After an off-season that had more than its fair share of twists and turns, and still apparently has a few more to give after Peni Terepo got stood down by the Eels after a pissed up flight over the Tasman, we finally have some RUGBY LEAGUE to sink our fangs in to!
So, time to blow the whistle and get this preview underway!
- All times are local.
Thursday- Season Opener
Storm vs The Broncs @ AAMI Park (7:50 AEDT)
Billy Slater may have retired, but he’ll always be at Melbourne Park in spirit, after the Storm renamed the Northern Stand in honour of his 16 seasons in the southern capital, and when you show the average Melbournian a photo of this rugby league legend, they’ll simply ask, “Who?”
The Victorian Government should’ve chosen the better option and just built a statue of Billy outside the stadium, so the Storm could pulls it out and play it at fullback during home games, and thus never have to replace him.
Meanwhile at Red Hill, Wayne Bennett finally got himself sacked in December after months of trying, and in his place comes ex-Souths coach Anthony Seibold in what turned into a coaching swap, so expect the Broncos to come out at full pelt.
I’m also a bit disappointed that the opening game of the season isn’t the Storm facing the Sharks, so that Cameron Smith and Paul Gallen can have a punch-up as they argue over whose team rorted the salary cap more to win their premiership(s).
Knights vs Sharks @ McDonald Jones Stadium 6pm AEDT
There’s only one equation for the Knights that can bring them back to the edge of the finals: P-Squared.
Mitchell Pearce and the still-green Kalyn Ponga (Who’s been shifted from full back to the 5/8 spot) are the halves combination that will be the difference between improvement or more pain for the Novocastrians, and by the nature of their halves positions could feature heavily in Dally M calculations, with Ponga’s ability even attracting comment from the ruler of Queensland, King Wally Lewis, who described him as “A freak, an absolute freak”
It’s quite fitting that the Hunter is the beating heart of Australia’s thoroughbred breeding industry, because Ponga is the very definition of a blue-blood colt (Or should that be a Maroon blood colt).
Meanwhile in the Shire it was another bloody off-season, as I’ve previously written about, with Cronulla somehow not losing the 2016 premiership after they magically got under the cap come finals time, Shane Flanagan was culled after breaching his 2014 suspension, and they copped yet another heavy fine and a reduced salary cap, which meant they couldn’t sign James Segeyaro.
Into the gun as coach is former 300-game journeyman (And former Sharks player) John Morris, and with him as a major signing is the New Zealander from New Zealand, the deadset star Shaun Johnson, which means Matt Moylan is back at fullback.
The Sharks as a team have this strange trait of playing well despite the scummy activity of their club, so they’ll probably beat the Knights again, like they did in that trial in Maitland a few short weeks ago.
Fun fact: Paul Gallen is just two losses away from his 166th loss as a player, which would tie Scotty Prince for the most by a player in NRL history.
Easts vs Souths @ The SCG (7:55pm AEDT)
The Chooks and the Rabbits at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
The very mention of that sentence would bring back thoughts of the rivalry of old, complete with the threat of a playing surface that wouldn’t meet modern OH&S standards.
In fact, the last time that the oldest rivals in league faced each other on the SCG was all the way back in Round 20 of 1993, when Souths won 38-20.
Souths fans will experience the wonder of Wayne Bennett at his grumpy best, while the Roosters have added to their collection of former Rabbits (Luke Keary winning the Churchill Medal wasn’t enough), with Angus Crichton coming off the bench for the tri-colours.
Warriors vs Bulldogs @ Mt Smart Stadium (3pm AEDT)
If Canterbury can get this sort of commitment from their players in 2019, then they may just have a chance of overcoming their utter disaster of an off-season.
Tigers vs Sea Eagles @ Leichhardt (5:30pm AEDT)
Souths premiership coach Michael Maguire is on the hot seat at Wests now that Ivan Cleary has fled into the mountains, while Des Hasler is back at his beloved Manly like the prodigal son, after his stint at the Dogs imploded in 2017.
