The 2022 NRL season is upon us, and we kick off with a blockbuster matchup between the Penrith Panthers and the Manly Sea Eagles. The Panthers are the reigning premiers, and will play host at BlueBet Stadium in Penrith. Manly were also a strong team in 2021, finishing 4th after losing their first 4 games. Despite the wet weather in Sydney, Thursday is forecast to be dry at this stage.   


Draftstars has a massive $60,000 contest with $5910 to first place! There are also several other contests including the Mini, Micro, and the High Roller. Don’t forget that there has been a big change to player positions and lineups this year, with only 3 positions and 7 players in each lineup, including a FLEX spot (formerly 6 positions and 9 per lineup). You can read more about that in our article summarising the changes here.




Panthers $1.90 v Sea Eagles $1.90

Total: 40.5


Team News


Penrith have a number of changes from their premiership team, headlined by star halfback Nathan Cleary who will miss the first couple of games after off-season shoulder surgery. Matt Burton, Brent Naden and Tevita Pangai Jnr have all gone to the Bulldogs, and Kurt Capewell to the Broncos. The new additions are Izack Tago at centre, Sean O’Sullivan at halfback, with Liam Martin cementing his starting spot in the second row. It’s still a strong team, but the depth will be tested a lot more this season.


There hasn’t been much change at Manly, with Moses Suli heading to the Dragons. Josh Schuster and Dylan Walker are both injured, and Josh Aloiai is suspended. Ethan Bullemore has arrived from the Broncos and will start in the second row, and young gun Tolutau Koula will start on the bench as a utility. He could play a roaming lock role like Walker did in 2021, or just be there as cover for an injury in the backs.


Fantasy Overview


Given the absence of Cleary and new-look backline, the Panthers seem vulnerable to start the season. While it won’t last, the odds suggest that the Eagles have a great opportunity to steal an away win to start the season. It’s still mighty close and I am by no means writing the Panthers off. How they deal with a rampaging Tommy Turbo will be crucial, as he was utterly unstoppable at times last year.


Value Selections


Love It- Stephen Crichton $11,480


Crichton played all over the field in 2021, being used at fullback, on the wing and at right centre as required. He should now settle back into his preferred spot at left centre, and is ready to explode at the tender age of 21. While Manly is strong defensively and probably most solid looking on the right edge, I still expect a lot of the Panthers play to come to the left with Jahrome Luai as the established half and trying to get the ball to Crichton and To’o. It’s likely that Crichton will also get the bonus of kicking goals while Cleary is out.


Love It- Liam Martin $12,990


The departure of Kurt Capewell to the Broncos secures a starting spot for Origin rep Martin. Turning 25 this year, there is no reason he won’t take the role and go to a new level in fantasy. Scott Sorensen is likely to run some sort of rotation with Kikau and Martin as neither generally plays 80 minutes, but ~70 minutes is sufficient at this generous price. Martin plays on the right, where he can run at Foran and Bullemor as a new defensive combination which may be able to be exploited.


Love It- Ethan Bullemor $11,730


Bullemor made the move from the Broncos where he was used a low minute (~30) middle forward, and will start the season filling in for Josh Schuster as the left-edge second rower. His only game in this position came in 2020 when he played 69 minutes for 47 points. I think it’s reasonable to expect ~70 minutes and 40+ points in this one, making him great value. I like Manlys chances on the left side of the field, where a defensive edge of O’Sullivan, Tago and Staines is completely new and probably outgunned. Bullemor could get some bonus attacking stats from that alone, not to mention the fact he is big and fast and could become an excellent player in his own right.


Hate It- Brian To’o $17,920


Along with Tom Trbojevic, To’o was one of the best breakout players in 2021, taking his average from 42 to 58. That is absurd for a winger, but his 6 tackle breaks and 245 run metres per game are almost unheard of. With the Panthers looking a little weaker, especially without Cleary to start the season, I think there could be a little regression coming for To’o. Add to that the fact that he looked a little banged up in the preseason trial games, and I’m thinking that average might wander back down towards 50 this season. In a tough matchup to start the season, I think he’s too expensive.


Hate It- Haumole Olakau’atu $15,660


With some good value in the FWDs, we may have to rule out some of the premium options to help narrow down our player pools. Haumole seems like the obvious choice, because he hurt his elbow less than two weeks ago in a pre-season game and was potentially going to miss the start of the season. There isn’t much news about whether he is in any doubt, but I don’t think he’ll be at his very best. He will also be running at the Panthers more established left edge, so may struggle to accumulate too many attacking stats.


Who Knows- Izack Tago $11,320


The young centre/backrower only played off the bench last season, so it’s hard to know what to expect in his starting debut as the right centre. He’s undoubtedly talented, but I do expect the Panthers to go left far more often as the right side is so new and probably less talented. It might be best to wait and see how he goes before investing in him down the line when Cleary returns on his side of the field, but there is a possibility that he ends up being a nice alternative to a popular Crichton.

Always remember to gamble responsibly. When the fun stops, stop. If gambling is having a negative impact on your life, seek support at Gambling Help Online.  18+ only.