Broncos marquee recruit Adam Reynolds has been ruled out of the club’s first round clash after returning a positive PCR test result.
Reynolds confirmed he would not play in Round 1 against his former club South Sydney.
Reynolds, 31, is a key player for Kevin Walters and his exclusion has thrown a massive spanner in the Broncos plans for the start of the season.
Kobe Hetherington has also returned a positive Rapid Antigen Test and is in home isolation until he receives his PCR results.
According to the Courier Mail Herbie Farnworth, Tyson Gamble and Albert Kelly must be cleared by Brisbane medicos to play round one.
Reynolds and Hetherington were sent home from training on Wednesday after displaying flu-like symptoms.
Gamble and Kelly were in a battle to partner Reynolds in the halves but now the Broncos plans are in disarray.
Kelly and Gamble must first receive the Covid green light under the NRL’s graduated return-to-play protocols.
It leaves young gun Ezra Mann as an option to start the season in the halves.
In line with NRL return-to-play protocols, those who return a positive PCR test will not be available for the Broncos Round 1 clash against the Rabbitohs.
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Roosters young gun Egan Butcher will miss the first month of the season after suffering a stress fracture in his foot after a training mishap.
The 21-year-old star was set to start of the bench for the tri-colours but missed the club’s pre-season trials and has been seen sporting a moon boot.
“It’s a real blow,” a Roosters insider told Wide World of Sports.
“He was training great but has been wearing a moon boot and restricted to light duties.”
In positive news for Roosters fans, Luke Keary has confirmed there is no doubt he will make his return in Round 1.
The star five-eighth was battling an ankle complaint and bone bruising this pre-season after missing majority of 2021 with an ACL injury.
“I have had a really good last month. I did the full block pre-Christmas then I had three weeks off the start of January and back into it so I feel good,” Keary told reporters on Wednesday.
“I’ve been back into full training now for two weeks.”
Meanwhile, Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has named his replacement after star recruit Jamal Fogarty suffered a knee injury, sidelining him for four months.
“I am going to play Brad Schneider,” Stuart told News Corp.
“I promised these kids that if they give us an opportunity to develop them, I will give them an opportunity to play NRL and show me they are NRL players.
“That is my end of the bargain – when I know they are ready to play NRL, I will play them. And he is ready.”
Fogarty will potentially return in Round 15 and Schneider was already tipped to be the Raiders back-up half.
Valentine Holmes, the Cowboys $1 million a season star, will shift positions in a bid to mamimise the potential of a young gun.
Sharks captain Wade Graham suffered a syndesmosis injury in the club’s final pre-season match against the Bulldogs.
The 31-year-old veteran looks set to miss the first month of the season, having only played 11 games in 2021 due to repeated head knocks.
The Tigers will also be without first choice hooker Jacob Liddle who suffered a posterior cruciate ligament tear and will miss four to six weeks.
Jake Simpkin will slot into the starting side along with Thomas Mikaele who replaced the suspended James Tamou.
Read below for Foxsports.com.au’s Round 1 team tips!!
THURSDAY MARCH 10
Penrith Panthers vs Manly Sea Eagles at Bluebet Stadium, 8.05pm
Predicted Panthers team: 1. Dylan Edwards 2. Charlie Staines 3. Stephen Crichton 4. Izack Tago 5. Brian To’o 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Moses Leota 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Liam Martin 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Mitch Kenny 15. Scott Sorensen 16. Spencer Leniu 17. J’maine Hopgood
TEAM TIPS: The Panthers will be sweating on their star halfback Nathan Cleary after he underwent shoulder surgery during the off-season. Cleary is desperate to play in Round 1, but should coach and dad Ivan decide to take it slow, it’ll be new recruit Sean O’Sullivan stepping in to replace him. After starting last season on the wing and then being axed, Charlie Staines, who played fullback in the trial against the Sharks, is expected to get another chance on the wing with Stephen Crichton shifting back to his native centre role after Paul Momirovski’s departure. Young gun Izack Tago is tipped to replace Matt Burton in the centres, while youngster J’maine Hopgood could snatch a spot on the bench. Viliame Kikau will also return to the starting team after playing an explosive role off the bench late last season. Dylan Edwards and James Fisher-Harris will be back to full fitness after carrying injuries in the grand final. Preston Riki is out until mid-season with a hip injury.
