Despite the uncertainty surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic, round 2 of the 2020 NRL season will continue as planned, albeit without any supporters in the grandstands.
Canterbury Bulldogs VS North Queensland Cowboys
Thursday March 19 | ANZ Stadium Sydney | 8.05pm
Both teams were disappointing in the opening round.
The Dogs lacked any real spark in attack, although their defence was very good, going down 8-2 against the Eels. Ordinarily you would expect them to fire up returning to home, but will the empty seats serve as any real incentive for them to lift their offensive game?
Meanwhile, the Cowboys showed glimpses of brilliance against the Broncos, but were ultimately downed 28-21. They also made some crucial errors, including 51 missed tackles – in comparison the Dogs missed 18 tackles against the Eels.
As for the team lists – there is only one change to Canterbury’s line up; debutant Jake Averillo comes onto the bench. Cowboys prop Josh McGuire returns for the first time this year after serving out his suspension, John Asiata heads back to the bench and Corey Jensen drops from the 17.
So, who will win? The Dogs clearly need to lift in attack – there is no way they can match it with the Cowboys if they can’t find some spark from their halves; meanwhile NQ need to sharpen their accuracy – they looked dangerous at times last week, disastrous at others.
St George Illawarra Dragons VS Penrith Panthers
Friday March 20 | Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney | 6.00pm
The Panthers were brilliant last week up against the defending premiers, whilst the Dragons were disappointing against the Tigers.
Penrith looked all at sea in the early stages of the opening round, but somehow managed to stay in touch with the Roosters. Once they found their rhythm, they looked lethal, particularly the Api Koroisau-Nathan Cleary combination.
It was the opposite for the Dragons, who had their chance after scoring early, but failed to fire when going down 24-14. Awkward passes, loose balls and silly mistakes cost the Red V any chance at the two competition points and its hard to see them turning it around in round 2.
Good news for Dragons fans is that Matt Dufty returns from injury, taking over at fullback from Zac Lomax who moves to the wing to replace Mikaele Ravalawa who is out with a thigh injury. They also lose Tariq Sims who copped a one-game suspension for a shoulder charge, meaning Tyrell Fuimaono comes into the starting side, whilst Jacob Host joins the bench.
Meanwhile, Viliame Kikau returns to the starting side for the Panthers after a sensational 40 minutes last week off the bench, which is where Liam Martin reverts to. Billy Burns also comes into the 17 after Jake Hetherington was suspended for a high tackle, Zane Tetevano has also been named in the side, despite playing just 20 minutes before injuring his knee against the Roosters.
Brisbane Broncos VS South-Sydney Rabbitohs
Friday, March 20 | Suncorp Stadium Brisbane | 8:05pm
The match of the night, with both teams coming into round 2 off the back of victories last week.
The Broncos outplayed the Cowboys 28-21, whilst the Rabbitohs held off a late challenge from the Sharks in a dramatic finish 22-18.
Wayne Bennett’s men were cruising with a 14-point lead mid-way through the second half before appearing to knock off early, two quick tries closed the gap. Souths were lucky to escape with the win, with a pass from Cronulla’s Connor Tracy putting Josh Morris over the line in the 78thminute, before it was called forward and Souths gripped on.
Latrell Mitchell got off to a slow start in his first game for the Bunnies – he did get a couple off slick offloads and touches in before being interchanged during the 55th minute – but fans will be expecting more minutes from the high profile no.1 when they take on the Broncos at Suncorp.
Bennett has kept the same team for this week’s game. The Broncos have lost Tevita Pangai who is serving a four-week suspension, opening a slot for Jamil Hopoate to move into the starting side – his bench position to be filled in turn by debutant prop Ethan Bullemor. There is a question mark over Correy Oates who has been named despite missing training due to a bout of gastro, whilst Alex Glenn is likely to miss another week with a hamstring injury.
The Broncos were good last week – but are likely to feel the loss of Pangai. They still have some brilliant performers in their side though, including Jamayne Isaako who scored 12 points against the Cowboys, and second-rower David Fifita who is sure to give Souths forwards a hard time.
New Zealand Warriors VS Canberra Raiders
Saturday, March 21 | Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast | 3.00pm
If it’s been a tumultuous week for the sport, that’s nothing compared to what the Warriors have had to endure, their season turned upside down after the coronavirus left them stranded in Australia – to be based from the Gold Coast for the foreseeable future
Add to that their 20-0 thrashing by the Newcastle Knights in the opening round and it’s clear they are going to need to pull out something special to upset the Raiders on Saturday afternoon.
The crisis has impacted their side, with winger Patrick Herbert and centre Peta Hiku returning home to New Zealand for personal reasons, with Adam Pompey and Adam Keighran slotting in. Meanwhile, Eliesa Katoa gets a run in the starting 17 with Isaiah Papalii has been relegated to the bench.
On the other hand, Canberra were emphatic last week, cruising to a dominant 24-6 victory over the Titans without breaking a sweat. The 2019 Grand Finalists look set for another big year. Co-captains Jarrod Croker and fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad are both expected to take to the field, despite both receiving head knocks last week, whilst the back row has been shuffled, with Corey Horsburgh and Joe Tapine swapping places.
