NRL Round 2 preview

Canterbury Bulldogs captain and back-rower Josh Jackson

Canterbury Bulldogs v North Queensland Cowboys @ ANZ Stadium

This game of Rugby League to open round 2 on Thursday night will be like no other.

The Bulldogs and Cowboys run out onto an empty ANZ Stadium with games from this weekend to be played without fans in attendance for the first time in the game’s 112 year history.

Both teams are coming off first up losses in round one.

The Bulldogs went down to the Eels in a low scoring arm wrestle and the Cowboys going down to the Broncos in their Queensland derby despite a late fightback in the first game at their new stadium.

After missing the top eight last season, respective coaches Dean Pay and Paul Green will be drumming home the importance of getting in the winner’s circle this week.

Canterbury Bulldogs youngster Jake Averillo

TEAM NEWS: Just one change for the Bulldogs this week with Kerrod Holland being ruled out with a knee injury and rookie outside back Jake Averillo named to make his NRL debut via the bench.

A positive inclusion for the Cowboys with Origin forward Josh McGuire named to return from injury and a suspension which carried over from the end of last year.

McGuire will run out in the front-row pushing John Asiata to the pine and Corey Jensen out of the side.

KEY MATCH-UP: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak v Valentine Holmes

With both teams struggling to generate any quality attack for most of their round one matches, it could be one of these two all-action ball runners that proves the difference on Thursday night.

Watene-Zelezniak was one of the Bulldogs best last week with 198 metres, 6 tackle busts and a line-break.

Canterbury Bulldogs fullback Dallin Watene-Zelezniak

Holmes had a bit of a mixed bag last week with a try, try-assist and 181 metres, whilst making a couple of errors and at times seemingly limping on his ankle.

That being his first game back from 12 months out of the game, he’s sure to be better for the run this week.

RECENT HISTORY: The Cowboys hold a slight 3-2 edge in the last five played including a 15-8 victory at home the last time they met. Kyle Feldt and Coen Hess have both crossed for three tries in their last five matches against the Bulldogs.

St George Illawarra Dragons v Penrith Panthers @ Netstrata Jubilee Stadium

After opening their season with a loss despite holding a halftime lead at Win Stadium on Sunday night, the Dragons would have been buoyed at the prospect of playing at their other spiritual home this week.

But, of course, that will now hold little significance in an empty stadium.

St George Illawarra Dragons utility back Zac Lomax

The Red V will have their work cut out for them bouncing back as they run into a Panthers team who were very impressive in downing the defending premiers at the foot of the mountains first up.

Panthers Coach Ivan Cleary will be confident heading into this one but also wary that consistency will be key to how his team’s season unfolds in 2020.

TEAM NEWS: Winger Mikaele Ravalawa has been ruled out after picking up a knock on his thigh last Sunday night.

Zac Lomax shifts to the wing and Matt Dufty getting another crack at the Red V number one jersey.

Tariq Sims copped a one match suspension for a high shot with Tyrell Fuimaono starting in the second-row and Jacob Host joining the bench.

Penrith Panthers back-rower Viliame Kikau

After starting from the bench last week, Viliame Kikau has been named to start again switching places with Liam Martin.

Despite an impressive win last week, the Panthers have further re-jigged their back-row with James Fisher-Harris named at lock and Isaah Yeo in the second-row with Kikau.

The final change for the mountain men sees Billy Burns join the interchange in place of the suspended Jack Hetherington.

KEY MATCH-UP: Ben Hunt v Nathan Cleary

Expect the battle of the number sevens to prove pivotal here.

Hunt had a self-confessed disappointing opening to his season missing 5 tackles as well as a couple of errors.

St George Illawarra Dragons half Ben Hunt

This included a shocker of a kick which sprayed off the side of his boot, well over the side-line on the full.

Despite an off night, he still showed glimpses of his class and will be looking to swiftly bounce back with a strong showing here.

Cleary seemed to relish the responsibility of this now being his football team after the departure of James Maloney and steered the ship perfectly for his men last week.

Kicked well all night and laid on the match-winner taking the line on before offloading for big Viliame Kikau to score.

RECENT HISTORY: The Dragons hold a slight 3-2 lead in the last five, but the Panthers have won their last two against the Dragons by a combined margin of 48.

Brisbane Broncos v South Sydney Rabbitohs @ Suncorp Stadium

One of last year’s biggest talking points and most hyped matches was when Anthony Seibold and Wayne Bennett’s charges locked horns after the two coaches switched clubs in the lead-up to season 2019.

That moment in time ensures there should be plenty of feeling whenever these two clash in the near future.

Both teams are coming off strong performances to open their campaign.

Brisbane Broncos back-rower David Fifita

The Broncos scored an impressive victory over North Queensland with young tyros Payne Haas and David Fifita again living up to the hype and they could well end up being one of the best forward pack duos seen in recent times.