Predicted Sea Eagles team: 1. Tom Trbojevic 2. Jason Saab 3. Brad Parker 4. Morgan Harper 5. Reuben Garrick 6. Kieran Foran 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Taniela Paseka 9. Lachlan Croker 10. Martin Taupau 11. Ethan Bullemor 12. Karl Lawton 13. Jake Trbojevic 14. Dylan Walker 15. Sean Keppie 16. Andrew Davey 17. Toafofoa Sipley
TEAM TIPS: Haumole Olakau’atu injured his elbow in the final trial and is expected to miss Round 1, which will see Broncos recruit Ethan Bullemor into the starting side and Andrew Davey on the bench. Josh Schuster will miss the opening rounds due to an ankle injury with Karl Lawton tipped to come into the back row. Josh Aloiai will miss the season-opener due to a three-game suspension. Kieran Foran pairs Daly Cherry-Evans in the ever-solid Manly halves, while Lachlan Croker retains his No.9 jersey. The versatile Dylan Walker will once again play the important bench utility role after being re-signed in the off-season and Toafofa Sipley will be on the bench. Tom Trbojevic will be wearing the fullback jersey after he made a brilliant first appearance in the trial win over the Tigers, with speedster Jason Saab on one wing and goal-kicker Reuben Garrick on the other.
FRIDAY MARCH 11
Canberra Raiders vs Cronulla Sharks at GIO Stadium, 6.00pm
Predicted Raiders team: 1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Nick Cotric 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Matthew Timoko 5. Semi Valemei 6. Jack Wighton 7. Brad Schneider 8. Josh Papalii 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Joe Tapine 11. Hudson Young 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. Adam Elliott 14. Tom Starling 15. Ryan Sutton 16. Corey Horsburgh 17. Corey Harawira-Naera
TEAM TIPS: Coach Ricky Stuart said he wants to ease teenage sensation Xavier Savage into the NRL which means Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad will start at fullback in Round 1. But it remains a very tough call for Stuart. That selection should see veteran Jarrod Croker start in the centres following his career-saving knee operation in October. Elliott Whitehead is due back in the trials and is expected to play in Round 1. All eyes will be on the Raiders’ new-look halves combination come Round 1, after a cruel injury to recruit Jamal Fogarty which will see young gun Brad Schneider slot into halfback. “I am going to play Brad Schneider,” Stuart told News Corp. “I promised these kids that if they give us an opportunity to develop them, I will give them an opportunity to play NRL and show me they are NRL players. Adam Elliott also made the move to Canberra over the off-season and is expected to start at lock. Despite the club’s decision not to offer Josh Hodgson a new deal beyond this season, coach Ricky Stuart is still expected to start the veteran and then shift him to lock when Tom Starling comes on to run amok out of dummy-half. Meanwhile, Corey Horsburgh has returned to contact training after shoulder surgery and is aiming to be fit for the Raiders’ first game. Nick Cotric is a welcomed return after one season with the Bulldogs and will slot back in on the wing with Harley Smith-Shields out for the season with an ACL injury. Flyer Semi Valemei will come onto the wing for the suspended Jordan Rapana who is out until Round 3. Raiders recruit Peter Hola suffered suspected medial ligament damage against the Roosters and faces time on the sidelines.
Predicted Sharks team: 1. Will Kennedy 2. Ronaldo Mulitalo 3. Connor Tracey 4. Jesse Ramien 5. Sione Katoa 6. Matt Moylan 7. Nicho Hynes 8. Toby Rudolf 9. Blayke Brailey 10. Braden Hamlin-Uele 11. Briton Nikora 12. Siosifa Talakai 13. Dale Finucane 14. Luke Metcalf 15. Andrew Fifita 16. Aiden Tolman 17. Royce Hunt
TEAM TIPS: Skipper Wade Graham has a fresh injury and will miss the first month of the season. Graham was only just back to full fitness after missing a chunk of last season due to repeated concussions but suffered a syndesmosis injury in the club’s final pre-season clash. A careless high tackle in the first trial against the Panthers cost playmaker Braydon Trindall his shot at partnering Nicho Hynes in the halves in Round 1. Trindall is suspended for the first two rounds which will see Matt Moylan wear the No. 6 jumper with Luke Metcalf coming off the bench. Versatile utility Siosifa Talakai suffered a head knock against the Panthers, but should be fit for Round 1. It’s a new era for the Sharks under rookie NRL coach Craig Fitzgibbon. He’ll have the handy additions of Hynes and Dale Finucane though to help make his first season in the Shire a success. Fitzgibbon has already confirmed that Hynes was signed as a half despite a breakout season at fullback last year for the Storm. Cameron McInnes will miss the first month of the season after undergoing a minor operation on the same knee that required reconstructive surgery last year. Finuncane will play lock, allowing prop Braden Hamlin-Uele to come into the starting side and Andrew Fifita to grab a spot on the bench, while Royce Hunt also makes the pine after impressive form in the trials. Fitzgibbon recently hinted at a Ronaldo Mulitalo–Connor Tracey combination on an edge, while we’re tipping Sione Katoa to beat recruit Matt Ikuvalu for a spot on the wing. Blayke Brailey will be the hooker.
