Mon, Mar 5, 12:53pm by Head Editor
The 2018 NRL season is set to kick off in Wollongong on Thursday night, with the Dragons hosting the Broncos.
St George will be bitterly disappointed with having missing out on finals last season and are $1.80 favourites to defeat the almighty Broncos, who are priced at $2 at Sportsbet.
The Dragons welcome Ben Hunt and James Graham into a team that is already loaded with international and State of Origin talent, so there are no excuses for Paul McGregor’s men this season.
The Friday night double header begins in Newcastle, with the Knights hosting Manly.
Both teams are priced at $1.90 at Sportsbet, in what should be a close contest. Newcastle has a revamped roster with a number of fresh faces including Mitchell Pearce formerly of the Sydney Roosters.
Manly have struggled in acquiring talent during the off-season after five-eighth Blake Green was released to join New Zealand.
Who will play in the six jersey for Manly remains a mystery, with further responsibility heaped upon captain Daly Cherry-Evans.
North Queensland host Cronulla in the second match on Friday night, with the Cowboys welcoming back star duo Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott.
Both players missed the 2017 Grand Final through injury, but are fit ahead of the 2018 season. The Cowboys are second favourites to win the NRL Premiership and are $1.50 at Sportsbet to topple the Sharks.
Cronulla welcome Josh Dugan and Matt Moylan into their backline after a disappointing 2017. They face a tough start to the season and the -5.5 handicap to North Queensland appears one of the better plays in round one.
Super Saturday features three matches back-to-back-to-back, including a double header from the new Optus Stadium in Perth.
The Wests Tigers host the Roosters at Allianz Stadium, in a battle of the wooden spoon favourite and the Premiership favourite.
The Roosters have added Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco to an already impressive team and will be hard to beat all season.
Despite acquiring Josh Reynolds from the Bulldogs, the Tigers are still expected to have a difficult year, as their young talent continues to gain NRL experience.
Despite the gulf in class between the two sides, a bet on the Roosters at $1.30 would not be value, particularly in round 1.
South Sydney takes a home game to Perth when they host New Zealand at Optus Stadium.
The Warriors have to make their longest trip of the season in round 1 and they have had little success in Perth recently, despite matches being placed at nib Stadium.
Souths will be buoyed by the return of Greg Inglis, while the Warriors will want to improve on their 14th placed finish in 2017.
At $1.60, Souths are justified favourites against an unpredictable New Zealand team who are $2.35 at Sportsbet.
Reigning champions the Melbourne Storm begin their title defense in Perth against the Bulldogs and are overwhelming $1.33 favourites at Sportsbet.
The Bulldogs will be hoping to restrict the Storm’s running game, but points will be hard to come by for the Dogs once again in 2018, after they made few adjustments to their roster from 2017.
At $3.30 at Sportsbet, the Dogs offer a little bit of value, particularly at the +8.5 point handicap.
One of the contenders for match of the round is a battle of the West, with Penrith hosting Parramatta.
Both teams will be disappointed with how 2017 ended, where the Panthers were pre-season Premiership favourites.
James Maloney joins Nathan Cleary in the halves for Penrith, with Maloney a proven success at every club he has played for in his career.
Parramatta welcome back favourite son Jarryd Hayne into a team that made the top 4 last season and will be expecting the same in 2018.
At $2 at Sportsbet, Parramatta has been steadily backed from a starting price of $2.10 and appear to be the bet of the round, pending team selections. Penrith are $1.81.
The final match of the round takes place on the Gold Coast with the Titans hosting the Raiders.
Neither team is expected to make finals this season and it will be interesting to see how the Titans play under new coach Garth Brennan.
Gold Coast are $2.20 outsiders at Sportsbet, with the Raiders priced at $1.67
NRL round 1 early odds update
St George $1.80 Brisbane $2
Newcastle $1.90 Manly $1.90
North Queensland $1.50 Cronulla $2.60
Wests $3.50 Sydney $1.30
Souths $1.60 New Zealand $2.35
Canterbury $3.30 Melbourne $1.33
Penrith $1.81 Parramatta $2
Gold Coast $2.20 Canberra $1.67
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