THE KEY QUESTIONS FOR EACH ROUND- ONE CLASH
DRAGONS V BRONCOS
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.
KNIGHTS V SEA EAGLES
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.
COWBOYS V SHARKS
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.
TIGERS V ROOSTERS
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.
RABBITOHS V WARRIORS
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).
BULLDOGS V STORM
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.
TITANS V RAIDERS
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.