Saturday 16 December 2017 / 11:53 PM

NRL ROUND 2 PREVIEW

Roosters v Bulldogs – 8.05pm (AEDT), Thursday, March 9 @ Allianz Stadium

The storyline: One of the great Sydney grudge matches gets a new instalment, but the Roosters are boasting a sizzling new attacking framework boosted by some offseason additions, while the Bulldogs’ coach and playmakers are under the pump for a toothless offence that could only muster one try in Round 1.

The stat: In their last eight premiership matches, the Bulldogs have scored an average of 14.38 points – including four tallies of 10 points or less. The Roosters, despite finishing 15th last year, have scored 22.75 points a game during the same period.

It’s a big game for: Again, it’s Moses Mbye under the pump for the Bulldogs. The No.7 needs to take control of the Bulldogs’ attacking direction, which doesn’t seem like the most natural role for the talented livewire.

Last time they met: The Bulldogs held on for a 24-20 win over the battling Roosters in Round 17 last season.

The verdict: If the Bulldogs do what they do best and drag their opponents into a grind and gain some forward dominance, it will upset the Roosters’ free-running rhythm they put on display last weekend. It’s just tough to see where the blue-and-whites’ points come from. The Tricolours have the hottest backline in the comp, while their pack is also among the most respected – and they’re tough to tip against in light of the performances of the respective teams in Round 1. Roosters by 6

Warriors v Storm – 6.05pm (AEDT), Friday, March 10 @ Mt Smart Stadium

The storyline: The Warriors exorcised one demon – albeit unconvincingly – by edging out Newcastle for their first Round 1 victory since 2009. This week, the club enjoys it first Friday night home game at Mt Smart in almost six years with one of its greatest rivals coming to town. But are the Storm still the benchmark with another Kiwi Test forward in the casualty ward?

The stat: Only Canterbury and Manly have a better record against Melbourne than the Warriors, who boast 16 wins and two draws in 38 games against the all-conquering Storm – including a 9-9 record in 18 home games.

It’s a big game for: Ken Maumalo’s handling was atrocious in last weekend’s clash with a Knights side that barely has the wherewithal to target an opposition player. He will be relentlessly tested by Cooper Cronk on Friday night, and with Manu Vatuvei surprisingly left in reserve grade again this week, big Ken can’t afford any slip-ups if he wants to hang onto his spot.

Last time they met: One of the Warriors’ darkest hours as they were pumped 42-0 by the Storm at AAMI Park on Anzac Day last year, a defeat that preceded the infamous night on the tiles back in Auckland that saw a handful of first-graders dumped to NSW Cup.

The verdict: Their showing against the Knights certainly didn’t suggest the Warriors are a changed team under Stephen Kearney, but with that monkey off their back the home side should be far less jittery this Friday. The Storm proved yet again they are the NRL’s best defensive side with their 12-6 win at Belmore, but the loss of Jesse Bromwich – on top of Tohu Harris’ ongoing absence and Kevin Proctor’s move to the Gold Coast – is a big hurdle to overcome. Warriors by 2

Broncos v Cowboys – 8.05pm (AEDT), Friday, March 10 @ Suncorp Stadium

The storyline: Arguably the NRL’s greatest rivalry, the Queensland clubs have produced some of the most dramatic, high-quality games of the modern era in the past couple of seasons. Both sides are coming off solid wins over heavyweight sides, and yet another electrifying chapter seems destined to be written this Friday at a packed Suncorp Stadium.

The stat: The last five games between the clubs have been decided by six points or less. That includes three straight one-point margins before last year’s epic semi-final won 26-20 by the Cowboys in extra-time.

It’s a big game for: Copy and paste Ben Hunt in this section every week. The enigmatic halfback’s kicking game was at its worst again in last Thursday’s win over the Sharks, and the Broncos simply can’t win the comp when Hunt is such a last-tackle liability. His giant Dragons price-tag is only heaping on the pressure.

Last time they met: One of the great finals matches – arguably even trumping their 2015 grand final masterpiece.

The verdict: The Cowboys’ forward pack stood up last week after the double departure of James Tamou and Ben Hannant led many to question their 2017 credentials. The visitors’ stability – with their 2015 grand final backline named for this showdown – is a big advantage over a Broncos line-up still working out a few new combinations, while Johnathan Thurston’s presence opposite the nervy Hunt should get the Cowboys over the line. Cowboys by 2

Knights v Titans – 4.00pm (AEDT), Saturday, March 11 @ McDonald Jones Stadium

The storyline: Two Round 1 losers kick off Super Saturday, but Newcastle can be proud of their overachieving efforts in Auckland while Gold Coast’s home display against the Roosters fell miles short of expectations. The Knights have been forced into a fullback change; the Titans have been mired in the ego-driven malarkey of their megastar No.1.

The stat: The Knights’ loss last week was their 19th straight, moving them into equal-sixth spot for all-time losing streaks. They will join the Newtown side of 1977 in equal-fifth with a defeat this weekend. Six members of the Knights’ 17 have won one game or less in their NRL careers.

It’s a big game for: Hayne’s name is mud right now – for good reason. Unless he’s as unfit, self-centred and conceited as he claims he’s not, Hayne will be up for a massive game.

Last time they met: The Titans cruised to a 26-6 win over the hapless Knights in Round 24 last season, spearheaded by a Ryan James double.

