One more sleep until the 2014 NRL season kicks off. How does your team shape up?
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Sydney Roosters – Thursday
The 104 year old rivalry continues as the reigning premiers begin their title defence. Well into the twilight years of his career, Lote Tuqiri makes his debut for Souths. World Club Champions, the Roosters, have named 16 of the 17 players who starred in last years decider with Dylan Napa replacing the retired Luke O’Donnell.
Canterbury Bulldogs vs Brisbane Broncos – Friday
Ben Barba debuts at number one for the Broncos, returning to his former home at ANZ Stadium with Bulldogs fans sure to let him know about it. New skipper Corey Parker shifts from lock to prop. Sam Perrett will fill the vacant spot left by Barba for the Bulldogs as fullback.
Penrith Panthers Vs Newcastle Knights – Saturday
A new look Penrith side will start their season on the right note, with new halves pairing of Peter Wallace and Jamie Soward leading the boys around the park. Kurt Gidley takes on the role of hooker while Michael Dobson replaces the injured Jared Mullen for the Knights. Newcastle have not lost against Penrith since 2010.
Manly Warringah Sea-Eagles vs Melbourne Storm – Saturday
Rugby league’s modern day rivalry continues with runners up Manly looking to go one better than last year. Melbourne take to the fortress with new recruit Ben Roberts replacing injured halfback Cooper Cronk. Always an explosive contest, the Storm will look to prove their time at the top is not drawing to a close after dropping out of the finals following two consecutive losses.
North Queensland Cowboys vs Canberra Raiders – Saturday
The Cowboys will want to translate their form after winning the inaugural Auckland Nines competition. Both sides are armed with new coaches; the rookie in Paul Green for the Cowboys while Canberra’s favourite son Ricky Stuart returns to coach the green machine.
St George-Illawarra Dragons vs West Tigers – Sunday
Both coaches face pressure to deliver after failing to make finals football for two consecutive years after success under Wayne Bennett and Tim Sheens. Josh Dugan is missing for the Dragons and West Tigers play their first match post-Benji Marshall.
Parramatta Eels vs New Zealand Warriors – Sunday
Wanting to avoid a third consecutive wooden spoon, Parramatta have their third coach in as many years with Brad Arthur taking over Ricky Stuart. Will Hopoate makes his debut for Parramatta after a two-year mission saw him absent for two seasons. They face a tough opening round against the Warriors who will unleash Sam Tomkins into the NRL after an impressive showing at the Nines.
Cronulla Sharks vs Gold Coast Titans – Monday
Similar to last year, Cronulla kick off their season on the back of another controversial season build up, with coach Shane Flanagan suspended. Todd Carney has been named in the side despite a hamstring injury suffered in the Nines with Daniel Holdsworth replacing injured Jeff Robson. – Luke Mahoney
Top photo by Noah La’ulu.