Newcastle Knights v Newtown Jets McDonald Jones Stadium
Friday 15 March, 3.45pm
It's the perfect way to kick off the 2019 Canterbury Cup NSW season with Grand Finalists the Newtown Jets taking on the Newcastle Knights in the opening game of the year.
The Knights have endured a horror past two seasons but have an ideal opportunity to kick start their season in fitting style against a Jets outfit looking to put their heartbreaking loss in the decider behind them.
Tautau Moga headlines the Knights line-up in his first game back from an ACL injury, while young gun Phoenix Crossland gets to prove his worth after a strong pre-season for the Novastrians.
The Jets will be with a new-look spine in the absence of Kyle Flanagan and Blayke with Braydon Trindall and Billy Magoulias taking their place in the No.7 and No.9 jerseys respectively.
Expect a physical encounter as both teams look to flex their muscles in a match that promises plenty of attacking flair.
Soward says: Newcastle have picked up some quality players such as Zac Woolford who was Man of the Match in the Grand Final last year but they come up against a really quality side in the Newtown Jets. They're one of my favourite teams to watch with their young talent. Will Kennedy has speed to burn and with Greg Eastwood in the (forward)-pack I think they'll be too strong. Jets by 10.
Mounties v St George Illawarra Dragons
Aubrey Keech Reserve
Friday 15 March, 6.00pm
The Mounties jumped out of the blocks at the start of 2018 but they struggled to maintain their consistency although can take confidence from their finish with an exit in the second week of the finals.
They host a Dragons outfit who boast one of the most lethal spines in the competition and will be lead by the ever-reliable Darren Nicholls in 2019.
Nicholls and Jai Field have formed a lethal partnership in recent years and are bound to orchestrate their attack with significant success this season, but will rely heavily on their forward pack to give them momentum through the middle-third.
The Mounties, however, have plenty of attacking flair of their own through the likes of Brad Abbey, Brendan O'Hagan and new signing Reubenn Rennie.
Both teams are able to score points on either side of the field so another high-scoring affair looms in the second game of the 2019 Canterbury Cup NSW season.
Soward says: The Mounties fell in a heap once they lost Craig Garvey but they still have some quality players like Ata Hingano and Brad Abbey who were unlucky to miss out in the NRL squad. They can show their quality by causing an upset but I think I've underrated this Dragons side. With Triston Sailor, Nicholls, Field and Reece Robson they'll be too strong. Dragons by 12.
Warriors vs Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Mt Smart Stadium
Saturday 16 March 2.45pm (12.45pm AEDT) Broadcast live on FOX League
Plenty of focus surrounded the halves pairing of the Warriors in their NRL squad following the departure of Shaun Johnson and it's Adam Keighran who will get first crack when he makes his debut this weekend.
That leaves the Canterbury Cup NSW squad with a more than handy halfback in Chanel Harris-Tavita who will partner the ever-green Hayze Perham in a lethal halves combination.
Expect prop Tevita Satae to lead the way after he enjoyed a barnstorming 2018 campaign and will match the stature of the Bulldogs forward-pack who boast some impressive talents of their own.
Viable utility option Bronson Garlick has earned a place in the back-row after a strong pre-season while Rhyse Martin will undoubtedly make a significant impact after a stellar season last year.
Soward says: Chanel Harris-Tavita was unlucky to miss out but Adam Keighran is a fantastic player and he showed his quality last year at Penrith. They also have Karl Lawton and he will cause the Bulldogs pack some trouble when he gets out of dummy-half. It's a tough ask for the Bulldogs to go over there, they still have some quality players but I think the Warriors will get the job done at home.
Western Suburbs Magpies v Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles
Saturday 16 March, 3.15pm
The Magpies will be looking to avenge their loss in the first week of the finals in 2018 and will be looking to capitlise on the home ground advantage when they take on the Blacktown Workers Sea Eagle at home.
The may welcome the inclusion of Josh Reynolds into the squad after he was named 18th man for the Tigers clash again Manly, and will be a valuable addition to the side alongside Tyson Gamble in the halves.
The Blacktown Workers may rue the loss of Tom Amone and will also be without Toafofoa Sipley – two of their most influential players throughout the 2018 season.
Expect the Magpies to be defiant in defence under Brett Hodgson while the Sea Eagles will pose as a constant threat with the likes of Cade Cust and Zach Dockar-Clay.
Soward says: You look at the players for Blacktown Workers and Cade Cust and Zach Dockar-Clay are two players to keep your eye – they're both classy players, but if Josh Reynolds happens to play for Wests I think they'll be too strong with the likes of Tyson Gamble.
South Sydney Rabbitohs v North Sydney Bears
Metricon High Performance Centre
Sunday 17 March, 1.10pm
Broadcast live on Channel Nine and 9Now
South Sydney play their first Canterbury Cup NSW match since their last appearance in the competition as the Rabbitohs in 2006 and should enjoy plenty of support at their spiritual home at the Metricon High Performance Centre, Redfern Oval.
They will face their former feeder club, the North Sydney Bears, who have now aligned themselves with the Rabbitohs’ fiercest rivals, the Sydney Roosters. The Bears have named Lachlan Lam, the son of former Sydney Roosters great Adrian Lam, in the halves. He brings solid form with him after playing a starring role in the Roosters’ recent trial loss to Manly.
The Bears have an impressive forward pack with Sitilu Tupouniua and Poasa Faamausili, while the Rabbitohs pack will be lead by Tom Amone – a member of the 2018 Team of the Year.
Soward says: For North Sydney they have a strong forward pack and crafty halves with Lachlan Lam and Brock Lamb, Lachlan is behind Cooper Cronk but he showed what he can do by nearly earning his place in the Roosters World Club Challenge squad.
Penrith Panthers v Wentworthville Magpies
Sunday 17 March, 1.50pm
Penrith will be out to hit the ground running after their heartbreaking exit from the competition last season. They were one of the dominant forces sweeping into the finals on the back of 13 straight wins but bowed out in a narrow loss to the Newtown Jets in the preliminary final.
The Panthers have fielded a strong line-up with NRL players Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, Tyrone Phillips and Kaide Ellis all named. The Magpies unearth new recruits Joshua Bergamin (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs) and Charlton Schaafhausen (Newtown Jets) .
The Magpies will be desperate for success under new coach Rip Taylor and have the perfect chance to test their worth against one of the most successful clubs in recent years.
Soward says: I've picked the Wentworthville Magpies to come up with the wooden spoon purely because their NRL squad doesn't have much depth so they're struggling to get some quality players although they have Josh Bergamin and Dylan Izzard are good players. For me, however, the Panthers with the likes of Caleb Aekins and Kaide Ellis should win comfortably. Panthers by 16.