Cowboys set for top spot
Ian Millward previews the 2013 NRL season as well as the feature games in round one.
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The NRL season gets under way this week and the two sides I expect to be fighting it out for top spot at the end of the season are South Sydney and North Queensland Cowboys.
In terms of the Cowboys it's a case of now or never. They have the best half-back in the world in Johnathan Thurston, two of the best front-rowers and an array of amazing talented back-row forwards.
Throw in the magic of Matt Bowen and you have to see North Queensland enjoying a fantastic year.
- 1pt South Sydney to finish top of NRL in Regular Season at 8/1 (Ladbrokes, Paddy Power) - have the half-back combination to have a real say this year
- 1pt North Queensland to finish top of NRL in Regular Season at 14/1 (BetVictor) - Johnathan Thurston can help the Cowboys fight it out for top spot
- 2pts Parramatta Eels to finish bottom at 4/1 (William Hill) - the Eels' squad just doesn't impress and they're in for a rough ride
- 1pt Wests Tigers to finish bottom at 14/1 (Ladbrokes) - this is a big price as the Wests might struggle for depth as the season goes on
- 1pt Greg Inglis to win Daily M medal at 8/1 (Paddy Power) - South Sydney's star can take centre stage
- 1pt e.w Greg Inglis to be top tryscorer at 25/1 (Paddy Power 1/4 1,2,3) - this is a huge price considering he looks a great bet to be in the top three
South Sydney have similar strength. They can call on arguably the best player in the world in Greg Inglis at full-back. Throw in two very good halves in John Sutton and Adam Reynolds, a New Zealand test hooker in Isaac Luke and you have a very solid side.
They were unlucky to lose their semi-final against Canterbury last year and in Australia they say you need two world class or representative half backs to win the NRL. I believe both the Rabbitohs and Cowboys fit the bill.
My top eight sees the Souths and Cowboys followed by Melbourne, Canterbury, the Roosters, Newcastle, Manly and Brisbane.
Expect the Knights to show enormous improvement in their second season under Wayne Bennett. He has added real quality to the forwards there this year and they'll make the eight.
So will a Roosters side who were in the bottom three last year. They have been the biggest buyers in the game bringing in stand-off James Maloney from the Warriors, Michael Jennings, a State of Origin centre with real speed, Luke O'Donnell from Huddersfield and a certain Sonny Bill Williams.
I really like their coach Trent Robinson and I expect the Roosters to play in a similar style to his Catalan Dragons side last year.
The only other team who could force their way into the eight is the Cronulla Sharks who have brought in a lot of experienced players.
At the other end of the table I feel the Wests Tigers and Paramatta Eels could be fighting it out to avoid the wooden spoon.
Both squads look to lack a little quality to me and they could be struggling for depth as the season progresses.
2013 promises to be a very special year in the NRL and Greg Inglis is the player I expect to take centre stage. Back him to win the Daily M player of the year accolade - as well as finishing the year as the top try scorer in the competition.
Here are my thoughts on the opening games:
Roosters v South Sydney
This game is a sell out already and will see a clash between the power of the forwards of the Souths and the flair of the Roosters. I'm with South Sydney as I feel they're a little more hardened going into the game and I expect them to play very much in the Wigan/Melbourne mould you'd expect of a Michael Maguire side.
Canterbury v Cowboys
I really fancy North Queensland here. Johnathan Thurston is outstanding and Canterbury have two of last year's main front rowers out - Sam Kasiano and James Graham - and mercurial full-back Ben Barba, who scored 45 per cent of their tries and also won the NRL player of the year, is also out. The Cowboys can really jump out of the blocks at this neutral venue and I expect them to win well.
Dragons v Melbourne
Melbourne can win this one. St George have injury doubts and are still trying to bed in a new half-back combination. Melbourne really hardened for this game after World Club Challenge victory over Leeds. Historically St George don't have good results against the Storm who can win and cover.