The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NRL - MICHAEL CARAYANNIS


WIN Ju­bilee Oval, Thurs­day 8.05pm THE Dragons have been des­per­ate for a gen­uine No. 7 es­sen­tially since the joint ven­ture started. They have flirted with the likes of Mat Head, Trent Bar­rett and Benji Mar­shall but that spot has been the club’s Achilles heel. They’ve splashed the cash and landed a mar­quee half­back in Ben Hunt. A mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar deal was enough to en­tice him to the Dragons and he gets to line up against his for­mer club in round one. St Ge­orge Illawarra’s at­tack showed lit­tle im­prove­ment in the trial matches, so they will need to turn it around to match the Bron­cos.


McDon­ald Jones Sta­dium, Fri­day 6pm WHO isn’t ex­cited to watch a new-look New­cas­tle side take to the field for the first time? From Mitchell Pearce to Ka­lyn Ponga, the Knights — on paper — are a dif­fer­ent side to the one which cap­tured the past three wooden spoons. They were given a harsh les­son against Par­ra­matta in their fi­nal trial and face a Manly side who fin­ished last sea­son in­side the top eight. The Knights will fea­ture about eight new re­cruits, so how long will it take for them to gel? For Manly, their off-sea­son un­cer­tainty has cen­tred on who will part­ner Daly Cherry-Evans in the halves fol­low­ing Blake Green’s de­par­ture.


1300SMILES Sta­dium, Fri­day 8.05pm THE Cow­boys did the un­think­able last year and stormed into a grand fi­nal mi­nus Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott. Many are pre­dict­ing the Cow­boys to go one bet­ter this year. Thurston will play his 300th top-grade game on Fri­day. Michael Morgan flour­ished in Thurston’s ab­sence last year, so will he take a back seat given JT’s re­turn? The Sharks have a new-look halves com­bi­na­tion with Matt Moy­lan join­ing the club af­ter a sea­son to for­get. There is still un­cer­tainty about his shift from full­back, while Valen­tine Holmes will need to show he can match it with the game’s best No. 1.


ANZ Sta­dium, Satur­day 4.30pm HOW can you men­tion a Tigers and Roost­ers match without fo­cus­ing on James Tedesco? The Western Sub­urbs Mag­pies ju­nior could po­ten­tially break the hearts of his old club when he trots out for the Roost­ers. Tedesco and fel­low re­cruit Cooper Cronk should pro­vide the Roost­ers with plenty of strike power. Luke Keary is hope­ful of overcoming a bro­ken jaw to part­ner Cronk. The Tigers are a to­tally re­vamped side with about six play­ers to play their first game for the club. Josh Reynolds and Luke Brooks will be the halves. Corey Thomp­son looks to have won the race for the No. 1 spot. Re­cruits Ben Mat­ulino and Rus­sell Packer will pro­vide much needed starch up­front.


Perth Sta­dium, Satur­day 7pm GREG Inglis’ 2017 sea­son lasted barely 50 min­utes last year af­ter he even­tu­ally hob­bled from the field with a se­ri­ous knee in­jury. He is set to ease his way back into the NRL via the cen­tres. Rookie coach An­thony Sei­bold has his first se­lec­tion dilemma — stick with Damien Cook for 80 min­utes or interchange him with vet­eran Robbie Farah? Sei­bold has made no se­cret of his de­sire to carry just one hooker in his 17 and it looks like Cook may just have the edge. They are sweat­ing on the fit­ness of Adam Reynolds Reynold (foot).


Perth Sta­dium, Satur­day 9.05pm NEW coach, new cap­tain and a new era for the Bull­dogs. Dean Pay will take con­trol of Can­ter­bury for the first time while Josh Jack­son is the new skip­per. Kieran Fo­ran will need to con­trol the Bull­dogs’ at­tack against the Storm which also fea­tures Aaron Woods pack­ing down along­side David Klem­mer. Moses Mbye gets a crack at full­back while the trans­for­ma­tion of hooker Michael Lichaa will be on show against the de­fend­ing pre­miers. Billy Slater re­mains in doubt for the Storm af­ter in­jur­ing his shoul­der. Brodie Croft will wear the No. 7 jersey which Cooper Cronk made his own for the past decade.



Pan­thers Sta­dium, Sun­day 4.10pm A POOR per­for­mance here and the knives will be out early for Pen­rith coach An­thony Grif­fin. No one is re­ally sure what their trial loss against a sec­ond-string Can­ter­bury side meant but we will find out when they host arch ri­vals Par­ra­matta. James Maloney has had suc­cess ev­ery­where he has been and how he works with Nathan Cleary will de­fine much of Pen­rith’s premier­ship hopes. There is much op­ti­mism for a Par­ra­matta side who fin­ished two games short of a grand fi­nal last year. Much of the at­ten­tion fo­cuses around the re­turn of Jar­ryd Hayne. He will play right cen­tre, but don’t ex­pect him to repli­cate his two-time Dally M medal-win­ning per­for­mances. The star billing and pres­sure is now fo­cused on halves Mitchell Moses and Corey Nor­man, while Be­van French gets first crack at the No. 1 jersey.


Cbus Su­per Sta­dium, Sun­day 6.30pm THE Ti­tans start the com­pe­ti­tion un­der a new coach. Garth Bren­nan gets his chance to show his worth in the top grade. He faces an up­hill bat­tle in turn­ing a Ti­tans team around, with plenty of pun­dits pre­dict­ing Gold Coast for the wooden spoon. A sea change could spark Bryce Cartwright back to the form which had him near the NSW Ori­gin side. The Raiders need bet­ter de­ci­sion-mak­ing from their halves, pres­sure is on off-con­tract duo Ai­dan Sezer and Blake Austin.

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