NRL Rd 2 Talking Points
Bunnies on the hop, Broncos back on track, Knights face their first setback and are Eels fans daring to dream comprise our NRL Rd 2 talking points
BUNNIES ON THE HOP
In the pre-season, there may have been concerns over how well Souths could start 2019 under new coach Wayne Bennett. After all – to open their campaign they would face the reigning Premiers and a side who came seconds away from ending the Rabbitohs’ 2018 finals campaign. Yet two weeks into the new season and the boys from Redfern are already making Premiership statements.
They steamrolled the Roosters in round one, and in round two the Dragons became Souths’ latest victims. The 34-18 scoreline almost flattered the Dragons, who suffered a second-half ambush led by Sam Burgess. Premierships aren’t won in March but make no mistake – early season wins are invaluable for the Bunnies who will lose players throughout the representative season.
What would perhaps please Bennett the most is the development of his young stars – Cameron Murray is no longer a NSW darkhorse, the lock is playing beyond his years and has now gone back-to-back games as first try scorer, while centre Braidon Burns is justifying the switch of Greg Inglis to the opposite attacking side.
Maybe the only concern for Bennett would be his side needing to mount second-half comebacks, but on the flipside this also means Souths are surely due for a complete 80-minute performance shortly. Souths are currently $4.25 with Sportsbet to finish as the regular season winner, representing impressive value.
Up next – Souths will not have a better chance of making it three wins from three starts as they host the winless Gold Coast Titans at ANZ Stadium. The Bunnies even get the benefit of facing the Titans with an elongated recovery period with ten days between matches.
BRONCOS BACK ON TRACK
After a disappointing round one loss to the Storm, Brisbane got back to basics in their Queensland derby preparations and showed the competition what they’re capable of in their comfortable 29-10 win against the Cowboys. Arguably the most impressive element of the Broncos victory was their forward pack- missing first-choice players in Matt Lodge and Payne Haas- and the way they man-handled North Queensland’s star-studded big men.
Jason Taumalolo- succumbing to a knee injury- and ex-Bronco Josh McGuire were particular targets for Tevita Pangai Junior, the Broncos prop delivering vicious hits and unstoppable runs early on to set the game’s tempo. Jack Bird looks like the 2016 Premiership-winning centre the Broncos coveted instead of last year’s injury-riddled version and could become an under-rated missing puzzle piece for the Broncos’ 2019 hopes.
Bird delivers size and playmaking balance to Brisbane’s back five – his centre partner James Roberts brings sizzling speed, wingers Corey Oates and Jamayne Isaako the finishing ability and fullback Darius Boyd the reliable experience. Brisbane no doubt will experience teething problems as they adjust to coach Anthony Siebold’s high-paced attacking style but watch out when they’re the finished product. $1.86 (BetEasy) for Brisbane to finish top four is worth strong consideration.
Up next – a confidence-ravaged St George Illawarra ($2.90 - Sportsbet) make the trip to Suncorp Stadium – and the Broncos ($1.40 – Sportsbet) will be wary, these sides met in similar circumstances in the 2018 finals (Brisbane heavy favourites, St George-Illawarra under siege), and the Dragons proceeded to put 48 points on Brisbane.
KNIGHTS FACE THEIR FIRST SETBACK
Newcastle wasted a golden chance to make it two wins from two 2019 starts, as an error-strewn second half saw them go down at home to the Penrith Panthers 16-14. What would frustrate coach Nathan Brown the most was despite the errors and some attacking missteps, the Knights still could have pulled out a win against the odds, with Mitchell Barnett’s barnstorming 72nd minute try giving Newcastle a late sniff. But mistakes from backline members Connor Watson, Edrick Lee and Jesse
Ramien will need addressing, as it undid the solid work done from their forwards. David Klemmer looks an inspired signing to be the Knights’ forwards leader, and with their huge pack depth, they’ll back themselves to get back to winning ways. Kalyn Ponga remains a project in the halves but will continue gaining in confidence in the front line. The Knights are $1.80 (Sportsbet) to finish top eight.
ARE EELS FANS DARING TO DREAM?
It’s very early days but it appears the ultimatum to Parramatta coach Brad Arthur from his board to deliver results by June for a new contract is working. Parramatta are fielding some inexperienced players but this might not be a bad thing – these players haven’t experienced some of the heartaches the Eels have suffered in recent years and instead of backing themselves.
Their 36-16 demolition of Canterbury would have been hugely satisfying for all involved. Reed Mahoney has settled any doubts on the Eels’ hooking strength with another composed performance, finished off with a great dummy-half line break to set up Clint Gutherson’s first try of the afternoon. Blake Ferguson has surpassed expectations already – which is saying a lot given the Premiership winger is essentially filling Semi Radradra’s shoes.
Ferguson’s experience in a winning Roosters culture is rubbing off on those around him and with the giant Brad Takairangi beside him, the Eels now have a potent edge combination they can rely on. Arthur would be the first to hose down expectations and know his side remain a work in progress but the Eels could not have been more impressive in 2019 so far. If you’re looking for tasty value, Blake Ferguson to build on his hot 2019 start and finish as the NRL’s top tryscorer, you get can $67 from TAB.
Up next – the Eels ($3.02) will get a chance to show they’re the real deal – they face the reigning Premiers Sydney Roosters ($1.39) at ANZ Stadium.