Capacity at Redcliffe's Dolphin Oval is likely to be stretched to its limit when the PNG Hunters play their first historic clash in the Intrust Super Cup.
International expansion, inclusion in a National Championship, heading back to the bush and good old-fashioned rivalries underpin what promises to be the most exciting Intrust Super Cup season in history. Here are the seven moments we think will capture the imagination of the rugby league public not only in Queensland but throughout the country.
1. Ahead of the game. With Round 1 kicking off on Saturday, March 1, the Intrust Super Cup will have a week's head-start on both the NRL and NSW Cup competitions, giving clubs the perfect opportunity to whet the appetite of local footy fans and give their gate-takings a boost. The potential is there for an influx of NRL stars to be available for the opening game of the season but the key will be to put in the type of performance that encourages fans to come back next time there's a home game.
2. Hunters land in Queensland. Capacity at Redcliffe's Dolphin Oval is likely to be stretched to its limit when the PNG Hunters play their first historic clash in the Intrust Super Cup. With the match to also be televised by Channel Nine, interest in how the newcomers will fare in their first season is sure to be high, both from footy fans and other Intrust Super Cup clubs eager to get a read on what the team from PNG will bring. It will mark the start of a significant new chapter in PNG rugby league history and a challenging proposition for new coach Troy Lindsay and the Dolphins' host of new signings.
3. Beyond borders. Welcome to the new toughest road trip in the Intrust Super Cup: the PNG Hunters at Kalabond Oval in Kokopo. This is the base for the Hunters for at least the next two seasons while Lloyd Robson Oval in Port Moresby undergoes a major upgrade and it will be left to defending premiers Mackay Cuttersto find out just what kind of welcome visiting teams will receive. The Hunters play Mackay, Central Queensland Capras and Northern Pride in three consecutive games at home from Round 2 and if they can assert some home ground advantage in those opening weeks they might just find themselves near the top of the table after a month of football.
4. Inter-hate rivalry. Nothing quite unites Queenslanders like a hatred of anything from south of the border but that doesn't mean they don't square off amongst themselves from time to time. XXXX Rivalry Round in Round 10 will 'celebrate' the most bitter feuds in the Intrust Super Cup, the pick of which will be the clash between Burleigh and Tweed Heads. The Seagulls claimed the honours in both encounters in 2013 and with members of the Titans squad to be sprinkled through both teams, bragging rights will be eagerly sought. Each of the clashes in Round 10 are mouth-watering propositions with the Cutters and Pride to face off in a battle of the north, Souths Logan hosting Ipswich, Easts and Norths meeting at Langlands Park in Brisbane and Sunshine Coast and Central Queensland to renew their hostilities. All this less than a month before Origin I.
5. Ivan the Magnificent. That will be the hope of long-suffering Sunshine Coast fans who welcome former Broncos coach Ivan Henjak into the fold having had to endure watching their Sea Eagles collect consecutive wooden spoons over the past two seasons. It's a far cry from their premiership success of 2009 when Daly Cherry-Evans was steering the side around the park with Henjak taking the reins having won 27 of 51 games at the Broncos from 2009-2010 before being sensationally axed on the eve of the 2011 NRL season. The Sea Eagles are exploring a possible secondary affiliation with the Panthers in Sydney following a recent visit by Panthers general manager Phil Gould that would give Henjak's playing roster a handy boost.
6. Bush week. A key directive of the Queensland Rugby League in recent years has been to engage more regularly with regional areas and a second dedicated Country Week in 2014 promises to take the Intrust Super Cup to new venues again. In 2013 matches were played in Roma, the Whitsundays, Toowoomba, Woodford and Yarrabah, an Aboriginal community 53 kilometres from Cairns and while the exact venues won't be determined until a later date, but there will be some footy fans in far flung places thrilled to see top-level rugby league come to town.
7. National treasure. Depending on which leg is straddling the border between NSW and Queensland, it is very easy to have an argument with yourself as to which is the second-best rugby league competition in Australia: the VB NSW Cup or Intrust Super Cup. That debate will come to some sort of resolution when the first National Championship is held on NRL Grand Final day, pitting the two respective premiers against each other in a new breed of interstate rivalry. Of course, with the Warriors in the NSW Cup and PNG Hunters in the Intrust Super Cup, there remains the possibility of two overseas teams representing the respective competitions on the game's greatest stage but whoever qualifies will have an entire state behind them. The formation of the National Championship will deliver a much more inclusive experience for everyone engaged in rugby league on Grand Final day and an extra carrot for the Intrust Super Cup champions.