The 2024 NRL premiership gets underway in unique fashion courtesy of a historic Las Vegas double-header, the weekend’s only fixtures before the rest of Round 1 unfolds in more familiar territory a week later.

South Sydney and Manly get the Allegiant Stadium extravaganza underway, both aiming to start the season on the front foot after dipping out of the finals race in 2023. In the second showdown, Sydney Roosters and Brisbane will be looking to underline their heavyweight credentials early.

Manly Sea Eagles vs South Sydney Rabbitohs
Sunday March 3, 12:30pm, Allegiant Stadium

The sense of occasion around the first premiership match played outside Australia and New Zealand dictates that the result will be a footnote in rugby league history, but it’s a vital first-up assignment for 2023 underachievers Manly and South Sydney.

After Des Hasler’s stint ended with a disastrous seven-match losing streak, the first year of the Sea Eagles’ Anthony Seibold era delivered an 11-1-12 record and 12th-place finish.

Manly finished middle of the pack in attack and defence, scoring 22.7 and conceding 22.5 points per game, and failed to win more than two games in a row. Injury-prone Tom Trbojevic missed half the season and ever-reliable Daly Cherry-Evans received little playmaking support.

The hot tip to be Penrith strongest challengers, Souths were second after 11 rounds of 2023 but the bottom fell out of their campaign with just four wins from their last 13, an internal blow-up that led to Sam Burgess’ exit, and Latrell Mitchell hampered by injury and suspension.

The Rabbitohs scored 23.5 points per game and leaked 21 – including 26-plus points in 10 of their last 13 games.

Souths are on the third line of premiership betting at $9, while Manly is $26 and favoured to miss to the Top 8.

Manly beat a Souths reserve-grade-strength side 68-6 prior to the NRL Pre-season Challenge, with Luke Brooks and Ben Trbojevic starring.

The other pre-Vegas-departure trials offered few clues about what to expect from either side, with an inexperienced Sea Eagles side going down 36-22 to a strong Roosters combination, while the Rabbitohs overwhelmed the Dragons 28-6 in the Charity Shield.

The majority of Souths’ Round 1 line-up featured in that clash, with Mitchell, Cody Walker and Damien Cook notable exceptions.

Injuries to Campbell Graham and Tyrone Munro, and big-name recruit Jack Wighton’s carryover suspension give Isaiah Tass, Richie Kennar and Jacob Gagai backline opportunities in Vegas. Ex-Sea Eagle Sean Keppie is the only addition to a very settled Rabbitohs pack. Walker is in some doubt.

Only three of Manly’s named starters featured in the trial against the Roosters, meaning ‘Turbo’ will be taking the field for the first time since June in this match.

Much-maligned Luke Brooks makes his club debut at five-eighth, while interchange duo Nathan Brown and the returning Corey Waddell are the only other new faces. Reuben Garrick moves to the centres and Ben Trbojevic starts in the second-row with Josh Schuster on the injured list.

Souths are on a seven-match winning streak against Manly, though last season’s sole encounter needed a Lachlan Ilias field goal in golden point to split them 13-12. The Rabbitohs’ previous five wins came by 14-plus margins.

The narrower field is likely to make it difficult for the Sea Eagles – who rely heavily on Tom Trbojevic and a speedy three-quarter line – to rack up points. The Rabbitohs are more capable of going through their opposition rather than around courtesy of Mitchell, Walker, Cook and Cameron Murray.

The under is the most attractive play in this one, though – and not only because of the restricted field size at Allegiant Stadium. Points were at a premium early last season with just five of 16 games in the first two round of 2023 producing more than 37 points, continuing a similar trend from 2022.

Head-to-head, Souths look about right as a $1.73 favourite…but if it’s tight there’s few better than Cherry-Evans in snatching a result in the clutch.

Tip: Back Under 41.5 Total Points @ $1.90


Sydney Roosters vs Brisbane Broncos
Sunday March 3, 2:30pm, Allegiant Stadium

The second match of the NRL’s Las Vegas double-header sees the title contenders Brisbane Broncos and Sydney Roosters – on the second ($4.25) and third ($9) lines of premiership betting, respectively – look to assert themselves from the outset of the season.

After three years out of the finals, the Broncos made a blistering 5-0 start to 2023 (getting underway with an upset at Penrith) and rarely took their foot off the pedal to finish second and power into the grand final…where they blew a 16-point lead with 18 minutes left against the Panthers.

The arrival of Reece Walsh and emergence of grand final hat-trick hero Ezra Mam alongside blue-chip trio Adam Reynolds, Payne Haas and Patrick Carrigan transformed the Broncos, who built their game around an aggressively flamboyant attacking mindset.

But four members of the grand final squad – Herbie Farnworth, Thomas Flegler, Kurt Capewell and Keenan Palasia – have departed.

Origin winger Selwyn Cobbo moves to centre with Deine Mariner beating Corey Oates for a wing berth, while Corey Jensen and Brendan Piakura are promoted to the starting pack. New buy Fletcher Baker joins a young bench comprising Tyson Smoothy, Kobe Hetherington and Xavier Willison.

The Roosters recovered from a 7-10 record to finish seventh on the back of five straight victories, then pipped Cronulla on the road in the first week of the finals before losing a semi-final thriller in Melbourne.

It was a gutsy revival but could not distract from the glaring inadequacies of their campaign, including scoring the third-least points per game in the NRL. Trent Robinson’s side are nevertheless being widely tipped as top-four certainties – and a stable campaign from No.7 Sam Walker is seen as crucial.

Spencer Leniu is a huge addition and comes straight into the run-on side with Jared Waerea-Hargreaves suspended. Fellow recruit Dom Young (neck) will miss this clash. Sitili Tupouniua is back on deck to partner tyro Siua Wong in the second-row.

Angus Crichton, Connor Watson and Egan Butcher are among the reserves – reflecting the Tricolours’ enviable depth – with the likes of Sandon Smith, Naufahu Whyte and Terrell May winning bench spots.

The Broncos lapped the Rooster 32-10 in Brisbane in Round 21 last year, their sole 2023 encounter. The Roosters won five of the previous six clashes. Their past seven meetings produced at least 41 points, but the under again shapes as a sound play with the smaller pitch expected to hamper scoring.

In the trials prior to leaving for the US, a near-full-strength Roosters battled past a second-string Manly 36-22, while a stacked Broncos line-up beat a weak Cowboys side 46-20.

Though they have the capacity to blow any rival off the park, disruptions to their grand final team and the target on their back hint at a challenging start to the season for the Broncos.

The Roosters have very few weaknesses on paper and eye off a couple of favourable individual match-ups as the Broncos look to adjust to some positional and personnel changes. The value in the Roosters as $2.45 underdogs is hard to overlook in what should be a torrid encounter.

Tip: Roosters to Cover the Line (+3.5) @ $1.90