Sydney Roosters VS Manly Sea Eagles
Saturday, March 21 | Leichardt Oval, Sydney | 5.30pm
It definitely wasn’t the start to the season that the Chooks wanted. They looked powerful in the opening stages of the first round, leading the Panthers 12-0; but the wheels fell off and Penrith showed more grit and determination than the reigning premiers to score a 20-14 triumph.
Meanwhile, Manly were very competitive for the first 60 minutes, but were outclassed late at Lottoland by Melbourne, going down 18-4.
Both teams will have to improve their ball handling, Manly making 15 errors last week, compared to the Roosters 11. That aside, it shapes as a thrilling match up, with two of the game’s best fullbacks, James Tedesco and Tom Trbojevic, going head to head, and both determined to make amends after the opening round.
No changes to the Manly line-up, with Angus Crichton starting in the back row for the Bondi boys, taking the place of Sitili Tupouniua who is out with a knee injury. The Roosters will still be without Boyd Cordner who is due back in round three.
These teams only met once last year where the Roosters led 26-0 at one stage before holding off a late challenge from the Sea Eagles to secure a 26-18 victory.
Cronulla Sharks VS Melbourne Storm
Saturday, March 21 | Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney | 7.35pm
The Sharkies were determined, but their late challenge wasn’t enough against South Sydney last week – and it won’t be any easier in round 2 up against the Storm.
Melbourne took their time to get the job done against Manly – in fact they didn’t look at all comfortable at Lottoland during the first 60 minutes. But, after trailing 4-2, they eventually kicked it into gear, clearing out for an 18-4 win.
Meanwhile, the Sharks were lackluster against the Bunnies – However scoring two tries in a three-minute burst before their ‘game-winner’ was determined to be a forward pass 90 seconds before full time, they almost stole the win going down 22-18.
The Storm will take to the field on Saturday night with the same 17-man team that put Manly away, with Dale Finucane cleared to play after a nasty head knock.
Cronulla have included Josh Dugan as a reserve, while winger Ronaldo Muhitalo is expected to play after a head knock of his own. The boys from the Shire will still be missing Matt Moylan, who is expected to be out for up to another four weeks.
The clinical defence and seamless attack of the Storm is what has set them apart over the years and the Sharks will be trying to add some consistency to penetrate the purple wall. But the Melbourne side will be out to capitalise on any mistakes from the Sharkies – can they find the right balance of discipline and creativity to upset the favourites? We don’t think so.
Wests Tigers VS Newcastle Knights
Sunday, March 22 | Leichardt Oval, Sydney | 4.05pm
Both teams started 2020 off on the right foot.
The Tigers were too good for the Dragons, recording a commanding 24-14 win, whilst the Knights were emphatic, keeping the Warriors scoreless 20-0.
The Newcastle boys hit the road this week, taking on Wests at Leichardt where they normally put in their best performances, but with empty stands this week, can the Knights go back-to-back?
Unsurprisingly, Adam O’Brien has kept the same 17-man side that defeated the warriors, with Sione Mata’utia named as a reserve as he starts the comeback from a knee injury.
Meanwhile, just the one change for the Tigers, with Michael Chee Kam vacating the bench, clearing the way for Paul Momirovski. It’s tough news for two of the Tigers best, with Luke Brooks and Moses Mbye remaining out for the round 2 clash.
Team ‘veterans’ Benji Marshall and Mitchell Pearce both played their part last week and will be ready for yet another clash. Marshall did his best work at the end of round one game, whilst Pearce showed leadership throughout the 80 minutes to steer his team to victory, despite them missing 34 tackles in slippery conditions.
Both are sure to have a major impact on the game, but, as is often the case for Newcastle, the key will be prodigious talent Kalyn Ponga. If the youngster brings his dazzling best, he can produce magic like few others – so the Tigers will be out to smother him and keep him quiet from the get-go.
For what its worth, Newcastle went in as favourites in both their matchups with the Tigers in 2019 and lost on both occasions. Included in that was a 46-4 thrashing.
Gold Coast Titans VS Parramatta Eels
Sunday, March 22 | Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast | 6.15pm
It looks like another tough year for the Titans.
After a poor defensive start, the Titans put some points on the board in the second half but were outclassed by the Raiders as their unforced errors let them down, losing 24-6.
The Eels got their season off to a winning start, prevailing in a low-scoring game against the Bulldogs 8-2.
Whilst they won, it was a far from convincing victory, with plenty of errors and scrappy play – and it took them over 60 minutes to score a try, a fumbling one at that.
Winning form is good form though and Brad Arthur has stuck with the same 17-man side for the clash with the Titans. There is no doubt that the Eels have talent amongst their ranks, and they know that they need to kick it up a notch after last week.
Big wingers Ferguson and Sivo will be keen to get amongst it, whilst speedy centres Jennings and Blake could prove hard to handle for the Titans defence.
The Gold Coast have dropped Tyrone Peachey to the bench whilst Brian Kelly will get a start in the centres. Moeaki Fotuaika gets a seat on the bench, with AJ Brimson and Shannon Boyd included as reserves.
These teams have only met once a year for the past two years, both times the Eels proved too good.