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Brisbane Broncos vs South Sydney Rabbitohs at Suncorp Stadium, 8.05pm
Predicted Broncos team: 1. Selwyn Cobbo 2. Corey Oates 3. Kotoni Staggs 4. Herbie Farnworth 5. Jamayne Isaako 6. Billy Walters 7. Albert Kelly 8. Ryan James 9. Jake Turpin 10. Payne Haas 11. Kurt Capewell 12. Jordan Riki 13. Patrick Carrigan 14. Cory Paix 15. Rhys Kennedy 16. TC Robati 17. Keenan Palasia
TEAM TIPS: Superstar recruit Adam Reynolds has tested positive for Covid and will miss his Round 1 debut. Kobe Hetherington could also be ruled out if his PCR result comes back positive while, according to the Courier Mail, Herbie Farnworth, Tyson Gamble and Albert Kelly must be cleared by Brisbane medicos to play Round 1. Should he recover in time and pass protocols Kelly and Billy Walters loom as the most likely halves pairing for Round 1. Tesi Niu will miss the opening rounds of the season due to injury which will see trials standout Selwyn Cobbo start the season-opener at fullback. Herbie Farnworth slots into the centres with Kotoni Staggs with Brenko Lee missing out. The Courier Mail reported Cobbo is set to win the No.1 jersey for Round 1, while Jake Turpin is tipped to start at hooker withCory Paixon the bench. The Broncos had an issue with who will be their five-eighth, with Ezra Mam on standby for the other Covid-affected players, but throwing a rookie in for Round 1 would be a massive call from coach Kevin Walters. Kelly’s experience should get him the first crack but Walters said last week he could take family out of the decision. “There’s a battle on there (for the No.6); I’ve got some ideas in my head but nothing’s over the line. You take the family side out of it; normally I’m a very fair person and I’ll be fair across the board.” Thomas Flegler and one-game rookie Brendan Piakura won’t be in contention for Round 1 due to suspensions, while Xavier Willison is looking at a mid-season return from a knee injury. New recruit Ryan James will likely fill in for Flegler. Patrick Carrigan returned against the Titans after tearing his ACL in Round 9 last season, while Payne Haas (ankle) is set to be fit to play after returning against the Cowboys in the Broncos’ final trial.
Predicted Rabbitohs team: 1. Blake Taffe 2. Alex Johnston 3. Jaxson Paulo 4. Campbell Graham 5. Josh Mansour 6. Cody Walker 7. Lachlan Ilias 8. Mark Nichols 9. Damien Cook 10. Tevita Tatola 11. Keaon Koloamatangi 12. Jai Arrow 13. Cameron Murray 14. Siliva Havili 15. Jacob Host 16. Thomas Burgess 17. Michael Chee-Kam
TEAM TIPS: South Sydney’s new captain Cameron Murray is touch-and-go after undergoing the same surgery Nathan Cleary did during the off-season. Murray is “confident” he’ll be back for Round 1, but just like Cleary, he doesn’t want to rush it either. With Latrell Mitchell out suspended until Round 2, Blake Taaffe will hold onto the No.1 jumper, while Jaxson Paulo will likely get the first opportunity to nail down Dane Gagai’s vacant centre spot. Josh Mansour will take Paulo’s spot on the wing. Jacob Gagai impressed in the trial against the Cowboys and should debut at some point in 2022, but it is unlikely to be in Round 1. New head coach Jason Demetriou has confirmed Lachlan Ilias will replace Adam Reynolds in the halves. Versatile forward Jai Arrow will come into the back row for the departed Jaydn Su’A, while recruit Michael Chee-Kam will likely replace Liam Knight on the bench with the latter missing the first month of the competition after undergoing three off-season surgeries. Recruit Siliva Havili will likely play the utility role that Taaffe is tipped to switch to when Mitchell returns. Isaiah Tass is due back from a back injury in Round 1 but is unlikely to make the 17.
