Matt Harris, Queensland Correspondent, NRL.com
You’d be forgiven for thinking two sides separated by nearly 1000 kilometres couldn't possibly share a rivalry, but try telling that to the Mackay Cutters and Brisbane’s Easts Tigers.
The highly anticipated rematch between the 2013 Intrust Super Cup grand finalists at Stadium Mackay at 6pm on Saturday shapes as a tantalising Round 1 opener.
A healthy rivalry and respect have grown in the five months since last year’s decider as the Tigers look to avenge their 27-20 loss.
The two sides met four times last season for two wins apiece and although Mackay won the game that really counted, new Cutters’ captain Tyson Martin expects the Tigers to come out roaring for revenge.
“There’s definitely a bit of rivalry there and I think they’ll come out firing,” he said.
Martin takes over the captaincy from Jardine Bobongie, who will play in the Mackay local competition this year.
While revenge for last year’s grand final heartbreak would be desirable, Tigers’ captain Steven Thorpe is looking to move on from 2013.
“It’ll be good to get that game out the back of our mind. It’s been stuck there for a little while so we’re looking forward to playing again and hopefully getting a win up there and letting last year go,” Thorpe said.
“They’ll get a massive crowd at home and they’re going to be very physical.
“They have a point to prove as well. They don’t want to lose to us because they beat us in the grand final so it’s going to be a very aggressive game.”
Surprisingly, the Tigers hold a slight advantage over Mackay at Stadium Mackay, having won four of their seven clashes at the venue.
One player to watch is Mackay hooker Anthony Mitchell, who is back in Cutters’ colours after starring in the Auckland Nines with the Cowboys.
Mitchell also excelled in 2013 ISC decider, earning the Duncan Hall Medal for best on ground, so it will be crucial for Easts to stem his influence on proceedings.
The Easts team features nine players from last year’s grand final and their squad is also boosted by a handful of Melbourne Storm young guns, including Queensland under-20s centre Hymel Hunt and NSW under-20s star Matthew Lodge.
The clash also marks Easts centre Shane Neumann’s 100th cup game, having previously played for the Sunshine Coast in between stints in the NRL with Manly and the Bulldogs.