Friday night NRL kicks off with a clash between the Newcastle Knights and New Zealand Warriors. This will be the first time we get to see Kalyn Ponga in his new role at five eighth, and what better way for the Knights to unveil him than against a Warriors team that conceded the most points of any team last season.

Then, in the main event, the Penrith Panthers host the Brisbane Broncos, with the defending Premiers looking to kick off their title defence with a win. With two of their best moving on during the off-season, there will be opportunities for several Panther players to make their mark this season in DFS.

Draftstars has numerous contests, with the biggest being a $25,000 prize pool for the Panthers and Broncos match. There’s also a $15,000 prize pool for the Knights vs Warriors, and a $6,000 contest involving both Friday night matchups. Whatever your style, there’s a contest for you this Friday night, so let’s dive in and find some value selections.


Team News

The Warriors have made several changes in the off-season, with the likes of Euan Aitken, Reece Walsh, Eliesa Katoa, Jack Murchie, and Ben Murdoch-Masila moving on, whilst bringing in plenty of talent. The biggest signings include Dylan Walker, Marata Niukore, Mitchell Barnett, Luke Metcalf, and Te Maire Martin. With several recruits being named in round 1, there could be some juicy selections early this season.

The Knights have attempted to strengthen their spine, bringing in Jackson Hastings and Lachlan Miller, whilst pushing Ponga to five eighth. Forwards Adam Elliott and Jack Hetherington have been brought in to solidify their forward pack, with Elliott in particular growing as a DFS option last season.

For the Panthers, they lose Api Koroisau and Viliame Kikau, with Mitch Kenny getting the start at hooker and Luke Garner sliding into Kikau’s edge role. Minutes will be the questions for Kenny, whilst keeping youngster Zac Hosking out of his starting spot will be the biggest question for Garner. Other than that, for this year at least, the Panthers look as good as they have for the past 3 years, with their backs always being options for DFS, and Cleary and Yeo being elite every week.

Finally, the Broncos have made minor changes, with the biggest DFS question mark being who will play fullback moving forward. Selwyn Cobbo gets the 1 on his jersey for this week, unfortunately for him, he takes on a Panthers side that was the best defensive unit last season by some margin.

Betting Markets

New Zealand Warriors ($1.54) vs Newcastle Knights ($2.50)

Total Points Line – 43.5 points

Penrith Panthers ($1.20) vs Brisbane Broncos ($4.50)

Total Points Line – 40.5 points

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Match Overview

The Warriors vs Knights matchup should be a good early indicator as to where these teams stand, with the Knights currently listed as equal favourites for the wooden spoon with the bookies. With the Warriors playing at home, they’ll be expected to win this one rather comfortably, and if they don’t it could spell a long season ahead. With so much uncertainty surrounding both teams, I prefer to look towards the second game on the schedule between the Broncos and Panthers. For what it’s worth, I like the Warriors to win, but I get the feeling this one could be really scrappy and tough to watch.

In game 2, the Panthers are favoured heavily to beat the Broncos with margin, and I can’t say I disagree with the market. There’s a couple of cheap Panthers that I really like at the price, and it’s hard to argue with Cleary as the most expensive player in this slate. Despite the price tag, it’s hard not to stump up the money for Cleary, given his ability to score massively. As for the Broncos, they have two of the better DFS forwards in the NRL, and if I’ve got the money I’ll struggle not to fit at least one of Payne Haas and Patrick Carrigan into my squad each week.

Love It – Payne Haas - $20,210

Whilst it takes a lot of big men a while to get match fit during the season, Haas is built differently. In round 1 last year, Haas played 70 minutes in the middle, whilst making 45 tackles and 187 metres. The guy’s motor is world class, and I have no problem selecting him to lead my forward pack in this slate. Haas missed last year’s matchup with the Panthers, however in his most previous game against them, he made 43 tackles whilst running for 213 metres, 1 line break, 1 offload and 14 tackle breaks.

Love It – Brian To’o - $12,170

With the season ending for Taylan May, it’ll be interesting to see whether the Panthers move To’o back to the left-hand side of their attack. It shouldn’t matter too much, as you’d have to think the Panthers have spent a lot of time working on their right edge attack this season, with Viliame Kikau no longer on the left for the Premiers. To’o doesn’t need to score tries to score well in DFS, as he regularly punches out 200+ metre games, and with May out, To’o may have to take on an even bigger role this season.

Love It – Jackson Ford - $10,370

The big concern here is Ford’s minutes, however if he can secure 65+ minutes on an edge, he is way undervalued here. Ford had big wraps on him coming through the juniors at the Dragons, however he never really got a true go at a starting position. He has a big motor and all the weapons you love to see from an edge back rower, and if he can lock down this starting spot in the back row, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ford’s name in a lot of DFS teams moving forward. 

Hate It – Dylan Edwards - $17,730

Edwards emerged last season as an elite fullback, not only for DFS but in Rugby League in general. Winning the Clive Churchill medal in the 2022 decider, many are tipping Edwards to continue pushing on this season. Whilst I love watching Edwards play, I don’t know how much more he will improve this year. Edwards will make his metres like always in this game, but with Adam Reynolds being about as good as it gets at placing long kicks, Edwards will no doubt have his work cut out for him. Too expensive for me, and needs big attacking stats to justify his price here.

Hate It – Jackson Hastings - $20,430

Hastings has good upside in this game, however for this price I need a few more assurances than what I see from Hastings. The Newcastle number 7 will do almost all the general play kicking, giving him a solid base, but I’ve got to believe they will be pushing most of the attacking play through Kalyn Ponga on the left. For this price, I want guaranteed production, and I just don’t trust that Hastings can provide that in his first outing for a poor Knights team.

Who Knows – Mitch Kenny - $9,000

Bottom dollar for a starting member of the Panthers’ spine? It’s hard to say no, but what sort of minutes and production are we likely to see from Kenny? In the final 3 games of last season when Kenny was starting and Koroisau was coming off the bench, Kenny was playing roughly 15-20 minutes at hooker, before subbing on later in the game to play as a middle forward. He was getting between 35-45 minutes per game, meaning he was a bit of a non-factor in DFS. Whilst he’s more likely to get extended minutes with Api gone, I still don’t see him getting the minutes to make him overly relevant. Given he’s a bottom dollar member of the Panthers this week, and named to start, he will be popular, but don’t expect the world.

Draftstars Suggested Lineup



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