First, it was off, then it was on. Then it was off. And now… it’s back on!
Rugby League returns to our screens next Thursday night with the competition picking up where it left off two months earlier and we’ve analysed all 16 clubs in our 2020 NRL Preview.
Much to the chagrin of Rooster fans, the ladder will stand as is at the conclusion of Round 2, but the long term future of the NRL remains up in the air with only Rounds 3 and 4 scheduled at time of publish.
The absence of footy has left a hole in our hearts that no highlight package or re-run of the Matty Johns Show can fill. But in case you’ve forgotten where everyone stands, or the fact that it’s never too late to back someone in our NRL Grand Final market, here’s a little NRL Restart refresher to bring you up to speed.
The Broncos resume their season at 2-0 following a pair of impressive wins over the rival Cowboys and Rabbitohs.
Anthony Seibold’s side put up more than 20-points in each victory and will now hope to wipe the slate clean on Thursday night against an Eels outfit that handed them a 58-0 loss in the finals last year.
Brisbane’s strong start to the season can’t be ignored, but they are still a tough side to trust from a punting perspective.
The Broncos now enter a tricky stretch with back-to-back games against Parramatta and the Roosters, where they’ll need to rely on their depth with Tevita Pangai Jr still serving his suspension and David Fifita struggling through knee issues.
To add to the list, Brodie Croft and Corey Oates are still less than 100% while Matt Lodge is a few weeks away from a return.
Overall, we should learn plenty about the Broncs in the coming weeks.
The Bulldogs picked up where they left off last year with two competitive outings against the Eels and Cowboys.
Holding Parramatta to only eight points in the season-opener can be counted as an honourable loss, while the Dogs also put a scare into the Cowboys with a strong second-half performance.
Based on what we’ve seen, the Top 8 is still a stretch for Canterbury, but they are still a frisky side capable of causing a few upsets.
Losing two talented players like Corey Harawira-Naera and Jayden Okunbor hurts the Dogs’ rebuild though and also explains the long NRL odds for them to win on the Central Coast next Sunday.
The Green Machine quickly put last year’s controversial Grand Final loss behind them in Round 1 by handing the Titans a 24-6 flogging at home.
Canberra wasted no time disposing of the Warriors on the Gold Coast in similar fashion with a comfortable 20-6 victory, basically letting the rest of the league know they mean business again in 2020.
The Raiders will now head back to AAMI Park in Round 3 – the site of their memorable 12-10 win in the first week of the finals last year. Win that, and Canberra might just firm into Premiership favourites.
- NRL Premiership Odds: $6.00
The Sharks were favoured to finish outside the Top 8 this year, and that forecast hasn’t changed following an 0-2 start to the season.
To their credit, the understrength Cronulla put up a fight in both losses to Souths and Melbourne respectively, but this is still a team in the midst of a serious rebuild and further financial hardship following the Coronavirus outbreak.
On a more positive note, the Sharks will enter their Round 3 clash against the Tigers as favourites with Matt Moylan and Josh Dugan all set to make their season debut. If there’s one team that could’ve used a lengthy layoff, it’s Cronulla, but the worst might be yet to come.
Gold Coast Titans
Drawing Canberra and Parramatta in the opening two rounds is a tough ask for any struggling club, let alone one favoured to win back-to-back wooden spoons.
Gold Coast managed a combined 12-points before the season hit pause, leaving us with few positives to draw upon looking forward.
In terms of the larger picture, many expected the Titans to take a step in the right direction under new head coach Justin Holbrook, but the jury is still out on the experienced Super League coach with the club struggling through injuries.
Holbrook obviously deserves a chance to prove himself, unfortunately, a trip to face North Queensland in Round 3 with AJ Brimson sidelined doesn’t help.
- NRL Premiership Odds: $251
Manly Sea Eagles
The Sea Eagles were a rough watch in Round 1 losing to the Storm at Brookvale, but coach Des Hasler quickly rallied the troops to pull off a well-deserved 9-8 victory over the Roosters the very next week.
Manly will be hoping to carry some of that momentum over in Round 3 with a big win against the Bulldogs. The lengthy break can only mean good things for the oft-injured Trbojevic brothers, and there is further good news on the injury front with encouraging young prop Taniela Paseka returning to the side.
One of the knocks on the Sea Eagles heading into the season was their lack of depth after what was a rather quiet offseason. With rest now on their side though, a case for the Top 4 can be made.
Early season losses and the Storm don’t exactly go hand in hand.
Unsurprisingly, Melbourne resumes at 2-0 following a pair of victories over Manly and Cronulla, but it has to be said the win over the Sharks left a lot to be desired in terms of offensive production.
Out of the 16 clubs, perhaps the Storm were the toughest to get a gauge on entering the season with key names like Brodie Croft, Will Chambers and Curtis Scott missing from the side. Of course, stalwarts like Cameron Munster and Josh Addo-Carr remain on the roster.
Round 3 sees Melbourne take on Canberra in what is shaping up to be a grudge match following last year’s home finals loss.
