By Jeff Wall


The first round of the 2006 NRL premiership has thrown up a new way to make a
winning start to the season – and it might even provide justification for the
pre-season coach-swapping saga.

Three of the four clubs that have punted their coaches a season in advance
scored wins in round one – and two of the wins were upset victories. And the
fourth coach who has been shown the door in advance was beaten by the coach he
will replace – and who will replace him – in 2007.

The wins by the Penrith Panthers against the Bulldogs, and the Canberra Raiders
against the Manly Sea Eagles, will provide plenty of satisfaction for their
outgoing coaches John Lang and Matthew Elliott. And even the losing Parramatta
Eels coach, Brian Smith, will have been consoled in defeat by the impressive
performance of the team he will coach next year, the Newcastle Knights.

So perhaps the way to get off to a good start is to fire the coach a year in
advance?

Round One also added another coach’s name to the list of those who are going to
be under pressure in 2006 – apart from those already on the move in 2007.
The worst performing team of the first round was the Brisbane Broncos. They
were just plain awful when the Cowboys put them to the sword in their
first ever win against the Broncos in Brisbane.

The open line programs yesterday, and the Brisbane media
today, have put the focus on the once “untouchable” among NRL coaches – the
Broncos’ Wayne Bennett.

A readers poll in today’s first-ever “compact” edition of the Courier-Mail asked the question, “Should Wayne Bennett go if the Broncos don’t make
the top four this season?” and returned a two-to-one answer in the affirmative.
And that’s in Brisbane!

If they keep on playing the way they played yesterday, the Broncos won’t even
make the top eight.

I thought the standout teams of the first round were last year’s grand
finalists. The premiers, the Tigers, looked to have lost none of their 2005
sparkle when they downed the Dragons, and the runners-up, the Cowboys were just
awesome in despatching the Broncos.

And if Andrew Johns can hold his battered frame together, the Knights will be
“thereabouts” come finals time.

A great start to the season, and if you were like me and managed to get four
out of seven in your tipping competition you have probably done very well. It
is going to be another tough season for picking winners – maybe even tougher
than last year, if that is possible.

Peter Fray

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