The Broncos and Dragons will kick off the 2018 NRL season in a Thursday night thriller at Jubilee Oval. New Dragons recruit Ben Hunt hasn’t had to wait long to take on his former club and will be hoping he can bring about a positive change in fortune for the Red V against the Broncos. The pressure will be on youngster Kodi Nikorima to fill the boots left by Hunt, and help Anthony Milford direct the Broncos side around the park.
FormSt George Illawarra endured an average preseason with a grinding 24-18 win over Hull FC before going down 22-18 in the Charity Shield in Mudgee in which they were very poor, particularly with their fringe defence. Brisbane went undefeated across their three pre-season games when an understrength team defeated the Central Coast Capras 16-6, a strong side defeated the Gold Coast 38-10 and then same defeated the PNG Hunters 26-12. James Roberts, Jonus Pearson and Corey Oates all bagged two tries across the trials.
Key MatchupBen Hunt v Kodi Nikorima: Ben Hunt will make his regular season NRL debut for the Dragons, and as fate would have it, he will be first-up against his former club. The pressure will be on Hunt from the get-go after signing a lucrative contract, and he will also have the added responsibility of directing the team around the park, allowing halves partner Gareth Widdop to focus on his natural running game. Hunt played 18 matches for the Broncos in 2017 and had 14 try-assists. He’ll be looking to hit the ground running here. Meanwhile, Kodi Nikorima has been given the task of replacing Hunt in the Broncos No.7 jersey, but will most likely take a back seat to Anthony Milford. Nikorima was named in the Broncos No.7 on 12 occasions last year and has six try-assists. He’s definitely an exciting talent, but The Wolf has doubts whether Milford and Nikorima can work together in the halves, with both players possessing the same strength of running the ball. Hunt looks to have the edge in this match-up.
Stats That Matter– Brisbane have won 12 of their last 13 against St George Illawarra dating back to 2010. – St George Illawarra’s only win over that run though was a 12-10 win at Kogarah with the Saints winning the only two all-time matches played between the teams at the venue. – None of the last five matches between the teams have topped 38 points with the Dragons scoring just six tries in those clashes. – The Dragons have won 14 of their last 17 at Kogarah, going 12-5 ATS. – Over the last three seasons the Saints are 16-4 at home when shorter than $2.00 for a POT of 22%, the best in the NRL. – Over the last three seasons, the Saints are 29-12 under in night matches, the top under in the NRL. – Brisbane are just 10-8 when $2.00 or shorter interstate. – Brisbane have won just 4 of their last 10 interstate. – The Broncos are 13-5 ATS with a 15-3 under record interstate in the first four rounds of the season dating back to 2008.
Final ThoughtsThere’s no denying the Dragons poor record against the Broncos, but this Dragons’ side (at least on paper) looks like one of the strongest they’ve put together in recent seasons. The signings of Ben Hunt and James Graham cannot be understated, with either player capable of being the signing of the season. The Wolf has concerns that some of the Broncos could be underdone for this clash which is sure to be a physical encounter. Andrew McCullough, Darius Boyd and Anthony Milford are all coming back from injuries, and are key ingredients of the Broncos’ spine. None of the last five matches between the teams have topped 38 points, giving the unders a strong push. The resurgent Dragons should be too strong in front of their home fans in a low-scoring encounter.
How It’s Shaping UpSt George Illawarra by 2
Best Bet Best: Under 39.5 ($1.88)
Other Recommended Bets Value: St George Illawarra 1-12 ($3.15) First Tryscorer: Jason Nightingale ($13)