. Edrick Lee 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Blake Austin 7. Mitch Cornish 8. David Shillington 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Dane Tilse 11. Josh Papalii 12. Iosia Soliola 13. Shaun Fensom.

Interchange: 14. Josh McCrone 15. Frank-Paul Nuuausala 16. Paul Vaughan 17. Shannon Boyd.

Coach: Ricky Stuart.

St George Illawarra Dragons v Melbourne Storm (#NRLsgimel); Jubilee Oval, Wollongong; Monday March 9. Kick-off: 7pm.

Dragons: 1. Josh Dugan 2. Eto Nabuli 3. Dane Nielsen 4. Dylan Farrell 5. Jason Nightingale 6. Gareth Widdop 7. Benji Marshall 8. Leeson Ah Mau 9. Mitch Rein 10. George Rose 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Joel Thompson 13. Ben Creagh (C).

Interchange: 14. Rory O’Brien 15. Trent Merrin 16. Mike Cooper 17. Jack de Belin 18. Jake Marketo 19. Heath L’Estrange.

Coach: Paul McGregor.

Storm: 1. Billy Slater 2. Young Tonumaipea 3. Will Chambers 4. Kurt Mann 5. Marika Koroibete 6. Blake Green 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cam Smith (C) 10. Jordan McLean 11. Kevin Proctor 12. Tohu Harris 13. Dale Finucane.

Interchange: 14. Ryan Hinchcliffe 15. Tim Glasby 16. Dayne Weston 17. Felise Kaufusi.

Coach: Craig Bellamy.

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 14: Sydney Roosters

Blistering attacking play and steely resolve are the traits we associate with the Sydney Roosters and after a setback in 2014, they will be looking to hop back onto the saddle and show the NRL they mean business. The question will be, though, can enough of their players step up and can coach Trent Robinson instill some new found tricks into the side’s attacking play.

The biggest talking point about the Roosters heading into 2015 would be no surprise – and that is Blake Ferguson. The former troubled superstar has made his triumphant return with decent trial form and is set to be rewarded for that and for his hard work with a starting berth at the club in Rd 1. Despite that and despite his comeback to get back into the NRL, the question does have to be asked – was it too soon for him to come back? Was he truly in the right state to make a return and if so, can he adjust and adapt to the changing nature of the NRL or will he take time to become accustomed to it once more? Regardless of whether you think he was ready or not, Ferguson has always been blessed with a natural ability to play the game and with a coach like Trent Robinson, he will be primed and ready to make an impact where required.

The signing of Ferguson does raise some interesting questions about the Roosters back-line, though. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck at the back is a shoe-in but the bigger question is, do you play Ferguson at centre or on the wing? Equally adept to both, that is the decision that Robinson has to make with both Ferguson and Shaun Kenny-Dowall vying for a spot, either spot. Both can play centre and wing, both have their preferred positions and the fans will no doubt have views of their own as to who should start where. The general consensus would appear to have Ferguson starting at centre and Kenny-Dowall on the wing but such is the NRL world that it could change in the blink of an eye. They say when a player starts out or returns, centre is a harder spot to play and adapt to – so would picking Ferguson on the wing ease his transition back into the NRL?

With so much riding on success, as usual, the Roosters chances will hinge on how James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce can perform. Last year it was Pearce who excelled and the year before, it was Maloney. In 2015, the Roosters fans will want to see them both play well and create attacking opportunities with remarkable accuracy and precision. Of course, not every half has their day or the game of their life every week. This will mean that through a collective team effort, both Pearce and Maloney will be able to shine in their own respective manner and prove themselves to be an elite halves combination. Individually, both have the talent to succeed in the NRL and the past has proven that but as a duo, where one has been consistent, the other has not been. The challenge is to unify the team, lead from the front and help the club with the attacking nous to put the points on the board and to get the crucial wins each week.