And he’s made an immediate impact, by forcing every Eagles player to buy an iPad, instead of the club paying for it.
I remember when we got iPads in Year 11… GTA 3 Anniversary was good fun.
With Tommy Turbo set to miss until Round 3 for the Sea Eagles, Wests are also buoyed by the news that former New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell has been appointed as Chair of the Board.
Stuff the 2 points, time to crack open an undeclared bottle of wine and celebrate!
Cowboys vs Dragons @ 1300SMILES Stadium (6:35pm AEST)
The big news is that Dragons lock Jack de Belin has withdrawn his push to gain a temporary injunction to play, despite a Federal Court judge ruling Todd Greenberg had no right to stand him down as the no-fault policy was not in effect.
Meanwhile, JT is gone (The far better one than me), and life is not the same in Bob Katter Country.
Ben Barba was set to be the Cowboys No.1, but come Australia Day he showed what a low gutted flog he is and was duly deregistered (The less said the better), meaning Jordan Kahu will play at fullback, new skipper Michael Morgan and Te Maire Martin start in the halves, while big signing Josh McGuire will start life up north on the bench.
The Dragons almost beat Souths in the final last year, and they have a new halfback in Corey Norman from Parramatta to partner Ben Hunt, meaning Gareth Widdop now starts the season at fullback where has played sparingly for England.
That attack looks like it should yet again be right in finals contention, after the Red V topped the ladder up to Round 11 last season before losing steam.
It’s been a tough summer in flood-ravaged Townsville, and the Cowboys can kick off their final season at the old Dairy Farmers Stadium with a win.
Panthers vs Eels @ Panthers Stadium (4:05pm AEDT)
The Western Sydney derby kicks off the season for the Mountain Men and the 2018 wooden spooners Parra, as Nathan and Ivan Cleary finally get to have some father-son activities on a Sunday afternoon.
Unfortunately, both clubs have had players on the back pages of the rags for the wrong reasons.
The Panthers have been caught up in the ugly sex tape scandal which has rubbed out Tyrone May and forced club great Mark ‘MG’ Geyer to lawyer up due to some pretty foul stuff about his daughter, meanwhile Laurie Daley had a go at the club’s culture, and then fellow league great Steve Mortimer submitted his entry for “Old People Say The Darndest Things”
Meanwhile, Eels prop Peni Terepo got pissed on a flight to Auckland last weekend and started abusing the Air New Zealand attendants, and was escorted off the plane and later stood down by the Eels for not telling the club.
Tonga to New Zealand is nothing, have you ever flown Perth to Sydney and back? You’ve got to be pissed to endure the pain.
In another bad blow for the Panthers, Gus Gould departed Twitter after copping a barrage of abuse from fans about his criticism of NRL Supercoach and the various sex tapes involving the Panthers.
It just isn’t the same without you, Gus.
Anyway, is the game even on? If it is, the Panthers should win.
Titans vs Raiders @Cbus Super Stadium (5:10pm AEST)
This match is a perfect fit for a dead timeslot like Sunday Evening.
The Titans have recruited Tyrone Peachey from the Panthers and Ryley Jacks from the Storm, and a player familiar to Raiders fans, Shannon Boyd.
For the Raiders, they also lost Blake Austin, who’s ventured off to sunny England to play for Warrington in the Super League.
The Raiders have finished 10th in each of the past 2 seasons, and as always Ricky Stewart seems the master of consistently losing close games, which derailed their season last year, despite managing to end it by beating the Roosters and Rabbits in the last 2 games and finishing with a positive For/Against.
They met in Round 1 last year (In this same time slot too) and despite the Raiders leading 18-0 after 10 minutes, the Titans came back and stunned them 30-28 thanks to Konrad Hurrell’s converted try inside the last 2 minutes.
Apparently there’s a bit of rain around for the Coast this weekend, so this should be one to forget.
I DID SAY IT WAS UNHELPFUL!