The Rabbitohs were dominant for much of their win over the Sharks but will need to notch a strong 80 minutes here after letting the Sharks back into the contest in the final quarter last week.

TEAM NEWS: With Tevita Pangai Junior to sit out the next four weeks after being suspended, rookie forward Jamil Hopoate gets a chance to start in the second-row.

Skipper Alex Glenn still appears to be at least another week away from returning.

Young prop Ethan Bullemor will debut from the bench.

South Sydney Coach Wayne Bennett has named an unchanged 17.

Brisbane Broncos prop Payne Haas

KEY MATCH-UP: Payne Haas v Liam Knight

Despite running out in different positions on the team sheet, these two impressive young forwards both ply their trade through the middle third and will see plenty of each other come Friday night.

Unsurprisingly, Haas was simply brilliant in the opening game of the season running for 213 metres whilst busting 7 tackles in an 80 minute performance.

He looks set to back up his stellar breakout season from last year.

Moving to the back of the scrum this year, Knight was also impressive to open the season playing with plenty of physicality and showing the ability to offload in traffic.

South Sydney Rabbitohs prop Liam Knight

He also came up with a monster hit late in the contest to force the ball free from the Sharks when all the momentum was going against his team.

Expecting him to take the fight right up to Haas and co in what should be a ripping battle through the middle.

RECENT HISTORY: In last year’s battle of the coaches, it was the wily old Bennett who gained the upper hand winning both encounters.

Bronco’s winger Corey Oates has crossed the stripe on six occasions in his last five games against the Bunnies.

New Zealand Warriors v Canberra Raiders @ Cbus Super Stadium

Unable to return home due to New Zealand’s self-isolation laws enforced on people re-entering the country amidst COVID-19, the Warriors have setup camp in Kingscliff this week and will call the Gold Coast home for this match.

After a disappointing on-field showing going down to the Knights last Saturday, life got a whole lot more complicated for the Warriors.

Unless they can band together and forge some level of siege mentality, they’ll find it tough coming up against last year’s grand finalists.

New Zealand Warriors fullback and captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

The Raiders looked strong in downing the Titans in round one and will be looking to put the foot on the pedal here as they continue to build off their strong season last year.

TEAM NEWS: With Patrick Herbert and Peta Hiku flying home to New Zealand to be with their families, Adam Pompey and Adam Keighran come into the side at wing and centre respectively.

After impressing off the bench on debut last week, Eliesa Katoa has earned a run-on jersey on an edge which sees Adam Blair move to lock and Isaiah Papali’i to the bench.

No real changes for the green machine with Corey Horsburgh to suit up at lock and Joseph Tapine on an edge. They played those roles last week despite being named the other way around.

Canberrra Raiders fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad

KEY MATCH-UP: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck v Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad

If ever there was a game a skipper needed to stand up and lead from the front, it’s this game and it wouldn’t surprise to see an RTS masterclass this week.

He didn’t get many chances in attack last week as his halves failed to pose too many questions with the ball in hand.

You would expect him to take the game by the scruff of the neck and call a lot more ball himself this week.

After sitting behind the New Zealand fullback for years at the Warriors, Nicoll-Klokstad enjoyed a breakout year in 2019 and proved a vital cog in the green machine’s march to the grand final.

Canberra Raiders forward Josh Papalii

He didn’t get off to the best of starts in 2020 after going off and failing to pass a HIA late in the first half.

He will be looking to bounce back with a strong showing against his former club on Saturday.

RECENT HISTORY: The Warriors hold a 3-2 lead in their last five including an upset 24-20 victory in Canberra in the penultimate round last year.

Raiders prop Josh Papalii has scored a try in each of his last three appearances against the Warriors.

Sydney Roosters v Manly Sea Eagles @ Leichhardt Oval

Two of the more fancied teams in this year’s competition will both be looking to bounce back from first up losses in the second installment of Super Saturday.

The back-to-back defending champions fell at the hands of the Panthers in a tough fought contest.

The Sea Eagles also played out a hard tussle with the Storm for most of the contest before failing to match strides with their arch rivals in the final quarter.

Sydney Roosters fullback James Tedesco

It will be a rare occasion with the Roosters running out onto the Tigers home ground from the home sheds and will be a strange feeling for former Tiger James Tedesco in particular.

TEAM NEWS: Sitili Tupouniua is out after a picking up a knee injury in round one. Angus Crichton returns to take his place in the second-row.

Manly will line up with the same 17 that went down to the Storm last week.

KEY MATCH-UP: James Tedesco v Tom Trbojevic

Teddy versus Turbo – What a mouth-watering match-up between two of the attacking stars of the premiership.

The New South Wales team mates go head to head after having somewhat quiet performances in round one – at least by their high standards.

Manly Sea Eagles fullback Tom Trbojevic

Neither managed to notch an attacking stat last week and it’s hard to recall a time either player has had two games like that in a row. Look for an attacking masterclass by both men in this one.