Another big talking point – at least at the end of last season that has carried over into this year somewhat – is the loss of Sonny Bill Williams. Widely regarded as one of the best back-rowers the game has ever seen in the modern era, it often came down to sheer x-factor with Sonny Bill. He had the ability to change a game on his own, to deliver an offload so remarkable and so uncanny, that you would not think it were possible to do so. He had a knack for producing such offloads that led to points or breaks and that, coupled with his dynamism, unpredictability and ability to cover multiple positions, means that in general terms, he will be a loss for the club.
With that said, it would appear that the responsibility of taking over SBW’s position rests on the shoulders of Aidan Guerra. Proving that he has what it takes to play rugby league, the responsibility is one that Guerra is ready for and with recent Queensland and Australian representative games to his belt, that will add to his already impressive resume. He, much like SBW, is a player that runs hard and can pull off a decent offload. So as much as the club may lose in SBW no longer being there, they have found the ready-made replacement in Aidan Guerra.

Best buy: The easiest option is to say Blake Ferguson but we’re not going down that path. Whilst his return is a boost for the club, the addition of Matt McIlwrick is, in our eyes, a lot more helpful. Particularly with Jake Friend ruled out for some weeks due to a previous off-season surgery, things were looking rather bleak at the hooker position for the Roosters. That is, until they signed Matt McIlwrick, Formerly of the Canberra Raiders, McIlwrick was admittedly in and out of the side during his years there, but that is not because he is a bad player by any means. Despite his small stature, he plays beyond his size and this is demonstrated by the versatility he has shown in the past to play both hooker and lock on a regular basis. He is a nippy player, a smart player and was after an opportunity to show what he could do on a more regular basis. He now has the opportunity and will look to make the most of it.

Most Promising Talent: Perhaps a player that fans outside of the Roosters have not heard a lot of yet, is Willis Meehan. That will all change once he gets his opportunity in first-grade, though. A talented, hulking utility, Meehan was rewarded with a couple of games last year for his good form across the Holden Cup and the NSW Cup, where he showed that he is more than capable of playing alongside and against the men. A promising young player who has an equally promising boxing career, Meehan is one to watch in the future and there have been comparisons made to Sonny Bill Williams already, such is the dynamic style and approach he brings to footy. Whilst he may not start the season, it would seem but a mere formality before he plays first-grade again and stays in the side for the long-term.

2015 Gains: Blake Ferguson (2015), Martin Kennedy (Brisbane Broncos), Willie Manu (St Helens RLFC), Matt McIlwrick (Canberra Raiders), Abraham Papalii (New Zealand Warriors), Lagi Setu (Canberra Raiders), Nathan Stapleton (Mid Season: Cronulla Sharks)

Our predicted line-up:

1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
2. Daniel Tupou
3. Michael Jennings
4. Shaun Kenny-Dowall
5. Blake Ferguson
6. James Maloney
7. Mitch Pearce (C)
8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
9. Jake Friend (Matt McIlwrick whilst Friend is injured) (C)
10. Sam Moa
11. Boyd Cordner
12. Aidan Guerra
13. Dylan Napa

14. Kane Evans
15. Martin Kennedy
16. Mitch Aubusson
17. Issac Liu

Coach: Trent Robinson.

Tigers prop granted release to join the Bunnies

Nathan Brown

The forward depth at the South Sydney Rabbitohs has been strengthened, with the club signing Nathan Brown from the Wests Tigers after they released him from the remainder of his contract.

Playing just the one game for the Tigers and in his NRL career to date, Brown was a part of the Tigers NYC Championship side in 2012.

The 21-year old received the best wishes from the club and coach Jason Taylor.

“On behalf of everyone at the Club I would like to thank Nathan for his commitment during his time at Wests Tigers,” Taylor said.

“I wish him all the best in the next stage of his rugby league career.”

“Looking at our current squad, I believe we have good depth in the front-row, with a number of quality options including current internationals Aaron Woods and Martin Taupau.

“The Club has granted Nathan the chance to take up an opportunity to play first grade elsewhere and we wish him good luck in the future.”

The Bunnies released a short statement confirming the signing:

The South Sydney Rabbitohs have added young prop forward Nathan Brown to the full time squad for the 2015 and 2016 seasons today.

Brown, 21, joins the Rabbitohs after a stint at the Wests Tigers which saw him make his first grade debut in 2013 against the Dragons.

Standing 185cm and weighing in at 107kg, Brown joins the Rabbitohs squad from today, bolstering the front row depth at the Club.

