NRL Season Preview

In all my years of sport madness, which is all my years now that I think about it, I cannot remember a season in any code which has started as evenly as the 2012 NRL season is about to. If I were John Grant I’d be claiming it as the work of the Commission.

It is quite remarkable.

You can make an argument for about ten of the teams, and then there might be a bolter, as each year there seems to be. With TattsBet, Wests  remain favourites in premiership bettingin a market where there is little between the top six teams, and five clubs share the longest price – Canberra , The Sharks , The Titans , Penrith  and The Roosters .

Mathematician and punter and sports nut, Dr. Marvin Vaas, who spends his life solving the simultaneous equations which maximise his chances to secure some of the folding stuff from the Trans-Australian Bank, said on the phone to me from his university desk yesterday, “This NRL caper: it’s just crazy. I’ve never seen a market so compressed. You might get such a small spread in a five horse-field in a two-year old maiden at Morphettville, but there’s sixteen clubs in this. You might as well try to pick the winner of the US Masters.”

He rang me back later.

“By the way,” he said. “Did I tell you I was going to the US Masters this year. Just bought the tickets.”

But not only is the NRL season looking tremendously even, the stories in it are many and varied already, and it’s still February.

The season kicks off on the first day of Autumn with a fixture which I suspect didn’t fall out of the computer’s random draw-generator program: The Knights v The Dragons. This was pencilled in as a mandatory season opener before the ink was dry on Wayne Bennett’s signature. And what a huge TV audience it will have. The Knights are on the third line of Premiership betting .

Along with the Warriors , who will be good at home as always, and will be better for the trip of 2011. The Broncos  are fancied as well, the TattsBet price-minders being a little wary after almost copping it in the neck from the thousands of loyal punters who took the $21.00 last season. Like Collingwood in the AFL, the Broncos always have support and the absence of Darren Lockyer won’t put too many Queenslanders off this year either.

Storm  keep plugging away quietly. Superbly coached, they are a side where the plodders plod without making too many mistakes, and the magicians bring out their tricks from time to time. They'llgive a good show, but not second favourites for me.

The reigning premiers, Manly , have lost their coach, and have drifted in the market; (last year’s runners-up also have a new coach in a weird coincidence.) The Dogs , who have Des Hasler, are tipped to improve. You can never write off St George .

Souths  add romance and you can have a big price there. You might be better off buying a Mills and Boon or two. And of the long-shots, it was this time last year that we were singing the praises of the Raiders  who were going to build on their 2010 run to the prelim. A few off-field issues might have surfaced there, but they should have been sorted out. They can do a bit of damage.

The NRL was blessed with a season of terrific matches in 2011. Already it seems things will take another step in 2012.

The level of interest is enormous. And, like Dr Vaas, punters everywhere are making their cases, and licking their chops.

I’m starting my portfolio with a little ticket on the team I haven’t mentioned: The Cowboys . Johnathon Thurston is a star. They are the value.

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