Almanac Rugby League – NRL Season 2020 Kicks Off Tonight

 

After another forgettable off-season of headlines for all the wrong reasons as well as a faux debate about the suitability of the code’s promotional advertising for the new year, the NRL’s 2020 season gets underway tonight. Uncertainties revolving around simmering tensions within the upper echelons of the NRL which comprise another distraction to what will happen on the field. In the last day or so, a couple of Bulldogs players seem to be attracting attention for all the wrong reasons. Then, once kick-off takes place, how long will it take before The Bunker makes a howler, and how will the captain’s challenge evolve? What we do know is that the reprise of Tina Turner and the prospect of another Roosters-dominated year gives 2020 that sense of ‘déjà vu all over again’ even before the action commences.

 

Here’s a preview of Round 1 action. The season opener has been allocated to an old derby-style clash between the Parramatta Eels and the Canterbury Bulldogs.The Eels were a bit of a surprise packet last season but looked better on paper than they performed on the field. Maybe they can build on 2019 but I can’t see it happening and expect to see them in the lower third of the ladder. The Bulldogs had a strong finish to last season and look more likely to go somewhere this year, even if they, too, are unlikely to be September players. That said, I think I’ll go with the Eels at home in their plush new headquarters.

 

The Canberra Raiders and the Gold Coast Titans clash in Friday evening’s early game. Beaten Grand Finalists Canberra want to prove that they still have premiership credentials after going so close in 2019 but I’m not so sure of their prospects. Finalists, yes, but that’s about all I’ll concede. The Titans want to improve under new coach Justin Holbrook but, I fear, lack the cattle to go too far. They’ll finish higher than last year but finals footy is a season or three away just yet. Canberra at home.

 

The North Queensland Cowboys showcase their new stadium when they host the Brisbane Broncos in the late game. These two bring out the best in each other, so let’s hope they maintain the standard of recent seasons. The Cowboys and coach Paul Green are under pressure to improve on a very disappointing 2019 campaign and, now that they’ve got their stadium, have it all in front of them. I think they’ll go close to playing finals this year if the likes of Michael Morgan and Coen Hess can rediscover their mojo and recruit Valentine Holmes can find his rugby league feet quickly after his failed NFL bid. Brisbane is awash with talent on paper and will hope that the addition of Brodie Croft will provide the direction and attacking flair they lacked last year. The players under most pressure will be Anthony Milford and Darius Boyd. If they don’t perform early, the howls from the critics will not be pleasant to witness. Brisbane might make the eight but the Cowboys will win this one.

 

Saturday starts with the Newcastle Knights hosting the NZ Warriors. It’s hard to get excited about this one after both had lacklustre seasons in 2019. The Knights need a whole lot more from the rest of their squad to back up the talents of David Klemmer, Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga. The Warriors, another team that looks pretty good on paper, just need to find consistency of effort – at their best, they play an exciting brand of footy, at their worst they are shockers! Lower third of the ladder for both, perhaps even a wooden spoon here somewhere. Knights at home, just.

 

The South Sydney Rabbitohs face the Cronulla Sharks at ANZ in the early evening. The focus will be on Latrell Mitchell in his first premiership match for the Bunnies. The Sharks seem a less than settled group with questions about Josh Dugan’s future and Josh Morris looking for a transfer to the Roosters. The Rabbitohs will be top 6, the Sharks somewhere in the 9-14 area. Keep an eye on a possible departure from The Burrow for Dane Gagai – perhaps to Brisbane? The Rabbitohs to win this one.

 

Saturday’s late game will see the Penrith Panthers take on the Sydney Roosters at Panthers Stadium. The only real question here will be the margin at full time. I can’t see the Roosters losing too many games this year and they will be minor premiers and, probably, premiers in a three-peat. They just have too much talent across the park as well as too many players who are individual match winners. The Panthers can run hot but not often enough – potential finalists but only just. Roosters comfortably.

 

The most anticipated match of the Round will be the Manly Sea Eagles v Melbourne Storm clash at Brookvale.  (I just can’t say ‘Lottoland Stadium’!) Lots of recent aggro between these two teams as well as the off-field battle between coaches Hasler and Bellamy. Who fired the first salvo this week? I expect Melbourne to be top four material to go deep into September; Manly are my smokie for the year – possibly top four, no lower than sixth. What additional code records can Cameron Smith eclipse this year? An upset win to Manly for me after a rip-snorter of a game.

 

The Round concludes with St George-Illawarra Dragons v Wests Tigers at The Gong. This will be spirited in a display of underwhelming football but, essentially, inconsequential because I can’t see either team making the finals. If you took the Saints’ forwards and teamed them with the Tigers’ backs, you might have a contender but, as it is, neither has the spread across the field to challenge for a top eight spot. The Tigers by a whisker.

 

My best tip for the season: Channel Nine commentary will remain abysmal / embarrassing / juvenile / excruciating / execrable.

 

Onwards and upwards!

 

@blenheimboy2

 

To join the Almanac’s 2020 Rugby League Tipping competition (called ‘NRL for Mexico’), click here.

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

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About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A Queenslander through and through, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. I enjoy travel, good coffee and cake, reading, and have been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. As well as being one of Footy Almanac's online editors, I moonlight as an editor for hire - check me out at www.writerightediting.com.au

Comments

  1. It’s hard not to feel sorry for Brisbane’s Jack Bird after he suffered another season-ending injury yesterday. It won’t help the Broncos’ chances, either. At least they have a very competent alternative in Isaako. And it confirms my tip of the Cowboys for tomorrow night.

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