SATURDAY MARCH 12
Sydney Roosters vs Newcastle Knights at Sydney Cricket Ground, 3.00pm
Predicted Roosters team: 1. James Tedesco 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Paul Momirovski 4. Joseph Manu 5. Kevin Naiqama 6. Luke Keary 7. Sam Walker 8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 9. Connor Watson 10. Lindsay Collins 11. Angus Crichton 12. Sitili Tupouniua 13. Victor Radley 14. Adam Keighran 15. Siosiua Taukeiaho 16. Naufahu Whyte 17. Nat Butcher
TEAM TIPS:Luke Keary will return in Round 1 to partner Sam Walker in the halves. Keary explained he could have played in the club’s final pre-season trial. “I have had a really good last month. I did the full block pre-Christmas then I had three weeks off the start of January and back into it so I feel good,” Keary told reporters on Wednesday. Walker must overcome a head knock suffered in the second trial. Joey Manu will make his return from a facial fracture in the centres. Kevin Naiqama is set to fill Brett Morris’ vacant No.5 jersey with Joseph Suaalii not due back from a foot injury until the early rounds. The Roosters have a wave of players returning from injury, however first-choice hooker Sam Verrills will miss Round 1 due to a suspension. Ben Marschke seems like the natural replacement however because he’s on a development contract he can’t play NRL before Round 11. New recruit Connor Watson will likely play hooker in Round 1 but is tipped ot play the bench utility role this season when Verrills returns. The quality signings of Watson and Paul Momirovski will show their skills in their new Tri-colour jersey and the former Panthers centre slots into the centres to replace the retired Josh Morris. Forward recruit Renouf Atoni is unlikely to force his way into the side for Round 1, with Naufahu Whyte likely to take Egan Butcher’s bench spot after he was ruled out for a month with stress fractures in his foot. Prop Lindsay Collins waslucky to avoid suspension in the trials for a cannonball tackle on Tigers star Jackson Hastings and makes his way into the side after suffering the same ACL injury as Keary last year. Robinson may opt for the versatility of Adam Keighran on the bench in Round 1 if Watson does play hooker.
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Predicted Knights team: 1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Enari Tuala 3. Dane Gagai 4. Bradman Best 5. Hymel Hunt 6. Jake Clifford 7. Adam Clune 8. Jacob Saifiti 9. Chris Randall 10. Daniel Saifiti 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 13. Mitch Barnett 14. Kurt Mann 15. David Klemmer 16. Jirah Momoisea 17. Brodie Jones
TEAM TIPS: David Klemmer was demoted to the bench for much of last season in favour of the Saifiti brothers, but on what he produced in the first trial against the Bulldogs he looks intent on getting his starting spot back in 2022. Klemmer had 92 metres, a tackle bust, an offload, a linebreak assist and a try assist in a superb stint after starting for the Knights. The departure of veteran halfback Mitchell Pearce sees the Knights form a new-look halves combination of Jake Clifford and former Dragons playmaker Adam Clune. Dane Gagai also returns to Newcastle, slotting into the centres to make a lethal pairing with young gun Bradman Best. Hymel Hunt will assume his spot outside of Best, while Enari Tuala will likely take the other wing. However, Edrick Lee fresh off signing a new one-year deal with the club could leapfrog Tauala if he can get his body right. Dominic Young is another option on the flank. After a devastating pre-season injury to Jayden Brailey, Chris Randall will likely be the Knights’ starting hooker for the foreseeable future. Sauaso Sue will miss the opening round due to suspension meaning Mitch Barnett will likely shift to lock. Lachlan Fitzgibbon will come into the second row after recovering from a shoulder injury. Brodie Jones, Jirah Momoisea and Kurt Mann — who will be Knights’ all-important utility round out the bench. Jack Johns is set to return from a shoulder injury in Round 1, but is unlikely to make the final 17.
