The NRL 2020 draw was released today, with a couple of traditional rivalries and a controversial timeslot for a big improver in the opening round.
Thursday March 12, 8:05pm: Parramatta v Canterbury-Bankstown, Bankswest Stadium.
After a fantastic opening last year, Bankwest is fine place to begin 2020. Parramatta should have another huge crowd to cheer them on, even on a Thursday night. Canterbury were big improvers at the back end of last year, finishing just two wins from the finals after sitting bottom four mid-season. Can they carry that momentum into 2020? Parramatta will still be burning after their big finals loss to Melbourne, so they should win.
Friday March 13, 6pm: Canberra v Gold Coast, GIO Stadium Canberra.
The Raiders and Titans meet in round one for the third straight year. While Canberra fans will enjoy a relatively easy opening, the awkward 6pm timeslot is insulting for a club that was one try from the premiership. Surely this game would be better on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon? The early start may impact crowd numbers at Bruce, which is a shame, as it’s their homecoming after a fantastic grand final performance. Still, the die-hards will turn up, do the Viking Clap, then watch their Raiders win comfortably. The Titans will take time to click under new coach Justin Holbrook, but they can’t be any worse than last year. How will Canberra’s newest Englishman George Williams go? Or will Ricky keep the faith with nearly-premiership-winning half Aidan Sezer (if he stays)?
Friday March 13, 8:05pm: North Queensland v Brisbane, North Queensland Stadium.
The XXXX Derby gets its usual prime-time TV slot, this time on Friday the 13th. There’s plenty of significance in this game. The Cowboys christen their new, multi-purpose stadium, and will be looking for improvement after two poor years. The Broncos will be desperate for early wins after their embarrassing finals loss to Parramatta and a dramatic off-season. If it’s close, expect the Channel Nine commentators to get very excited and claim this is the greatest rivalry in the NRL.
Saturday March 14, 3pm: Newcastle v New Zealand Warriors, McDonald Jones Stadium.
On paper, this game – between two of 2019’s most disappointing sides – doesn’t seem too attractive. The Knights were in-and-around the top four mid-season, but crashed after Origin and lost Nathan Brown. The Warriors started promisingly, but finished bottom four. The loyal Novocastrians, after a few months to get over 2019, will be back to support the Knights. Newcastle should reward them, as the Warriors are too unpredictable in Australia.
Saturday March 14, 5:30pm: South Sydney v Cronulla-Sutherland, ANZ Stadium.
A big game between two finalists. Souths will be burning after their preliminary final exit, while the Sharks won’t have Paul Gallen for the first time since 1876. Veteran coach Wayne Bennett will have the Rabbitohs fired up for this, so they should win comfortably. For the Sharks, can Shaun Johnson improve on a poor 2019? Can Bronson Xerri build on a wonderful debut season? What on-field trouble will Andrew Fifita get himself into?
Saturday March 14, 7:35pm: Penrith v Sydney Roosters, Panthers Stadium.
The defending premiers travel to Penrith to open the season. The Panthers started poorly last year, hit a winning run mid-season, then faded to miss the finals. With James Maloney gone, Nathan Cleary will need to step up. A parochial home crowd will help. How will the Roosters approach this? Will they be hungry for a premiership hat-trick (the first since Parramatta in 1981-83) and dominate the competition? Or will work their way into the season before hitting their straps towards September? The latter approach may help Penrith.
Sunday March 15, 4:05pm: Manly-Warringah v Melbourne, Lottoland.
The game of the round is on a Sunday afternoon, which means we’ll be “treated” to hearing Gus Gould say over and over how wonderful daytime footy is. The Manly-Melbourne rivalry is the spiciest in the NRL. Last year, Manly ended Melbourne’s big winning streak with a Golden Point win at AAMI Park; a few weeks later, Melbourne belted Manly at Brookvale. This one could go either way. Will Manly’s home support get them the win? Or will Melbourne’s professionalism, led by the returning Cameron Smith, be enough?
Sunday March 15, 6:15pm: St. George-Illawarra Dragons v Wests Tigers, WIN Stadium.
The last time the Dragons played the Sunday evening game, they were belted by Canberra. Both the Dragons and Tigers could be anything: the Dragons – traditional May premiers before fading late – had a poor 2019 (finishing second last), while the Wests Tigers’ 11-13 record summed up their inconsistent year. If the Dragons lose a few early, expect the fans and media to put pressure on Mary McGregor. The Tigers could sneak this one.