This weekend marks the opening round of the New South Wales Intrust Super Premiership.
Penrith Panthers will be looking to defend their title without coach Garth Brennan and captain Darren Nicholls.
There’s been a few notable changes in the second-tier competition during the off-season.
After six years and a Grand Final victory in 2016, it was the end of the road for Illawarra as they were replaced by St George-Illawarra Dragons. While the Dragons brought together their two sides under the same banner, Wests Tigers went the opposite way and re-branded their feeder side into the Western Suburbs Magpies.
History was made during the off-season with Channel Nine’s commitment to broadcast live games in 2018. Combined with the current Fox Sports agreement, exposure to the New South Wales Rugby League competition has been at it’s best since the Australian Rugby League took over the running of the national game in 1995.
Here’s a brief look at the teams taking part in this year’s competition.
BLACKTOWN SEA EAGLES
NRL Affiliate: Manly Sea Eagles
Home Base: HE Laybutt Field, Blacktown
Coach: Steve Hales
It’s the second year the strong Blacktown Workers club have been associated with Manly Sea Eagles. They will be looking to finish better than last season’s tenth placing. One player who will be looking for a strong season is John Folau after his move from the Wenty Magpies. Coach Steve Hales has high hopes that Folau will play more top grade football. “John is a very talented footballer who I’m sure we’ll see in the NRL again some day soon.”, said Hales. The loss of Cameron Cullen back to the Sunshine State is a huge blow for the Sea Eagles.
NRL Affiliate: Canterbury Bulldogs
Home Base: Belmore Sportsground
Coach: Steve Georgallis
While the Bulldogs struggled under Des Hasler at NRL level, their Intrust Super Premiership team went made the finals series. A fair share of their players took on the Penrith Panthers NRL side at Belmore a fortnight ago and recorded somewhat of an upset victory. PNG International Rhyse Martin will skipper the side in their first match against Wests at ANZ Stadium on Saturday and is knocking on the door of regular NRL football. Lachlan Burr returns to the Kennel after unsuccessful stints at the Gold Coast, and in last year’s Super League with Leigh Centurions. They should go well in 2018.
NRL Affiliate: Canberra Raiders
Home Base: Aubrey Keech Reserve
Coach: Ryan Carr
This is one of the proudest and strongest feeder clubs taking part in the competition. An elimination final defeat to Illawarra came as a shock in the opening week of last year’s finals series. There’s some excellent experience with Yileen Gordon and Mitch Cahalane returns from the UK Rugby League championship to join his former club. Sitiveni Moceidreke makes his way to the club looking for regular NRL game time. “He has great skill and athletic ability. He is a player who can play anywhere in the backline”, said coach Ryan Carr. They’re a good shot at winning this year’s title.
NRL Affiliate: Newcastle Knights
Home Base: McDonald Jones Stadium
Coach: Simon Woolford
They made it to the second week of finals footy last year, and Newcastle will be aiming to go further in the new season under coach Simon Woolford. With a large amount of player changes in the NRL squad, the Knights will benefit from the return of fringe players to their second-tier side. This is punctuated in their opening round side to take on Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles with Ken Sio, Cory Dennis, Jack Cogger, Josh King and New Zealand International rake Danny Levi among the NRL experience taking the field. The development of Nick Meaney will be closely monitored. “(Meaney) proved himself against the men in the ISP last year – fresh out of the 20’s. I expect him to rise to another level in 2018”, said coach Woolford. Looking like a strong contender in 2018.
NRL Affiliate: Cronulla Sharks
Home Base: Henson Park
Coach: Greg Matterson
The foundation club struggled in 2017 recording six wins in running eleventh under long-term coach Greg Matterson. This popular inner-west side doesn’t have the most experienced outfit but they always give 100% on-field. One player to keep an eye on is Jesse Ramien who played two matches for the Sharks in 2017 and is a star waiting in the wings. Edrick Lee provides some valuable NRL experience with Sione Katoa and Sosaia Feki preferred wingers in Shane Flanagan’s first team selection. After a season of injury, Matt Evans returns. “Evo’ was one of our best players last year and we lost him for the last ten rounds. Good strike player, he’s training well, he’ll play fullback so he’s going to be an integral part of our success”, said Matterson.