Merrin saga over as he heads West to Penrith

Trent Merrin

Dragons fans will be pleased that a conclusion has been reached and some will be pleased to see him go, with Trent Merrin signing a 3-year deal with the Penrith Panthers.

After speculation linking him with several NRL sides, the new move will see Merrin head West and strengthen the Panthers pack.

Although in the last couple of years, his form has not quite been as consistent, the Panthers are confident of his ability and what he can bring to the table.

“Trent is an outstanding footballer and person and will add enormous experience and value to our existing squad and also our young forwards coming through our pathway program.

“We are extremely honoured that Trent has chosen to join our organisation in 2016 for three years and it gives us a great amount of satisfaction that all the work we are doing on and off the field is proving to be attractive to those outside the organisation” says Penrith Panthers CEO, Justin Pascoe.

Someone who has seen a lot of Merrin and is a good judge of talent is Panthers Executive General Manager Phil Gould, and he too is excited to have the former Dragons forward with the club.

“We are absolutely delighted to confirm Trent Merrin will be joining the Panthers for the next three seasons. This is one of the most significant player signings this club has made in its 49 year history.

“Trent has been part of a Premiership winning team and already achieved 10 State of Origin appearances for NSW. At 25 years of age we believe Trent is about to enter the prime time of his playing career with his best football still in front of him.

Apart from his obvious playing talents, Trent brings valuable experience and leadership qualities to Panthers. We are very excited about this signing”

Spain become RLEF affiliate member

Making strides in the international rugby league community, the Asociacion Espanola de Rugby League (AERL) have been accepted by the RLEF as the ninth affiliate member and the 20th overall member.

After years of hard work, new teams, new players and attempting to produce the best possible product for the Spanish fans and people, the AERL are excited to have been accepted as an affiliate member.

“Achieving Affiliate Member status is the best possible proof of the strength and seriousness of the Spanish project,” said AERL president Salomé Sansona.

“Our new status puts the AERL at the level of some long-established federations and opens the possibility for the first time to play in official RLEF competitions.

“We also recognize the efforts of the 12 Spanish clubs who, through their joint work, have enabled us to achieve this goal. Our referees, coaches, players, volunteers and sponsors have also contributed to this recognition.”

The ambition does not stop there, though. 2014 saw Spain play their first ever international fixture and for the first time in its rugby league history, they will field a youth national side.

Additionally, their domestic competition has always been improving and for Sansona, the key is to continue development in every aspect and become a strong, emerging nation in European rugby league.

“We will work to continue establishing ourselves as the benchmark for emerging nations in Europe,” Sansona said.

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 13: St George Illawarra Dragons

Perhaps one of the most heavily criticised teams by its own fans, the pressure is on the players to give the fans the satisfaction they seek – success. After some rather lean years, the only way is up but that will not be made easy given several senior players have departed, putting the pressure on the remaining veterans and the promising youngsters coming through the ranks.

One of the biggest talking point for the Dragons has been the departure of one of the club’s best wingers, in Brett Morris. Morris always wanted to play alongside his brother once again but Dragons fans were hopeful that could have been at their club and not the Canterbury Bulldogs. His departure leaves a gaping hole in the back-line in terms of experience, with the only available players either rookies or players still developing.
With young guns like Euan Aitken waiting in the wings, or signings like Dylan Farrell, although a lot of the players are young, the competition for spots is healthy. The one player who may have a clear edge, though, is Fijian flyer Eto Nabuli. On the back of a very solid NRL Auckland Nines competition and quality performances during the Dragons trial games, he is earmarked as the youngster to make a start in the back-line. A big, powerful & robust centre/wing, Nabuli showed that he can make a smooth transition into the game.

With Morris regarded as the club’s best player over the last few years, the pressure now moves onto fullback Josh Dugan and halves Gareth Widdop and Benji Marshall. Three quality players in their own right, they are the ones that have to step up now and lead the side. For Dugan, he will be hoping that a solid season can lead to an Origin berth in his favoured position of fullback and fans will be hoping that the enigmatic, live-wire back can spark the attack from the back.
As for Widdop and Marshall, the duo are still developing as a halves pairing but both are showing great signs during their time with the club so far. The Englishman especially started the year with a bang, with try assists and creative nous on show for all to see, something that greatly pleased all Dragons fans. As for Marshall, although he started out being criticised for some of his games and touches, he gradually improved and with a full pre-season under his belt – a solid one at that – he will be primed and ready to go for a big year.