New Zealand Warriors vs St George Illawarra Dragons at Sunshine Coast Stadium, 5.30pm
Predicted Warriors team: 1. Channel Harris-Tavita 2. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 3. Jesse Arthars 4. Rocco Berry 5. Marcelo Montoya 6. Kodi Nikorima 7. Shaun Johnson 8. Addin Fonua-Blake 9. Wayde Egan 10. Bunty Afoa 11. Eliesa Katoa 12. Euan Aitken 13. Bayley Sironen 14. Josh Curran 15. Jazz Tevaga 16. Ben Murdoch-Masila 17. Aaron Pene
TEAM TIPS: The biggest question for the Warriors in Round 1 is who will replace the suspended Reece Walsh, who is out until Round 2 after he had the All Stars game counted as one of the games in his suspension. Channel Harris-Tavita is a leading candidate after he spent time at fullback in the trial win over the Storm. Harris-Tavita was solid, while Kodi Nikorima outshone Ash Taylor at five-eighth and is the leading contender to partner Shaun Johnson in the halves. Their second trial against the Titans was cancelled due to the floods in Queensland so coach Nathan Brown didn’t get a second look at the problem. The team will look a little different in Round 1 with Walsh and Matt Lodge both suspended. Bunty Afoa is tipped to move into the starting side to replace Lodge. Centre Jesse Arthars has joined the club on a one-season loan deal and could start alongside Rocco Berry in Round 1 after impressing against the Storm. Another who impressed against Melbourne, Bayley Sironen will likely start at lock while skipper Tohu Harris recovers from a knee injury that is expected to sideline him until mid-season.
Predicted Dragons team: 1. Tyrell Sloan 2. Cody Ramsey 3. Moses Suli 4. Zac Lomax 5. Mikaele Ravalawa 6. Talatau Amone 7. Ben Hunt 8. Francis Molo 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Aaron Woods 11. Jack Bird 12. Tariq Sims 13. Jack de Belin 14. Moses Mbye 15. Jaydn Su’A 16. George Burgess 17. Blake Lawrie
TEAM TIPS: It’s time for the Dragons’ next generation to make their mark. Tyrell Sloan and Cody Ramsey will battle for the No.1 jersey but we’re tipping coach Anthony Griffin to give Sloan the first shot and play Ramsey on the wing, despite the pair switching in the trials. New recruit Moses Suli will join Zac Lomax to form a lethal centre pairing, while the Feagai twins will keep the pressure on Mikaele Ravalawa throughout the season. However Max Feagai was forced off with an ankle injury in the first trial and is unlikely for Round 1. Talatau Amone is the frontrunner for five-eighth after some sensational form in the trials which will see new recruit Moses Mbye become the Red V’s supersub and Jayden Sullivan drop out of the 17. Ben Hunt returns from a broken arm that wiped him out of the final five games of last season. Griffin will add his recruits Aaron Woods, Jaydn Su’A, George Burgess and Francis Molo to the forward pack with plans to play Jack Bird as a second-rower or lock. Josh McGuire will be forced to watch on from the sidelines until Round 6 due to a lengthy ban.
Wests Tigers vs Melbourne Storm at CommBank Stadium, 7.35pm
Predicted Tigers team: 1. Daine Laurie 2. David Nofoaluma 3. Oliver Gildart 4. James Roberts 5. Ken Maumalo 6. Jackson Hastings 7. Luke Brooks 8. Stefano Utoikamanu 9. Jake Simpkin 10. Alex Twal 11. Kelma Tuilagi 12. Luciano Leilua 13. Tyrone Peachey 14. Luke Garner 15. Joe Ofahengaue 16. Thomas Mikaele 17. Zane Musgrove
TEAM TIPS: Gun fullback Daine Laurie is back in action after suffering a nasty ankle injury in Round 20. The outside backs are set for some changes this season with English recruit Oliver Gildart joining the club as well new signing Starford To’a also in the mix. Gildart will likely come right into centres, while veteran winger Ken Maumalo could be pushed into the centres too given other centre options Adam Doueihi and Tommy Talau are sidelined until mid-season with injuries. That would allow 21-year-old T’oa to play on the wing with Asu Kepaoa also sidelined until mid-season. Jackson Hastings starred in the second trial and will make his NRL return at five-eighth while Doueihi recovers from an ACL injury. The rumours about Luke Brooks joining the Knights are all but over and he will wear the No.7 jersey for the Tigers. Jacob Liddle will miss the first four-six weeks of the season after suffering a knee injury meaning Jake Simpkin will start, while James Tamou will miss Round 1 after taking the early guilty plea for a dangerous tackle. Luke Garner will return to the line-up after suffering injuries late last season, pairing Thomas Mikaele in the front row. The versatility of new recruit Tyrone Peachey won’t cost him a starting spot with the former Titan set to play at lock. Shawn Blore is out for the season with an ACL injury with his place on the bench set to be taken by Alex Seyfarth. Tigers rookie Brandon Webster-Mansfield suffered a hamstring injury against Manly, but was unlikely to play in Round 1 anyway.
