Andrew Bryan, NRL.com
The gentle waft of hot chips in the air, the repetitious clicking of turnstiles, the sight of the players emerging out of the tunnel onto freshly cut grass for the opening game of the season, the nervous anticipation of the season that lies ahead, can’t it just start already?
The NRL All Stars was a terrific week of community engagement and activities culminating in an exciting if not one-sided contest that served to whet the appetite for the season ahead. The sight of Ben Barba sneaking in to the score the first try warmed the hearts of Bulldogs fans everywhere, but it was the whole game that was celebrating.
There is an unbridled exuberance that Barba plays with which encapsulates everything that is good about Rugby League. His first-half hat-trick emphatically proclaimed Rugby League is back!
Apart from the amazing work the All Stars game does each year, the other major point to come out of the fixture is how much we have missed Rugby League.
The sight of Greg Inglis and Jarryd Hayne in full flight, the mastery of Johnathan Thurston, the controlling influence of Cam Smith and the dulcet tones of Ray ‘Rabbits’ Warren back in our lounge rooms. This was Rugby League and oh how we’d missed it!
We all know the drill, players have just had the ‘best preseason of their careers’; the young guys are ready to step-up and take the world by storm, while the older players have a new lease on life and are ready to turn back the clock. We roll our eyes at the cliché lines, yet it all serves a purpose – the excitement builds for the whistle to blow and the season to kick-off.
As with each year there are questions about how each team will go, how a new coach or recruit will affect the destiny of their respective club’s. The conjecture and debate has raged across the country, from water-coolers and office breakout areas, through to homes, family barbeques, clubs and pubs where such debates solve the problems of the world.
Can Barba and Inglis get better? How will Parramatta go under Ricky Stuart? Will the Warriors return to their best? Are the Sharks finally a genuine chance at claiming a Premiership and can anything stop Queensland making it eight straight? Not to mention the small matter of a World Cup at the end of the year in England!
Meanwhile fans everywhere are studying team trial lists and desperately tending to their NRL Dream Team’s where by the start of the season they will have changed the make-up of their side 10 times over.
Just as the Dream Team coaches are getting excited, their real life counterparts are equally nervous and excited about the coming weeks. Have they done all they can do, did they get the best out of the preseason, have they got enough depth, who will they pick on that opening Tuesday afternoon when the first team lists are due?
With 20 rounds already completely scheduled into the calendar, fans should be salivating at the prospect of the upcoming fixtures and have circled the games that they are organising their lives around.
Footy fans, Rugby League is back! So get your tickets, skip all other important dates on the calendar and strap yourself in for 2013; for the sight of your team taking the field to the tunes of rock music, the electricity of the crowd, for the promise of the season ahead, and yes, the allure of the gentle wafting aroma of hot chips.
Follow Andrew Bryan on twitter: @AndrewBryan321