Another main talking point is the future of Trent Merrin. The Dragons forward and his agent have gone on record to state that he is not happy at the club and that he wants a move away from the club to start afresh. Although Merrin is a great player in his own right, a distraction such as this helps no-one – not he, his team-mates or the club – and the question remains whether he will continue to be a part of the Dragons club given he wants out. Will coach McGregor persist with him or will it be a case of demoting him because of a bad attitude and a bad approach to the Dragons club and culture? Having made it perfectly clear through his agent in particular that he wants a move away from the club that he has called home for many years, should Merrin play, will he be the same player that he has been in the past?

The uncertainty about Merrin and whether he will start or not opens up some interesting possibilities in the Dragons forward pack. With improving players like Tyson Frizell and Joel Thompson vying for permanent spots and longer minutes, coupled with veterans such as Ben Creagh, the final make-up of the side across the board makes for some interesting viewing and thinking. The Dragons boast a handy forward pack and if 2014 was anything to go by, McGregor has his favourites but can he make the right choices and can the players he chooses to play, step up to the plate? One player in particular who is primed to make his mark is Joel Thompson. Under former coach Steve Price, he seemed stagnated and stuck as a player but since McGregor has come on board, he has shown faith in the back-rower and as a result, he has played more minutes, worked hard, knuckled down and is now being rewarded as a result of the good form.

Overall, despite having lost a lot more quality than those that have signed at the club, the core of the side is still there to mount somewhat of a challenge. Whilst they are not an elite team in the NRL this year, with the right attitude, approach to games and form by the players when required, the Dragons can sneak into the top 8 and cause some potential headaches. A lot hinges on Dugan, the halves and the group of players at the club. For if they do not succeed, the Dragons fans will be ruthless.

Best buy: Unable to crack first-grade at the Penrith Panthers, a fresh start and a move had Eto Nabuli hopeful of a starting berth and reports suggest that will be the case. The recruitment by the Dragons has not been particularly strong but signing Nabuli and seeing the form he has since produced during trials has a lot of Dragons fans excited about his ability, his progression and development and keen to see how successful his transition into the top grade can be. His trial form showed that he has speed on him – hence he is referred to as the Fijian flyer – and it also showed his astute aerial presence. Along with Jason Nightingale on the other wing, the Dragons boast two strong aerial players and with Nabuli’s frame, Dragons fans will be hoping he can use that to his advantage and overpower opposition defenders to get the score. With many expecting big things from him, can Nabuli deliver and put a smile on the faces of Dragon fans?

Most Promising Talent: This one should be a no-brainer, especially given speculation that he was also headed for a first-grade berth. After some fantastic years in the Holden Cup and leading from the front for the Dragons side, Euan Aitken has been touted as a future star and a player that can achieve great things in the game of rugby league. He is not the biggest centre but he works hard and toils and with a great work-rate, nifty footwork and great game awareness, his play seems to be effortless on the footy field. He is another talented youngster that the Dragons have high hopes for and they will be keen to see him play first-grade at some point, even if it does not come for Rd 1. His ability can take him places and if given a chance, he will be hungry to make the most of it.

2015 Gains: Fraser Alcock (2015), Beau Henry (Gold Coast Titans), Justin Hunt (Parramatta Eels), Kris Keating (Hull Kingston Rovers), Heath L’Estrange (Sydney Roosters), Eto Nabuli (Penrith Panthers), Dane Nielsen (New Zealand Warriors), Rulon Nutira (2015), George Rose (Melbourne Storm), Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard (New Zealand Warriors)

Our predicted line-up:

1. Josh Dugan
2. Jason Nightingale
3. Peter Mata’utia
4. Charly Runciman
5. Eto Nabuli
6. Gareth Widdop
7. Benji Marshall
8. Jack de Belin
9. Mitch Rein
10. Mike Cooper
11. Tyson Frizell
12. Joel Thompson
13. Ben Creagh (C)

14. Trent Merrin
15. George Rose
16. Rory O’Brien
17. Leeson Ah Mau

2015 Tipping Guide by Tipping Point

In what will be the first article of many from them when it comes to tipping, Tipping Point join us to evaluate the teams that are easy to pick and the teams that are hard to pick. In some way, we all struggle with tipping at times, so this guide and weekly tipping previews is designed to help you make the best possible tips.