NORTH SYDNEY BEARS
NRL Affiliate: South Sydney Rabbitohs
Home Base: North Sydney Oval
Coach: Shane Millard
It’s been 25 years since the North Sydney Bears won their last NSW Cup after winning three on the trot. Newly appointed coach Shane Millard will be aiming for a top four finish this year. There’s some quality players in his round one side including the talented Braidon Burns, tough front rower Zane Musgrove and new recruit Rhys Kennedy. “Former Raiders contracted player who will provide plenty of resistance in the Bears’ middle third”, said Millard. This side will be hard to beat on their home soil at Bear Park.
NRL Affiliate: Penrith Panthers
Home Base: Panthers Stadium
Coach: Guy Missio
Defending premiers Penrith Panthers will go into the new season with Guy Missio replacing new Gold Coast Titans coach Garth Brennan, and the notable move by captain Darren Nicholls to St George-Illawarra Dragons. Missio is an excellent replacement and the club boasts a fair number of players developed through the strong junior system. Wayde Egan is a player to watch after an excellent season in the National Youth Competition, taking out the 2017 Merv Cartwright Award. Their stay player is Jed Cartwright, who is on the brink of breaking into the NRL. “Jed is very strong defensively and a good ball runner”, said Missio. They will be in contention to defend their title.
ST GEORGE-ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
NRL Affiliate: St George-Illawarra Dragons
Home Base: Kogarah Oval, WIN Stadium
Coach: Mat Head
A shake-up at the Dragons NRL franchise will see the Intrust Super Premiership club come under the same banner. Mat Head retains the role as head coach and has a great pick-up in last year’s Intrust Super Premiership winning captain Darren Nicholls joining the club. There’s every chance the Dragons will finish in the top four depending on their club’s form and injury management in the top side. Big second row forward James Hasson returns from a stint in Super League and will be a key factor in the side’s fortunes. “He is a big strong back-rower, a great line runner, and is going to give us some experience as he has come from the Bradford Bulls”, Head said.
NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS
NRL Affiliate: New Zealand Warriors
Home Base: Mount Smart Stadium
Coach: Tony Iro (John Teina from 8th March 2018)
This is another strong New Zealand Warriors unit under the watchful eye of former Kiwi international Tony Iro. The loss of Bureta Fariamo to Super League side Hull FC is a blow. Fariamo along with Mason Lino and Toafofoa Sipley were in the Intrust Super Premiership team of the year. There’s a good chance their side will be boosted by the late recruitment of former Wigan Warriors Anthony Gelling after receiving a compassionate release from his Super League contact. The player to watch is Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, a player already showing his capabilities on the NRL stage. “Charnze supplies so much value to us. Terrific attitude and energy”, said Iro. This could be the team to watch in this year’s premiership.
NRL Affiliate: Parramatta Eels
Home Base: Ringrose Park
Coach: Nathan Cayless
It’s been a decade since Parramatta Eels feeder club, Wentworthville Magpies won the premiership. Coach Nathan Cayless will be looking to put behind a disappointing 2017 campaign where they finished three points outside the top eight. Joining the club this year will be Andy Saunders, a Quirindi product who made his NRL debut with Canterbury Bulldogs last year. “Signed from the Bulldogs, has had a bit of NRL experience but he’s definitely got a lot of experience at Intrust Super Premiership NSW level. He’s just a tough worker”, said the Magpies coach.
WESTERN SUBURBS MAGPIES
NRL Affiliate: Wests Tigers
Home Base: ANZ Stadium, Campbelltown Stadium, Leichhardt Oval
Coach: Brett Hodgson
Western Suburbs Magpies take over the Intrust Super Premiership Wests Tigers feeder club responsibilities for 2018. Like with Newcastle, a heavy recruitment off-season to try and turn around the club has meant some high profile players have missed out on the NRL side for round 1. There will be keen interest on how David Nofoaluma, Matt McIlwrick and Chris McQueen bounce back from being effectively dropped. After a stint at Leigh Centurions, Josh Drinkwater returns to the club. “A classy playmaker, Josh returns to a familiar environment in 2018 and will bring a lot of control to the side with strong leadership characteristics on and off the field”, said coach Brett Hodgson.
NRL Affiliate: Sydney Roosters
Home Base: Rip Taylor
Coach: Morry Breen Oval
This week the Wyong RLFC board of directors have effectively finished their relationship with NRL affiliate Sydney Roosters, ending their participation in the Intrust Super Premiership after this season. The great unknown is how the call will affect their season, after a successful 2017 where they won the minor premiership and went down to Penrith Panthers in the decider. Rip Taylor has a great amount of quality at his disposal including some Roosters National Youth Competition players in Ben Thomas and Nick O’Meley. The star of the team is Fiji International prop Eloni Vunakece. “Great at carting the ball forward, he had a great few games in the World Cup with Fiji and we’re hoping that kick starts his season”, said Taylor.