Again, not surprisingly, the Storm are favourites, and with some time for Craig Bellamy to figure things out and the addition of Paul Momirovski to the centres, it’s tough to argue against Melbourne remaining undefeated.
- NRL Premiership Odds: $5.50
Newcastle was a popular pick to make the Top 8 this season and it’s certainly not hard to see why.
The Knights were winners of two blowout victories against the Warriors and Tigers in Rounds 1 and 2, and although neither of those clubs are exactly finals calibre, there is a lot to like about the red and the blue.
Unfortunately, Newcastle fans have been here before. Just last season the Knights went on a remarkable six-game unbeaten run that ended in a fiery heap due to injury troubles.
Things aren’t quite so bleak this time around, but injuries to Mitchell Barnett and Jayden Brailey, as well as Kalyn Ponga’s suspension, makes things tricky over the next two weeks.
North Queensland Cowboys
Throwing together a new team and expecting them to instantly gel on the field almost never works out, so it wasn’t surprising to see the Cowboys fall short to the rival Broncos at home in Round 1.
North Queensland turned things around with a victory over the Bulldogs in Round 2, but it wasn’t the convincing performance Cowboy fans had hoped for when they landed Valentine Holmes during the offseason.
Of course, it is early days, and this side will only get better with experience. After two months off, the club has had time to adjust to their lofty expectations, meaning we should see a comfortable victory over the Titans in Round 3.
The Eels did it tough in Round 1 mustering only eight points in a win over the Bulldogs, right before they shifted things up a gear with a 46-6 victory over the Titans on the Gold Coast.
Despite the lengthy break, Parramatta probably won’t mind the fact they don’t have to face the Suncorp crowd on Thursday night.
The Eels lost a 17-16 heartbreaker in Brisbane last year, but keep in mind this is basically the same Broncos team they defeated 58-0 two weeks later in the finals.
The Eels will also rest easy knowing they are relatively injury-free. Reed Mahoney is the only real standout on the injury report, while Nathan Brown will be back in Round 5 after he serves his suspension.
- NRL Premiership Odds: $7.00
Bursting out of the gates in the first two weeks was Penrith – winners against the reigning premiers in Round 1 and St George in Round 2.
The Panthers showed plenty of promise at times last year before off-field distractions and injuries ultimately got in the way.
They’ve clearly turned over a new leaf though with Nathan Cleary taking over responsibilities as the team leader.
It’s probably too early to declare Penrith a lock for the eight, but the glass is certainly half full.
Last year the Panthers ranked 13th in tries scored, but already they’ve put up a combined 52 points.
With some value on offer in Round 3 against the Knights, Ivan Cleary’s side looks to be one of the better bets ahead of the restart.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
How the mighty have fallen.
The Rabbitohs were $11 to win the Premiership in our 2020 NRL Season Preview, but they’ve since drifted out to $13 after losing to the Broncos in Round 2.
The off-field dramas surrounding Cody Walker has certainly contributed to the drift, not to mention Latrell Mitchell’s early fitness struggles adapting to the fullback position.
Souths will always be a Top 8 threat as long as Wayne Bennett is at the helm, but whether they can overcome the off-field distractions and the loss of James Roberts next week against the Roosters is another story.
St George Illawarra Dragons
It’s near impossible to try and put a positive spin on the Saints.
An opening-round loss to the Tigers set the tone for an equally disappointing result against the Panthers a week later, which has cast further doubt over the future of long-time coach Paul McGregor.
Injuries heading into the offseason only complicated matters, but the Dragons can at least breathe a sigh of relief knowing Cameron McInnes and the Sims brothers are set to return next week against the Warriors.
After winning only two games against top-eight clubs last year though, things might be about to get worse before they get any better.
- NRL Premiership Odds: $101
Chairman Nick Politis calling for a ladder restart tells you everything you need to know about the Roosters heading into Round 3.
The back-to-back champs went down to the Panthers 20-14 in Round 1, right before a one-point loss to Manly a week later at Leichardt shocked the world.
Despite those results though, the bookies still have the Chooks listed as the outright favourites in the market at $5.50.
To be fair, it’s far from panic stations just yet, especially with skipper Boyd Cordner suiting up for the first time next Friday night against Souths.
The Roosters have earned a mulligan or two, especially now that they are back to full strength.
Whether we can say the same if they find themselves at 0-3 in a fortnight’s time is a different story.
- NRL Premiership Odds: $5.50
The Tigers found themselves in a familiar spot on the ladder when the season was paused – ninth.
Wests opened the year with a surprising away win against the Dragons in Round 1, but they met their match a week later in a 42-24 home loss to the Knights at Leichhardt Oval.
For a club that has underachieved for the better part of the last decade, it might be refreshing to see some change in the Tigers’ lineup in Round 3.
Most notably, Moses Mbye returns from his knee injury alongside Luke Brooks, while Michael Maguire already has plans to start Adam Doueihi at fullback.