If you’re sick of finishing 47th in the office tipping comp, check out Tipping Point’s weekly selections which will be published each week on NRL News. This week, Tipping Point runs the rule over every team to see how they fared on the tipping front last season and what we can expect for 2015.

Brisbane Broncos
2014 record: Won 12, lost 13, finished eighth (Quarter finalists); 7/12 at Suncorp Stadium.
The Broncos are a tipsters dream in that they are reasonably simple to predict. They are very strong at home (won six of their last seven at Suncorp in 2014), and generally beat teams below them on the ladder. Tend to struggle on the road against the better teams, especially against their hoodoo teams in Souths and Melbourne, which makes their round one encounter with the Rabbitohs all the more difficult to predict.

Canberra Raiders
2014 record: Won eight, lost 16, finished 15th; 4/12 at GIO Stadium.
Generally are straightforward to tip, however they do tend to spring a surprise victory when you least expect it (they knocked off Melbourne, Souths, Newcastle and Parramatta when underdogs in 2014); don’t ever tip them for these upsets – especially away from home – as they are just as likely to capitulate and lose by a cricket score. I expect big improvements from the Green Machine in 2015 so things may not be so cut and dried, but I’ll need a lot of convincing to ever back them outside of the Nation’s capital.

Canterbury Bulldogs
2014 record: Won 16, lost eight, finished 7th (runners-up); 6/12 at ANZ Stadium in regular season [1/2 as away team at ANZ; 1/2 during finals at ANZ].
The Bulldogs were my bogey side in 2014 – I couldn’t quite get on their wavelength. But I’ve learnt my lesson: they’re hard to beat at ANZ, they play particularly well against the Eels, Roosters, Warriors and Storm, and they’re prone to the odd shocker when playing teams outside the eight away from home. Overall their squad is stronger than last year, so it’ll take a pretty good team to knock them over.

Cronulla Sharks
2014 record: Won five, lost 19, finished 16th; 2/12 at Remondis Stadium.
For obvious reasons they were the easiest team to pick in 2014 (although I still curse their upset defeat of Brisbane in round 16 which cost me victory in a “Last Man Standing” comp) but with a new-look squad it’s hard to get a bead on them. Their fate in matches is often tied to the fitness of their big forwards, who are unfortunately susceptible to injury at any stage – this makes tipping the Sharks a lottery. They have a fairly gentle start with three home games in the first four rounds, including matches against the Raiders and the Titans, so the early tipping should be fairly straightforward – by that stage you’ll know if the Sharks of 2015 have put the misery of last year behind them and are ready to mount a challenge for that long-awaited first title.

Gold Coast Titans
2014 record: Won nine, lost 15, finished 14th; 3/12 at Cbus Super Stadium.
Traditionally the Titans start new seasons well but fall apart when origin rolls around and they lose their two best players to origin commitments. Before news of their recent off-field issues broke I thought they were worth a look in the first few rounds, but with massive question marks hanging over a number of key players I’ll be steering clear. If they can return to some sense of normality then they might have a few wins in them, noting that as a rule they are pretty terrible at home (but always play well against their Queensland counterparts).

Manly Sea-Eagles
2014 record: Won 16, lost 10, finished 3rd (semi-finalists); 9/10 at Brookvale Oval, 2/2 at Central Coast Stadium.
Manly are a dream a tip; they are close to invincible at home (just ask the Panthers and Knights, who both squandered near unassailable leads in the dying minutes at Brookie last year only to lose on the bell), and generally get the job done on the road as well. In saying that, I expect Manly to come back to the field in 2015, so while I’ll always back them at Brookie, I’ll be far more cautious on the road, especially against good opposition.

Melbourne Storm
2014 record: Won 14, lost 11, finished 6th (quarter finalists); 8/12 at AAMI Park in regular season [0/1 at AAMI Park in finals]
Reasonably straightforward to tip. They’re usually a lock if the “Big 3” are on deck and they’re at home and playing the weaker sides. The Storm do tend to get overwhelmed by the better sides; for example, the Bulldogs beat them three times last year (I got the tip wrong every time), and the Roosters beat them twice. They also lost on the road to the Raiders, Titans, Dragons and the Warriors. Stay away from them around Origin.

