It has been a long summer away from the field, but now all the hard pre-season work pays off. The NRL 2017 season will hit full pace from tonight, when the Premiers the Cronulla Sharks hosting the Brisbane Broncos in Round One, to open a weekend full of rugby league action.
NRL 2017 Season Starts This Weekend
After their maiden premiership, Cronulla come into the opening round supremely confident. Aside from the Auckland Nines and some pre-season trial games, the Shane Flanagan side will be looking for a good start. With the everlasting Paul Gallen still in good health, he will look to lead the side who have several new men to make their debut. Gallen told gathered media;
“It’s all about winning games now, that’s all we have to do.”
Moving away from the Ben Barba saga, his positional replacement is Gerard Beale. While nothing will replace the huge wealth of experience barba held, the off-field dramas are well behind the team. And with a new hooker Jayden Brailey stepping into Michael Ennis’s position, the hope is that it will be a seamless transition.
Chad Townsend will be the key here, as will Luke Lewis and the finals hero from 2016, Andrew Fifita.
For the Broncos, losing last years captain Corey Parker is a gap which coach Wayne Bennett must fill. No easy task, so Ben Hunt takes on more responsibility [in his final year in Brisbane]. The Broncos backline may appear less changed, so in skipper Darius Boyd, they have a game changer.
Match Fitness the Big Question
Not having many games under their belts, Bennett is wary of the conditions. He pointed out to media that Warrington Wolves had tested his team; in a pre-season match lost 27-18 in England. He said “it’s always a challenge, your match fitness.”
“If the games pretty intense tomorrow night, that will find a few of them out.”
Bennett will also have strengthened his men’s pride in the off season. After going without a championship for sometime, the Broncos will be motivated to add to their collection (6). That will be where Tautau Moga and big men like Korbin Simms come in to bolster the forward pack.
This opening game should be a real challenge, that could go either way. At home, with a big crowd, Cronulla go in with longer odds but may be the wise bet.
CLOSE UP: New Zealand Warriors Begin New Era
While the above statement is ambitious, for Stephen Kearney, that is his vision for the Auckland-based club. A team to represent New Zealand; where Kearney had much success as national head coach. After finishing a four year term as assistant with the above Wayne Bennett, Kearney is determined to bring outright success to the Warriors.
The ex-player has selected a side that is made up of both locally drawn talent, plus his big signing–Kieran Foran. He has consumed most of the news recently, with unconfirmed reports his management were in discussions with the Broncos. Kearney will need his team, to put aside gossip, and focus on game number one: the Newcastle Knights.
Kearney names his first side ??
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) February 28, 2017
For the Kiwi side, it is a time to make a start–incredibly, the Warriors have not won an opening match at home since 2009. Most fans will not have cars that are that old!! So even if the team are going in as favourites, it is not familiar territory.
Even less familiar for the Knights. One of the more disappointing franchises, they have struggled and need a huge revival. At $5.50 odds, more than most will say it is a tough ask–especially on the Warriors home ground, Mt Smart Stadium.
Warriors Fans Should Not Expect Too Much
In the last two weeks, the bookmakers have shortened the likelihood of the Warriors making the Top 8. It is all looking rosy, but fans expectations must be realistic. It is the perfect opening clash [not to disrespect Newcastle] so they go in confident. With Roger Tuivasa-Sheck assuming the captains role, how much pressure he feels will determine if his natural game is present.
The big Warriors pack is daunting, and a good interchange might be where they can dominate. Go-forward ball, quick sets of six and kicking game from Isaac Luke and Shaun Johnson are crucial elements. An area where Trent Hodkinson must be at his very best, if the Knights are gain any parity.
80 minutes of football lye ahead for all sixteen teams this weekend. Who regains that ‘match fitness’ quickly will be a real indication of how far teams can go in the NRL 2017 season. All bets are off (pardon the pun) in the run to hold aloft the Provan-Summons Trophy in September. From tonight, it’s on the field where the proof will be known.
And fans; and this reporter, cannot wait! Let’s Get it on.
Round One full fixture list –
Sharks v Broncos: Thu 02 Mar 2017, Southern Cross Group Stadium, Sydney
Bulldogs v Storm: Fri 03 Mar 2017, Belmore Sports Ground. Sydney.
Souths v Tigers: Fri 03 Mar 2017, ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Dragons v Panthers: Sat 04 Mar 2017, UOW Jubilee Oval, Sydney.
Cowboys v Raiders: Sat 04 Mar 2017, 1300 Smiles Stadium, Townsville.
Titans v Roosters: Sat 04 Mar 2017, Cbus Super Stadium, Gosford.
Warriors v Knights: Sun 05 Mar 2017, Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland
Manly v Eels: Sun 05 Mar 2017, Lottoland, Sydney.
Follow the NRL in 2017, with regular features and updates over the full 26 round regular season.
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