The Bulldogs need to start winning games now if they are to avoid another early exit, says star centre Josh Morris. Credit: Robb Cox. Copyright: NRL Photos.
After Sam Burgess took a points victory over Sonny Bill Williams in the opening match of the 2014 NRL season, we look at the other big individual match-ups from the first round matches.
Bulldogs v Broncos: Josh Morris v Dale Copley
Both centres have plenty to prove in 2014. Copley is poised to make his NRL comeback in the vacant right centre position left by the injured Justin Hodges. Copley was ruled out for the entire 2013 season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in the Broncos' first pre-season trial.
Meanwhile, Test centre Josh Morris is hoping to return to the type of form that saw him take out the Dally M award for Centre of the Year in 2012. In that season, Morris crossed the chalk 17 times in 26 matches, while last season he only managed five tries from 22 appearances.
Panthers v Knights: David Simmons v James McManus
With both sides boasting several internationals, this match-up probably doesn't stand out at first glance. While names like Idris, Gidley, Wallace and Boyd are synonymous with big match moments, there will always be the need for class wingers in rugby league. David Simmons and James McManus are two examples of brilliant try-scoring finishers. In 2013, both men played 24 games and scored 19 tries.
Like a fine wine, Simmons has improved with age. He matched last year's try-scoring feats with 19 line breaks, to be ranked sixth in the NRL for that stat. Not one to be overshadowed by those of his teammates in the middle, Simmons also conjured 11 offloads and six try assists. Adding to the prospect of these two going head-to-head, NSW representative McManus managed 21 line breaks last season (fourth in the NRL).
Expect some scintillating tries from these two men on Saturday afternoon.
Sea Eagles v Storm: Kieran Foran & Daly Cherry-Evans v Ben Hampton & Ben Roberts
The partnership of Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans in the halves has become the envy of opposition clubs. A combined 33 try assists between them last season proved how damaging the pair can be. Both now have over 80 first-grade games under their belt, and are full internationals with New Zealand and Australia respectively.
It is an entirely different story for Melbourne duo Hampton and Roberts, who have yet to play a single game together. Yet both players now have the chance in Cooper Cronk's absence to truly establish themselves at the highest level. Roberts has joined the club from the Eels and will be out to impress in his new colours, but just five try assists from 18 games last season would not instill a lot of confidence. Hampton will still be trying to feel his way around at the top level in just his third NRL game.
Cowboys v Raiders: Jason Taumalolo v Josh Papalii
With Taumalolo attacking the Raiders' left edge and Papalii trying to cause havoc on the Cowboys' right, the stage is set for these two Polynesian powerhouses to rock the foundations in much the same manner as Sonny Bill Williams and Sam Burgess on Thursday night.
While Taumalolo is on the verge of discovering the ingredients to becoming a consistent first-grader, in 2013 Papalii became an Origin and Test player and was in the Raiders' starting side for 19 of the 21 matches in which he played.
They're almost impossible to contain one-on-one and the player who does the best job at the defensive end of the field might just be the one who comes out of this bone-rattling exchange as the victor.
Dragons v Wests Tigers: Luke Brooks v Gareth Widdop
All eyes will be on the young, talented duo, both of whom have been identified as the primary playmaker for their respective sides.
Much – maybe too much – has already been made of Brooks' elevation into first grade and with a starring debut already under his belt (coincidentally against the Dragons in Round 24 last season) the 19-year-old will be expected to produce early and often.
Similarly, Widdop arrives in Wollongong with a point to prove as well. Many pundits are keen to see how the former Storm pivot handles life without the Storm big three. Handed the keys to one of the most historic and proud clubs in the competition, expectations will also be high on the English international to get the Dragons attack up and running.
Eels v Warriors: Semi Radradra v Manu Vatuvei
Warriors winger Vatuvei has been an icon of the game in New Zealand since making his debut over 10 years ago. Injuries might have slowed him down, but strength is his forte. He can overpower even the most stoic front-rower.
His match-up with Radradra – they won't actually meet head-on since both are left-side wingers – will be an entertaining exhibition of power. Radradra made seven appearances for the Eels in his rookie season last year, and his try-scoring spree in the Nines meant Arthur was forced to pick him again. Power v power, we like it a lot.
Sharks v Titans: Todd Carney v Aidan Sezer
While Jeff Robson acts as the straight man to Carney's individual brilliance, Sezer is the Titans half who directs his team and dictates play with his kicking game so that Albert Kelly can utilise his free-wheeling nature.
Carney was at the heart of all attacking options the Sharks used in 2013 and with little change to the outside backs will again be the primary creative force. His 21 try assists were 13 more than Robson for the Sharks last year although for the sake of his hamstring his goal-kicking duties may fall to Michael Gordon instead. With Robson out injured he becomes an even more important aspect of the Sharks' attack, although at the time of writing Carney was battling a hamstring injury of his own.
In their first season as an NRL halves pairing at the Titans last year, Sezer and Kelly shared the creative duties equally (with 10 try assists apiece) but it was Sezer who shouldered the greater responsibility for kicking in general play with more than double the number of kids to Kelly.
They may differ in style, but if Carney is fit then either he or Sezer is likely to have the determining influence on this one.