Newcastle Knights
2014 record: Won 10, lost 14, finished 12th; 7/12 at Hunter Stadium.
The Knights have always been hard to beat at home and they racked up some scores in the back-half of last season including strong victories over the Storm, Cowboys and Roosters. They’ll head into 2015 on a six-game winning streak at home so I’ll generally be backing them at Hunter Stadium, but giving them a wide berth on the road having only won a third of their matches outside of Newcastle.

North Queensland Cowboys
2014 record: Won 15, lost 11, finished 5th (semi-finalists); 11/12 at 1300SMILES Stadium in regular season [1/1 at 1300SMILES Stadium in finals]
When they’re playing at home, it’s easy as pie: tip them. On the road it’s slightly more complicated. They only won three games on the road last year, and these all came in the back-half of the season with wins over the Sharks and the two grand finalists; admittedly, many of their defeats were by thin margins, but they do seem unable to consistently get the job done outside of Townsville. As a result, I’ll be very wary of tipping them in the first half of the season away from home as they are renowned for their slow starts.

Parramatta Eels
2014 record: Won 12, lost 12, finished 10th; 7/9 at Pirtek Stadium, 0/2 at ANZ Stadium (as home team) and 1/1 at TIO Stadium (Darwin).
The Eels wrecked my tipping on more than one occasion last year, in particular the last two rounds where they lost as favourites against the Knights and the Raiders when a semi-final spot was up for grabs. They were however close to unstoppable at Pirtek, posting impressive wins over Manly, the Cowboys, Penrith and the Roosters, but they were awful on the road – and I mean awful. They conceded more than 38 points in half of their away fixtures. I give them some hope at Pirtek, but unless they figure out a way to win without Hayne I won’t be tipping them too often in 2015.

Penrith Panthers
2014 record: Won 16, lost 10, finished 4th (preliminary finalists); 9/11 at Sportingbet Stadium; 0/1 at Carrington Park (Bathurst)
The Panthers saved my bacon on a number of occasions in 2014 because they were incredibly consistent – a hallmark of Ivan Cleary’s coaching. Virtually a lock playing at Sportingbet, and they very rarely sprang a surprise result on the road either. In the main, Penrith won when they were meant to, and lost when they were meant to; for example, they had pre-match favourites Manly well and truly beaten at Brookie in round 25 with a seven-point lead and just eight minutes left on the clock, only to concede two tries (including one in the final minute) to ensure conservative tipsters were left happy.

St George-Illawarra Dragons
2014 record: Won 11, lost 13, finished 11th; 3/4 at WIN Jubillee; 2/4 at WIN Stadium; 1/2 at ANZ; 0/1 at SCG; 0/1 at Allianz Stadium.
The Dragons were among the most predictable teams tipping-wise last year; barring four exceptions (which out of 24 matches is quite good), they always knocked over teams outside of the eight, but went down against top-eight sides. Two of their upset wins came during the Origin period, and as for their two upset losses? Well, one came in the last round, when they had nothing to play for, while the other was an inexplicable drubbing to the Eels, which coincidentally was Benji Marshall’s debut for the club. As for this year, I won’t be making a habit of tipping them unless they’re playing the real cellar dwellers.

South Sydney Rabbitohs
2014 record: Won 18, lost 9, finished third (premiers); 4/9 at ANZ Stadium (as home team) in regular season [1/2 at ANZ as away team and 2/2 during finals series]; 1/1 at NIB Stadium (Perth); 1/1 at Barlow Park (Carins); 1/1 at SCG.
Considering they finished second on the ladder and ended up winning the competition, Souths delivered a number of strange results which confounded tipsters, dropping points against the Raiders, Titans and the Tigers, and were beaten twice by the Cowboys. This reflects South Sydney’s style: when they were up for the battle they were close to unstoppable, but when their forwards didn’t aim up they were susceptible against anyone. With a weaker pack this year, I’d wager on there being a few more “surprise” results, especially with everyone keen to knock the Bunnies off their perch.