ROUND 1 TEAMS via NSWRL
Newcastle Knights v Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles
McDonald Jones Stadium, Friday 9 March, 3:45pm
NEWCASTLE: 1 Nick Meaney 2 Thomas Cronan 3 Ken Sio 4 Cory Denniss 5 Tom Hughes 6 Christian Hazard 7 Jack Cogger 8 Josh King 9 Danny Levi 10 Jacob Saifiti 11 Sam Stone 12 Brodie Jones 13 Luke Yates Interchange 14 Jack Johns 15 Pat Mata’utia 16 Pasami Saulo 17 Tyrone Amey 18 Faitotoa Faitotoa 19 Bobby Treacy 20 Chris Randall 21 Jacob Gagai
BLACKTOWN: 23 Honeti Tuha 2 Jade Anderson 20 Vai Toutai 19 John Folau 3 Jonathon Wright 6 Tom Wright 7 Jackson Hastings 8 Lloyd Perrett 9 Manase Fainu 10 Toafofoa Sipley 11 Jack Gosiewski 12 Cody Nelson 18 Taniela Paseka Interchange 14 Joey Lussick 15 Tom Amone 22 Fred Junior Mauala 16 Tyler Cassel 13 Tekina Vailea
This is a strong Knights outfit with Danny Levi sensationally dropped from the NRL side for the first round. Jackson Hastings starts the season in Intrust Super Cup with Trent Barrett opting for Lachlan Croker to pair Daly Cherry-Evans in the halves. A big win for the home side is likely.
Warriors v North Sydney Bears
Mt Smart Stadium, Saturday 10 March, 1pm
WARRIORS: 1 Hayze Perham 2 Lewis Soosemea 3 Joseph Vuna 4 Cole Waaka 5 Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 6 Chanel Harris-Tavita 7 Tevin Arona 8 Patrick Sipley 9 Karl Lawton 10 Chris Satae 11 Matiu Love-Henry 12 James Bell (c) 13 Sione Afemui Interchange 14 Manaia Cherrington 15 Trent Schaumkel 17 Reece Charlie 18 Daniel Reuelu-Buchanan 20 Zac Santo
NORTH SYDNEY: 1 Braidon Burns 2 Tyrone Taukomo 3 Mawene Hiroti 4 Jake Tago 5 Sean Sabutey 6 Connor Tracey 7 Dean Hawkins 8 Zane Musgrove 9 Billy Brittain 10 Rhys Kennedy 11 Sifa Talakai 12 Tarquinn Alatipi 13 Dean Britt Interchange 14 Jesse Martin 15 Vincent Leuluai 16 Ky Rodwell 17 Max Bailey
New Zealand Warriors have thrown new recruit Karl Lawton into hooker for the opening game against North Sydney. Expect a good battle in the back line between two very talented players in Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Braidon Burns. Warriors will have the edge at home.
St George Illawarra Dragons v Mounties
WIN Stadium, Saturday 10 March, 1pm
Televised live on Channel 9
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA: 1 Jai Field 2 John Tohi 3 Patrick Herbert 4 Zac Lomax 5 Reuben Garrick 6 Adam Clune 7 Darren Nicholls 8 Mitchell Allgood 9 Reece Robson 10 Josh Kerr 11 James Hasson 12 Jackson Ford 13 Blake Lawrie Interchange 14 Jack Payne 15 Damien Sironen 16 Ashley Nisbet 19 Stuart Mason
MOUNTIES: 1 Bradley Abbey 2 Mikaele Ravalawa 3 Edward Murphy 4 Tyler Cornish 5 Sitiveni Moceidreke 6 Cooper Bambling 7 Henry Raiwalui 8 Royce Hunt 9 Craig Garvey 10 Makahesi Makatoa 11 Jarrad Kennedy 12 Jack Murchie 13 Liam Knight Interchange 14 Kalani Going 15 Sam Duggan 16 Emre Guler 17 Mitchell Cahalane
A good quality game to kick-off Nine’s involvement in covering the Intrust Super Premiership. Mounties are always hard to beat but the injection of Mitch Allgood, James Hasson and Darren Nicholls in the Dragons side will make this a close result. Mounties might just have the edge.