The verdict: The Knights’ display last week makes you want to tip them – and on the score of effort and attitude, they are more than capable at home. But they’re lacking class and experience across the board, a factor that brought them undone against a super-patchy Warriors side. The Titans should be spurned by last week’s drubbing, and Hayne, James, Hurrell, Taylor, Elgey, Proctor and co. will provide the polish to get the Titans the two points. Titans by 8

Sea Eagles v Rabbitohs – 5.30pm (AEDT), Saturday, March 11 @ Lottoland

The storyline: These two fallen heavyweights – who talked up a big game about returning to a more familiar standing in 2017 – both suffered reality checks in Round 1. Manly was certainly the more impressive of the sides last week, putting in a gritty display in the face of a lopsided possession count against Parramatta. Souths were obliterated by the Tigers and have lost Greg Inglis for the season.

The stat: Renowned for tough, physical clashes in recent years, nine of the archrivals’ last 10 regular-season games have produced 36 points or less.

It’s a big game for: Alex Johnston has made no bones about the fact he wants to be a long-term fullback. Well, here’s his chance to prove he should be. The prolific try-scorer hasn’t shown enough impact, variety or ball-playing ability in his previous stints in the No.1, and he needs to star if the Rabbitohs are any chance of doing something in 2017.

Last time they met: After leading 18-0, the Sea Eagles held off a Rabbitohs rally 20-12 in Round 20 last year, with a disallowed Joe Burgess try the talking point in the aftermath.

The verdict: Big bodies Martin Taupau and Addin Fonua-Blake will be sorely missed, but Manly has decent forward depth. On the other side of the fence, Greg Inglis’ absence is glaring for Souths – particularly with Adam Reynolds still sidelined. The Rabbitohs’ pack also needs to step up after getting steamrolled by the Tigers. With Johnston and Luke Kelly making up half of Souths’ spine, I just don’t think they have it in them to get the job done at Lottoland (I’m embracing the name-change by the way – gotta pay the bills). Sea Eagles by 4

Raiders v Sharks – 7.30pm (AEDT), Saturday, March 11 @ GIO Stadium

The storyline: Plenty of feeling in this one after the Sharks caused a week one finals boilover in the capital last year on their way to winning their maiden premiership. Both fell to Queensland heavyweights last week, but both showed signs they should be in the serious stuff again come September.

The stat: The last seven matches between these clubs have been won by the away team.

It’s a big game for: Pushed out of Canberra late in the pre-season due to salary-cap pressures, Edrick Lee comes up against his old club in just his second game in Cronulla colours. Perhaps more importantly, his most recent displays for both teams were butterfingered shockers, and the flyer needs to turn it around soon to keep his spot when the Sharks’ backline is back to full-strength.

Last time they met: The top-four sides produced a finals classic at GIO Stadium, with the Sharks overcoming a 12-0 deficit to roll the Raiders 16-14 after the home side lost linchpin hooker Josh Hodgson. Michael Ennis isn’t with the Sharks anymore, but Raiders fans won’t have forgotten his post-match ‘Viking Clap’.

The verdict: This shapes as a belter, but you’d have to favour the Raiders at home with most of their key players on deck, including returning duo Jack Wighton and Junior Paulo. The Sharks will take time to adjust with rookie hooker Jayden Brailey, while long-term fullback Valentine Holmes is still out. The Green Machine were outstanding in tough conditions in Townsville and take more momentum into this one, with the Sharks producing half a decent game in Round 1. Raiders by 7

Tigers v Panthers – 4.00pm (AEDT), Sunday, March 12 @ Campbelltown Stadium

The storyline: Both of these teams surprised in Round 1…with two of the most disparate form-lines imaginable. The Tigers were brilliant, energetic, tough, industrious – the exact opposite of the dirge the Panthers served up. The Panthers also have an off-field distraction for one of their star underperformers hanging over them.

The stat: Penrith has lost its last four at Campbelltown, conceding an average of 29.25 points.

It’s a big game for: As captain and a current Test and Origin star, Matt Moylan needs to lead by example this weekend to prove the loss to Dragons was an aberration. The brilliant fullback was guilty of overplaying his hand and getting frustrated in Round 1, and he needs to be the catalyst for a more focused and patient team performance.

Last time they met: The Panthers were in peak form in Round 24 last year, blowing the Tigers away 40-10 at Pepper Stadium.

The verdict: There’s little doubt the Panthers will rarely be as bad as they were against the Dragons, but there’s every chance of the Tigers reproducing their Round 1 form on a regular basis. I can’t see both teams’ form swinging enough in the space of a week for Penrith to get the win. Tigers by 10

Dragons v Eels – 6.30pm (AEDT), Sunday, March 12 @ WIN Stadium

The storyline: The Dragons were the darlings of Round 1, but now the spotlight shines brightly on the previously unfancied side to see if they can back up their watershed display against the Panthers. The Eels were impressive – albeit in a more low-key way – in a tough win over Manly that picked up where they left off in 2016.

The stat: After winning just one of 11 games against the Saints from 2008-13, the Eels have carved out four straight victories in the rivalry – but those wins were all at Parramatta Stadium. The blue-and-golds are winless at Wollongong since 2000.

It’s a big game for: Gareth Widdop’s superb performance and 22-point haul embodied the Dragons’ wonderful effort last week, after copping it for most of the summer for his role in the side’s dreadful attack. The skipper can’t afford to bask in the glory of Round 1, requiring a big game to counteract the brilliance of Parramatta linchpin Corey Norman.

Last time they met: Bevan French grabbed a hat-trick in a 30-18 Eels success in Round 25 last year.

The verdict: Another flip-of-the-coin game in the tipping stakes, with last week’s performance by the Dragons nagging away at the inclination that the Eels are a better side. The Wollongong factor may come into play, but this Parramatta outfit is a genuine contender. It will be tough, but the Eels can grind it out – as they did in enemy territory a week ago. Eels by 6

[YouTube – NRL Hub]

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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