Sydney Roosters
2014 record: Won 17, lost 10, finished 1st (preliminary finalists); 9/12 at Allianz Stadium; 1/3 at Allianz Stadium as away team and during finals.
The Roosters were pretty bankable in 2014 with just a few blots on their copybook: upset losses at the hands of the Eels (round six), Sharks (round 17) and Newcastle (round 20). Surprisingly, they were knocked over by their 2013 grand final foes Manly twice, and copped a drubbing at the hands of the Cowboys to the tune of 42-10 in round 10. As a general rule I tip them at home, but exercise caution when they’re on the road against the best sides.

New Zealand Warriors
2014 record: Won 12, lost 12, finished 9th; 6/8 at Mount Smart Stadium; 1/3 at Eden Park; 1/1 at Westpac Stadium (Wellington).
Has there ever been a side as consistently inconsistent as the Warriors? This is a side that in 2014 knocked over North Queensland in Townsville (the only side to achieve this all year), Melbourne in Melbourne and the Raiders in Canberra, but also gave the Sharks their first win of the year and got rolled by the Dragons twice. This is a side that in round one got hammered 36-16 against the Eels, but reversed the result in round 20 to the tune of 48 zip. You have to love the Warriors: the only certainty with them is that they start seasons terribly; their win rate in round one matches is around 20%. After that, well, it’s anyone’s guess.

Wests Tigers
2014 record: Won 10, lost 14, finished 13th; 2/5 at Liechardt Oval; 2/4 at Campbelltown Stadium; 2/3 at ANZ (1/3 at ANZ as away team).
Last season was a tale of two halves for the Tigers: having started brightly posting a solid seven wins across the first 13 rounds, the joint venture club capitulated, freefalling out of the top eight losing nine of their last 12 games as tension surrounding the tenure of Michael Potter escalated. When Tedesco, Brooks, Woods and Farah were all on deck the Tigers were a chance against anyone (they knocked over Souths, Manly, the Bulldogs and the Cowboys last year when close to full strength). I’d expect a similar tale this year – the problem is keeping these key personnel on the paddock.

Follow Tipping Point on twitter: @tpoint1908

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 12: South Sydney Rabbitohs

Whilst they may head into the season as reigning premiers, the chance to go back-to-back will not be an easy one for the South Sydney Rabbitohs, given the multitude of quality sides in the NRL. The side have spades of belief in themselves, though, and with the talent at their disposal, the club will back their abilities to succeed once again in 2015 and capture a second successive premiership, a feat not done in some time.

Off the bat, the one issue with the Souths side that remains on everyone’s mind is the lack of Sam Burgess. An inspirational player for the club over the years, he cemented his spot as an elite player, often single-handedly changing the momentum of a game or giving Souths the opportunity to get back into a game that seemed lost. The impact he provided the club both in the back-row and front-row had opposition teams quivering in their boots, as he bulldozed defenders, offloaded at will and scored more tries than you would expect to see from a forward. His loss leaves a big hole in the Souths forward pack with no other player quite like him in any sense, so replacing him with an active member of the roster is not easy.

With several roster changes in the Souths back-line as well as the indefinite suspension of Kirisome Auva’a, there is a chance that some of those spots open up for young, emerging players. Of course, there is also the chance that veteran players at the club will get an opportunity and that makes the decision even harder for coach Michael Maguire. Although Maguire has shown that he has no hesitation to play youngsters and nurture them through first-grade, the situation itself will determine exactly who gets the nod. If you, the fan, were the coach of Souths, would you pick a young, up-and-comer or would you go with the veteran that has the experience required? Tough question, isn’t it?

Going back-to-back is never easy and that will be the challenge for Souths. With several sides improving their rosters and thus bringing the competition closer together and making it more even, the pressure is on the Bunnies to produce once again and capture their 2nd straight premiership. They certainly have the roster do so with the likes of boom halfback Adam Reynolds, representative fullback Greg Inglis and the remaining Burgess brothers George and Tom, who both add starch and punch to their pack but the consistency will be the key aspect. The elite players at their disposal coupled with one of the best young coaches in the game in Michael Maguire means that Souths have a great chance to go back-to-back and for their fans, they hope that is the case.

