The first edition of the NRL’s bold Las Vegas venture was a rousing success, with a massive build-up culminating in four hours of outstanding on-field entertainment at Allegiant Stadium.

The matches themselves provided early boosts for two recent underachievers and a couple of concerns for two heavyweight outfits.

Meanwhile, several headline attractions put their names up in lights – none more so than a pair of former Wests Tigers teammates who answered the critics with man-of-the-match performances.

NRL hits jackpot in Vegas

The NRL lived up to the hype in its Las Vegas debut, delivering an absorbing double-header – and an unforgettable occasion for the code – in front of a 40,000-strong crowd evenly split between Aussie, Kiwi and Brit travellers, and Americans keen to see what the deal is with this rugby league caper.

The two matches were often sloppy – it was the opening round of the season, after all – and the much-talked-about smaller field dimensions meant free-flowing attack was somewhat stymied.

But the four teams on show supplied enough ferocity, flashes of individual brilliance, blood and bluster to provide the uninitiated with a solid sampler of what the game is all about.

Manly’s surprise 36-24 win over Souths defied recent Round 1 trends and the restricted field size – it was the equal-highest-scoring match in the first week of a season in the past decade – and was a worthy entrée to a September-esque main course.

Sydney Roosters’ 20-10 defeat of premiership hotshots Brisbane was as good an opening-round clash as the NRL could have hoped for on such a stage.

The good (tries from NRL debutants and magic moments from marquee men) overshadowed the bad (half of Human Nature butchering ‘Advance Australia Fair’) and the ugly (Spencer Leniu’s alleged racial slur directed at Ezra Mam).

The long-term benefits will take some time to be quantified, but for now Allegiant Stadium seems destined to become a celebrated pitstop on the rugby league schedule after a momentous week in Sin City on and off the field.

Manly’s drought-breaker one for the Brooks

Luke Brooks will receive tougher examinations in 2024 than South Sydney managed to give him, but the maligned former Wests Tigers linchpin couldn’t have done much more to impress on club debut for Manly in a high-pressure game.

Enjoying the luxury of partnering up with one of the great No.7s of the NRL era and unencumbered by the responsibility of steering the team around, Brooks schemed and probed dangerously throughout and was rewarded with a memorable solo try to seal a 36-24 result.

Down 20-12 after a mistake-riddled start to the second half, the $2.05 underdogs rallied with four unanswered tries to carve out a memorable win.

A classy showing from Daly Cherry-Evans, a rampaging Haumole Olakau’atu earning his chunky pay packet and a heavily involved Tom Trbojevic coming through unscathed provided further reason for Sea Eagles fans to get excited for the campaign ahead.

Better teams – like Round 2 opponents Sydney Roosters – will test Manly’s lack of punch through the middle and extremely erratic three-quarter line, but any perceived deficiencies haven’t stopped the Sea Eagles from charging from $26 to the sixth line of premiership betting at $15.

Latrell left posted as 2023 frailties roll over

South Sydney has already drifted from $9 to $12 in the NRL title market in the wake of a second-half capitulation to Manly under the bright lights of Vegas.

The Rabbitohs’ 2023 campaign unravelled courtesy of inexplicably shaky defensive efforts – and conceding more than 30 points for the seventh time in 14 premiership matches should ensure a tense flight home for coach Jason Demetriou.

Errors and penalties repeatedly invited Manly down their end, but the soft nature of the close-range tries as the Sea Eagles turned an eight-point deficit into a 16-point lead was especially worrying.

The vaunted Souths pack struggled to get on top of a comparatively unheralded Manly unit, Jack Wighton’s return to a bumbling, under-strength backline can’t come soon enough, and Lachlan Ilias had a largely forgettable outing.

The silver lining was a hungry Latrell Mitchell’s display, beautifully laying on tries for his wingers either side of a powerhouse try that (albeit briefly) put the Rabbitohs on top. If his support cast can find some confidence and consistency, Mitchell can carry Souths to the top four on his broad shoulders.

The challenge for Latrell, though, is putting it together across a whole season.

The influential No.1 is yet to play more than 17 games since heading to Redfern in 2020 – and Souths need him firing in their upcoming seven-match stretch that features clashes with the Broncos, Roosters, Warriors, Sharks, Storm and Panthers.

‘Teddy’s’ statement too much for Broncos to bear

Mal Meninga did it. Brad Fittler, too. Now James Tedesco has taken the first step towards emulating his fellow Test captains and slaying the critics prematurely writing his career epitaph.

Like Meninga and Fittler, ‘Teddy’ appears hellbent on going out on top, on his terms, if his five-star display against Brisbane is any gauge.

Tedesco wound back the clock with a game-high 213 metres and eight tackle-breaks, spectacular work under the high ball on attack and defence, and a dazzling line-break and try assist to set up the match-sealer for Victor Radley in Sydney Roosters’ gritty 20-10 upset.

The skipper was far from a one-man band, however.

The stars who, along with Tedesco, copped the harshest scrutiny during the Roosters’ spluttering 2023 campaign – Joseph Suaalii, Victor Radley, Sam Walker and Brandon Smith – were all superb, outpointing their opposites who featured in last year’s grand final.

Radley, who harnessed his trademark aggression in a stellar all-round performance, and Suaalii, who engaged in a sensational battle with Kotoni Staggs after an 11th-hour shift to centre for the injured Billy Smith, were particularly impressive.

Given the occasion and calibre of opponent, the Roosters looked – arguably more than they have at any stage in the past four years – like the tough, relentless Trent Robinson-drilled sides that bullied their way to three premierships in seven seasons in the 2010s.

The polish and daring of Tedesco and Joey Manu did the rest for the $2.30 outsiders.

Racial abuse allegations and a potential lengthy suspension aside, taming Leniu already shapes as a challenge for Robinson. The former Panther provides another edge to the Roosters pack but appears a loose cannon destined to misfire in costly circumstances.

But the early indications are the perennial contenders are set to live up to their billing and stake a genuine premiership claim.

Reality check for Kevvie and co.

In the club’s first meaningful hit-out since enduring excruciating grand final heartbreak, Brisbane played an admirable part in a classic season-opening showcase in the US.

The Broncos trailed throughout following Ezra Mam’s ill-conceived pass that was gobbled up by Joey Manu in the fifth minute, but they hung in and threatened to run down the Roosters – largely on the back of Reece Walsh’s mind-blowing talent.

After their 2023 surge to contender status and a premiership decider was sparked by a 5-0 start, the result does pile a bit of early pressure on Kevin Walters and the Broncos.

The departure of Herbie Farnworth, Thomas Flegler and Kurt Capewell was immediately noticeable, though the Broncos’ off-season changes were compounded by the early loss of Brendan Piakura to an HIA, forcing Patrick Carrigan, the ever-industrious glue in the middle, to an edge.

There’s certainly no reason for concern yet for the Broncos – who remain firm on the second line of premiership betting at $4.25 – but facing the Rabbitohs, Panthers, Cowboys and Storm in the next four rounds shapes as a sizeable month-long acid test.