RECENT HISTORY: The Roosters hold a 3-2 lead in the last five played including coming out victorious in the last three encounters.

Cronulla Sharks v Melbourne Storm @ Netstrata Jubilee Stadium

The Sharks will host their first home game at Kogarah on Saturday night against bitter rivals Melbourne.

This shapes as a new chapter in their recent rivalry following the retirement of club stalwart Paul Gallen.

Cronulla Sharks coach John Morris

A bit slow out of the blocks to start the season, coach John Morris’ men will be looking to quickly build off a second half comeback against the Rabbitohs where they came within four points of notching an unlikely win.

They run into a Storm outfit who’ve barely missed a beat again over the off-season.

Craig Bellamy’s charges played out a tough opening 60 minutes against Manly away from home before putting the foot down late to overpower their opposition.

TEAM NEWS: Both the Sharks and Storm have named the same 17 as last week.

Cronulla Sharks prop Andrew Fifita

KEY MATCH-UP: Andrew Fifita v Jesse Bromwich

Ever since the 2016 grand final when both men crossed the stripe for second half tries, these two bookends have played a key hand in their team’s chances in what has been an intense rivalry between the two clubs.

Fifita has reportedly been strong with his leadership during the off-season but on the field he looked well short of a gallop in the opening round as he struggled to get through just 39 minutes.

He’ll need to lift a couple of gears if the Sharks are to cause an upset here.

Melbourne Storm prop Jesse Bromwich

Bromwich meanwhile looked typically strong against the Sea Eagles as he ran for 184 metres with 3 offloads.

He’ll be looking to get one over his old foe in this one.

RECENT HISTORY: The Sharks hold the advantage in the last five with a 3-2 advantage. All of them clashes have been tight affairs except for their last match when the Storm ran out comfortable 40-16 victors.

TIGERS v KNIGHTS @ Leichhardt Oval

This won’t have the same Sunday afternoon at Leichhardt feels it normally would, but it still looms as an intriguing contest between two first round winners who look to be on the up in 2020.

The Tigers showed plenty of promise with a squad that looked to have plenty of attack in them as they downed the Dragons in Wollongong on Sunday night despite the absence of halfback Luke Brooks.

The Knights also looked the goods in their season opener with a shutout victory over the Warriors built on the back of an off-season where defence and mental toughness were high on the agenda.

Wests Tigers veteran half Benji Marshall

TEAM NEWS: Just the one change for the home team with Paul Momirovski named in place of Michael Chee Kam on the bench.

The Knights will go in unchanged.

KEY MATCH-UP: Benji Marshall v Mitchell Pearce

These two experienced halves are pushing 600 top grade appearances between them and they are both sure to play pivotal roles in the outcome of this one.

In the absence of the Tigers regular number seven, Benji put in an absolute masterclass of halfback play to steer his side home last week.

He scored a try and set two up but it was the wizardry of his short kicking game that proved vital forcing repeat sets at will as he built pressure on the Dragons defensive line.

Newcastle Knights halfback and captain Mitchell Pearce

Pearce led from the front in the Knights first up win with his long kicking game and the willingness to put his body on the line defensively key to their success.

He will know he needs to lift his 5th tackle options when in the Tigers half to match the brilliance of his opposite on Sunday with that area being one of the few negatives in the Knights game in round one.

RECENT HISTORY: The Tigers hold a 4-1 advantage in the last five including a thumping 46-4 victory late last season which was the final nail in the coffin of former Coach Nathan Brown’s tenure in the Hunter.

TITANS v EELS @ Cbus Super Stadium

In the final match of a historic round 2, last year’s wooden spooners host the team many are tipping for a serious premiership tilt this year.

It was ominous signs early in round one for the Titans as their defence let in a couple of rapid fire tries.

They at least showed a bit of resolve to not let the score-line blowout too much against the Raiders and will be looking for a better opening to this contest.

Parramatta Eels winger Blake Ferguson

The Eels got the job done in the season opener, but look to have a lot more work to do as they only notched the one try against the Bulldogs.

It was a good hit-out against a physical Canterbury pack last week and they should be a lot better for that outing.

TEAM NEWS: Brian Kelly has been named in the centres switching places with Tyrone Peachey who drops to the bench.

Moeaki Fotuaika has been named to return from injury via the bench replacing rookie forward Jaimin Jolliffe.

Gold Coast Titans centre Brian Kelly

The Eels have named the same 17 that accounted for the Bulldogs in round one.

KEY MATCH-UP: Jai Arrow v Nathan Brown

These two lock forwards both lead from the front on a consistent basis for their packs and play with a high work rate and physical nature that many can’t match.

Both with the ability to bust a tackle and offload make this an enticing battle through the middle.

RECENT HISTORY: The Eels have won the last three between these sides by an average margin of 20 points.

Gold Coast Titans lock Jai Arrow

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