For the first time in some years at Souths, John Sutton is unlikely to be playing five-eighth. Bunnies fans have become accustomed to seeing Sutton partner Reynolds in the halves but with the recent emergence of talented half Luke Keary, those dynamics are set to change heading into the 2015 season. Keary burst onto the scene firstly as an interchange player off the bench, before being given constant opportunities by coach Maguire and making the most of them throughout his career so far. As a result, it would appear that Keary will be rewarded for making his mark quickly – team lists on Tuesday will confirm that for sure – and should it be the case, it will cap off a remarkable rise for the talented half. Knowing what he is capable of, the Souths fans will be hopeful that he can form a solid partnership with Reynolds that will help the club win as many games as possible across the season.

Ultimately, despite the loss of Burgess, Souths still have a very good side and yet again, you would expect to see them in the top 4. And even despite the pressure they may face as a result of being reigning premiers, they were well equipped to handle it accordingly and play to their potential.

Best buy: With some crucial forward depth having left, signing a player like Glenn Stewart was a huge boost for the Bunnies and their chances to go back-to-back. Although he spent most of 2014 injured, Stewart’s reputation has an elite ball-playing lock over the years has him pencilled in as a starter for the Bunnies side. Similar to Sutton in that sense but at the same time, very different, Stewart can offer some direction and ball-playing ability to the Bunnies pack, especially since the departure of Sam Burgess. With Stewart at lock, it can allow new team-mate John Sutton to move onto the fringes – given his running game and style – leaving Stewart to focus on the bulk of the additional ball-playing skills and to support the halves in that regard. With that injury now behind him, Stewart is hopeful he can have some good years with the Bunnies and Souths fans are hopeful that he can have a solid stint with their club.

Most Promising Talent: Rarely does a player slot into a team and offer impact straight away but that is exactly what Chris Grevsmuhl did. Biding his time as he waited for an opportunity, Grevsmuhl was given that chance at the Auckland Nines, in the Charity Shield and in the recent World Club series and he certainly made the most of it. He may not be the biggest forward but it is his heart and tenacity that saw him rewarded with continued spots in pre-season, to the point where he looms as a likely contender to play a part off the Souths bench come Rd 1. On numerous occasions, he saved Souths skin this pre-season and worked hard to get his game in order to be given a shot and considered for a potential Rd 1 berth. With options limited at his former club, the North Queensland Cowboys, it would seem that the hard work Grevsmuhl has put in and the patient recovery from injury, has turned him into a better player and person and as a result, a chance is set to come his way.

2015 Gains: Tim Grant (Penrith Panthers), Sione Masima (Cronulla Sharks), Daryl Millard (Catalan Dragons, Scott Sorensen (Cronulla Sharks), Glenn Stewart (Manly Sea Eagles) & Cody Walker (Melbourne Storm).

Our predicted line-up:

1. Greg Inglis (C)
2. Alex Johnston
3. Dylan Walker
4. Aaron Gray
5. Joel Reddy
6. Luke Keary
7. Adam Reynolds
8. George Burgess
9. Issac Luke
10. Tim Grant
11. Kyle Turner
12. John Sutton
13. Glenn Stewart

14. Dave Tyrrell
15. Jason Clark
16. Thomas Burgess
17. Chris Grevsmuhl

Coach: Michael Maguire.

Cowboys appoint new CEO

After a lengthy search to find a new CEO, the North Queensland Cowboys have their man, with Greg Tonner appointed as the club’s new CEO.

Seeking someone with the right skills and experience was important for the club and Chairman Laurence Lancini believes that Tonner was the guy for the role.

“Chairman Laurence Lancini confirmed the former North Queensland local, who has extensive experience in sales and commercial roles nationally and internationally, would be a wonderful asset to the club,” said Lancini.

“We conducted an extensive search to find the right person and considered some truly outstanding candidates. We believe Greg, with his professional background and family connection to North Queensland, is the right person for the job.”

“We are delighted he is coming aboard.”

Townsville is not a foreign area for the new CEO, as Tonner will take over the CEO role mid-season once his current employment commitments are complete and he is excited at the new role ahead of him.

“It’s a privilege to work for the Cowboys. I’m incredibly enthusiastic about strengthening ties to this fantastic club right across the north, and helping the club get to the next level,” said Tonner.

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