Predicted Storm team: 1. Nick Meaney 2. George Jennings 3. Reimis Smith 4. Justin Olam 5. Xavier Coates 6. Jayden Nikorima 7. Jahrome Hughes 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Brandon Smith 10. Christian Welch 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Tom Eisenhuth 13. Kenneath Bromwich 14. Trent Loiero 15. Josh King 16. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 17. Tepai Moeroa
TEAM TIPS: The Storm have been boosted by the availability of Brandon Smith after the NRL allowed him to serve his one match ban during the All Stars game in a loophole that was also exploited by Latrell Mitchell and Reece Walsh. Smith is set to play No.13 in 2022 but will likely play hooker in Round 1 due to Harry Grant’s suspension. The Storm will be starting third-string playmaker Jayden Nikorima at No. 6 after Cooper Johns hurt his shoulder in their final trial. That will see Tyran Wishart slot in at No. 9 with the always reliable Tom Eisenhuth to come into the back row. Young talent Sua Fa’alogo is another option in the halves. Fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen is in doubt for the start of the season and was recently spotted in a moon boot as Craig Bellamy confirmed he is looking at other options for Round 1. New recruit Nick Meaney will come in for Papenhuyzen, while Bellamy flagged possibly playing Cameron Munster at fullback when he returns from suspension in Round 2. The Storm have several omissions for Round 1, including superstar five-eighth Munster and Chris Lewis who will all serve their one-match suspension for the infamous white powder incident during the off-season. Harry Grant is also suspended due to a crusher tackle in last season’s preliminary final. Tui Kamikamica has been stood down after being charged with assault. New signing Josh King is tipped to appear off the bench. Fellow new recruit Xavier Coates, who scored on debut against the Warriors in the trial, is expected to get first shot at replacing departed wingerJosh Addo-Carr buthe must overcome a head knock suffered in the second trial.
SUNDAY MARCH 13
Parramatta Eels vs Gold Coast Titans at CommBank Stadium, 4.05pm
Predicted Eels team: 1. Clint Gutherson 2. Sean Russell 3. Will Penisini 4. Waqa Blake 5. Bailey Simonsson 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Isaiah Papali’i 13. Nathan Brown 14. Ray Stone 15. Makahesi Makatoa 16. Oregon Kaufusi 17. Ryan Matterson
TEAM TIPS:Haze Dunster suffered a season-ending knee injury from a hip drop tackle, which saw Dragons player Tyrell Fuimaono suspended. He will likely be replaced by Sean Russell with Maika Sivo out until mid-season. Marata Niukore won’t appear in Round 1 due to suspension. New signing Bailey Simonsson will slot onto the wing. Coach Brad Arthur often started Shaun Lane and used Ryan Matterson as an injection of energy off the bench last season, and he will likely employ that tactic again. Ray Stone will play the utility role, while Makahesi Makatoa will come onto the bench in Niukore’s absence. Dylan Brown and Mitchell Moses will make up the halves pairing coming into the season on the back of dominant trial form and Nathan Brown will again play lock. Reed Mahoney is expected to be good to go for Round 1 after returning from a shoulder injury in the trials.
Predicted Titans team: 1. Jayden Campbell 2. Phillip Sami 3. Brian Kelly 4. Patrick Herbert 5. Corey Thompson 6. AJ Brimson 7. Toby Sexton 8. Isaac Liu 9. Erin Clark 10. Moeaki Fotuaika 11. Kevin Proctor 12. David Fifita 13. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui 14. Tanah Boyd 15. Jarrod Wallace 16. Sam Lisone 17. Beau Fermor
TEAM TIPS:David Fifita (rib cartilage) has been cleared of any serious damage from the All Stars clash and will play in Round 1. AJ Brimson has confirmed his switch to five-eighth to allow room for young gun Jayden Campbell to line up at fullback. Brimson will partner four-game rookie Toby Sexton in a new-look halves combination. Tanah Boyd looked impressive at hooker in the trial against the Broncos and that could mean he takes the No.14 jersey over new recruit Will Smith who has been used as a utility in the past at the Eels. Erin Clark will slot into hooker and by all reports Phillip Sami has been impressive at training and is a good chance at cementing his spot on the wing. New recruit Isaac Liu could force veteran prop Jarrod Wallace to be bumped to the bench.