Western Suburbs Magpies v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
ANZ Stadium, Saturday 10 March, 2:15pm
Televised live on FOX SPORTS
WESTERN SUBURBS: 1 Watson Heleta 2 David Nofoaluma 3 Taane Milne 4 Tony Tali 5 Mahe Fonua 6 Tyson Gamble 7 Josh Drinkwater 8 Sauaso Sue 9 Matt McIlwrick 10 JJ Felise 11 Chris McQueen 12 Luke Garner 13 Bayley Sironen Interchange 14 Patrice Siolo 15 Joseph Ratuvakacereivalu 16 Cowan Epere 18 Braden Robson 19 Harry O’Toole 20 Lucas Price
CANTERBURY-BANKSTOWN: 1 Josh Bergamin 2 Tom Carr 3 John Olive 4 Jarred Anderson 5 Reimis Smith 6 Josh Cleeland 7 Lachlan Lewis 8 Renouf To’omaga 9 Fa’amanu Brown 10 Francis Tualau 11 Rhyse Martin ( c ) 12 Jayden Okunbor 13 Ofahiki Ogden Interchange 14 Mason Cerruto 15 Lachlan Burr 16 Jack Nelson 17 Bronson Garlick 19 D’Rhys Miller 20 Falakiko Manu 21 Joel Luani
Chris McQueen, David Nofoaluma, Matt McIlwrick and Sauaso Sue missed out on selection in Ivan Cleary’s Wests Tigers squad for round 1. They will face a Bulldogs team who embarrassed Penrith’s NRL side a fortnight ago at Belmore. Bulldogs should get the money in this one.
Wyong Roos v Newtown Jets
Morry Breen Oval, Saturday 10 March, 4:30pm
WYONG: 1 Luke Sharpe 2 Christopher Centrone 3 Joshua Mantellato 4 Matthew Ikuvalu 5 Nicholas O’Meley 6 Dean Matterson 7 Paul Momirovski 8 Eloni Vunakece 9 Mitchell Williams 10 Poasa Faamausili 11 Reuben Porter 12 Sitili Tupouniua 13 Nat Butcher Interchange 14 Christopher Smith 15 Brock Gray 16 Jake Lewis 17 Benjamin Thomas 18 Bradie Smith 19 Bradley Keighran
NEWTOWN: 1 William Kennedy 2 Matt Evans 3 Jesse Ramien 4 Reubenn Rennie 5 Edrick Lee 6 Jack Williams 7 Jesse Marschke 8 Brock Ilett 9 Blayke Brailey 10 Wes Lolo 11 Scott Sorensen 12 Anthony Moraitis 13 Jack Williams Interchange 14 Jaimin Jolliffe 15 16 Billy Magoulias 17 Malakai Houma 18 Ben Marschke
A big week for Wyong Roos off the field, but they still bring a strong squad onto the field for their opening game against Newtown Jets at Morry Breen. Expect the Roos to be switched on and score a big win.
Penrith Panthers v Wentworthville Magpies
Panthers Stadium, Sunday 11 March, 1:45pm
PENRITH: 1 Caleb Aekins 2 Maika Sivo 3 Adam Keighran 4 Tom Eisenhuth 5 Ratu Tuisese 6 Chad O’Donnell 7 Liam Coleman 8 Nick Lui-Toso 9 Wayde Egan 10 Paea Pua 11 Kaide Ellis 12 Jed Cartwright 13 Jack Hetherington Interchange 14 Reed Izzard 15 Oliver Clark 16 Liam Martin 17 Soni Luke
WENTWORTHVILLE: 1 Anthony Layoun 2 Atini Gafa 3 Nathan Davis 4 Dane Aukafolau 5 Eddie Aiono 6 Kauri Aupouri 7 Zachary Nicholls 8 Magnus Stromquist 9 Reed Mahoney 10 Piki Rogers 11 Matthew Woods 12 Haimona Hiroti 13 Raymond Stone Interchange 14 Samual Gorman 15 Andrew Saunders 16 Nicholas Kassis 17 Daniel Dole 18 Bradley Deitz 19 Dylan Izzard 20 Jack Morris
Defending premiers Penrith Panthers have Liam Coleman at halfback for their round 1 clash with the Eels. They’re always hard to beat at Penrith Stadium and Wenty Magpies will feel the heat in more ways than one. Penrith for the first up win.