North Queensland Cowboys vs Canterbury Bulldogs at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, 6.15pm
Predicted Cowboys team: 1. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Valentine Holmes 4. Peta Hiku 5. Murray Taulagi 6. Tom Dearden 7. Chad Townsend 8. Coen Hess 9. Reece Robson 10. Jordan McLean 11. Tom Gilbert 12. Heilum Luki 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Jake Granville 15. Reuben Cotter 16. Mitchell Dunn 17. Connelly Lemuele
TEAM TIPS: Star back-rower Jason Taumalolo missed his side’s final trial, but the Cowboys expect him to be fit for Round 1. “He has got a hamstring niggle,” Cowboys coach Todd Payten said. “If it was Round 1 he would be right to play. But given his importance to our team it is not worth the risk. But he will be right against the Bulldogs in a couple of weeks time.” Valentine Holmes will make the permanent switch to left centre to allow Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow to carve up at fullback. It serves as a reality check for Holmes, who joined the Cowboys on a bumper deal after a stint in the NFL. New recruit Peta Hiku will slot in at right centre, while Mr. Reliable, Kyle Feldt will sit on one wing and the Cowboys’ 2021 Player’s Player Murray Taulagi will line-up on the other. One of coach Todd Payten’s biggest decisions to make will be on his halves pairing. It’s expected big-money signing and premiership-winning $2 million halfback Chad Townsend will wear the No.7 jersey with Tom Dearden and Scott Drinkwater battling it out for the No.6. Todd Payten dropped the biggest hint yet that Dearden may get the nod with the former Broncos star starting the final trial match before the NRL season where he impressed in the No.6 jersey.
The Cowboys’ reigning Player of the Year, Coen Hess, will start up front after transitioning from an edge last season. Tom Gilbert and Heilum Luki are tipped to be the second row pair for Round 1. Connelly Lemuele impressed in the second row in the trial against the Rabbitohs and could find himself coming off the bench in the role in Round 1. Veteran Jake Granville will be North Queensland’s supersub, with Reuben Cotter, Mitchell Dunn and Ben Condon will be fighting for spots off the bench. Cotter was one of the Cowboys’ best last season before suffering a long-term foot injury and is pushing for a starting spot, which could see Payten do some reshuffling to accommodate the future star. Jeremiah Nanai should see plenty of games this year but may have to bide his time.
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Predicted Bulldogs team: 1. Matt Dufty 2. Josh Addo-Carr 3. Brent Naden 4. Aaron Schoupp 5. Jayden Okunbor 6. Matt Burton 7. Jake Averillo 8. Paul Vaughan 9. Jeremy Marshall-King 10. Luke Thompson 11. Jack Hetherington 12. Tevita Pangai Jr 13. Josh Jackson 14. Bailey Biondi-Odo 15. Corey Waddell 16. Ava Seumanufagai 17. Max King
TEAM TIPS:Matt Burton impressed in his side’s second trial and will wear the No.6 jersey but his halves partner is less known with Jake Averillo and Kyle Flanagan struggling in the trials. Brandon Wakeham shpowed plenty of spark, but is down the halves pecking order at this stage. Averillo is the frontrunner to partner Burton at this stage. New recruits Matt Dufty, Josh Addo-Carr, Brent Naden, Paul Vaughan and Tevita Pangai Jr all come into the 17. Wakeham and Bailey Biondi-Odo will push for the bench utility role. Raymond Fataila-Mariner is eyeing a Round 3 return from a long-term foot injury but given he hasn’t played since Round 2 last year. He’ll likely be eased back in off the bench when he does return, meaning Corey Waddell gets the nod. Jack Hetherington was impressive when he got a taste of the second row in the final rounds of last season and coach Trent Barrett has since confirmed he’ll likely start the season there. Workhorse prop Ava Seumanufagai bounced between the starting side and the bench last year but Vaughan’s addition will likely see him come off the bench in Round 1. Max King, Jackson Topine, Chris Patolo and Joe Stimson will battle for a spot on the bench but King’s ability to cover prop, lock and second row, on top of his experience, could edge him out as the winner. Aaron Schoupp underwent shoulder surgery during the off-season but will be right for Round 1, however second-rower Matt Doorey won’t be in the mix until later this season as he recovers from an ACL injury.