The 2011 Telstra Premiership opening round this weekend has all the ingredients of a blockbuster movie premiere with several of the game’s superstars beating injuries to start, others succumbing to injuries, rookies making debuts and some old faces returning as official round 1 team lists were submitted today.
Big names such as Greg Inglis (Rabbitohs), Billy Slater (Storm) and Brett Stewart (Sea Eagles), have overcome injuries to start; while the likes of Justin Hodges (Broncos), Benn Hannant (Broncos), Todd Carney (Roosters) and Michael Jennings (Panthers) have all been given an extra
week to recover from injuries and/or surgery.
Stalwarts Matt Orford (Raiders), Mark Riddell (Roosters), Shaun Berrigan (Warriors) and Casey McGuire (Eels) return to the NRL from stints overseas, while numerous players will make their debuts including local juniors Mitchell Allgood and Ryan Morgan (Eels); Jack Reed and Dane Gagia (Broncos); and Glen Fisiiahi (Warriors).
Friday night kicks off with two intense local derby matches, with the battle for Sydney’s eastern suburbs between the Roosters and Rabbitohs at the Sydney Football Stadium; while Queensland rivals the Broncos and Cowboys will play at Suncorp Stadium.
While the Roosters will be without Carney, captain Braith Anasta will step into his shoes at five-eighth just days after re-signing with the club until 2013; and Souths will welcome Inglis and Issac Luke, Luke Stuart and Sam Burgess to the field after they missed all pre-season trials with injury.
In Brisbane, new Broncos coach Anthony Griffin has moved Sam Thaiday to prop for an enthralling battle with new Cowboys’ co-captain Matt Scott. The Cowboys could also see brothers Ashton and Tariq Sims play first grade together for the first time, with the pair named on an extended bench.
On Saturday, the Warriors v Eels match at Eden Park will be the New Zealand side’s first home game in Auckland played away from Mt Smart Stadium since the club was formed in 1995. The Eels have six new faces, while the Warriors have three newcomers.
In other games, Storm will play against bitter rivals the Sea Eagles at Melbourne’s AAMI Park, which will set up an enticing match-up between fullbacks Slater and Stewart; and St George Illawarra centre Matt Cooper will play his 200th NRL game when the world champion Dragons play the Titans at Skilled Park. The Gold Coast’s budding pivot Luke Capewell will fill the vacancy created by Mat Rogers' retirement.
On Sunday, the Raiders and Sharks will meet at Canberra Stadium; and Panthers and Knights at Penrith’s Centrebet Stadium, with the Raiders hopeful new recruit Orford will pass a fitness test to play against a Cronulla side featuring gun recruit Jeremy Smith, from the premiership-winning Dragons.
The Panthers will miss speedster Jennings on the wing, while the Knights will be without their veteran winger Adam MacDougall, following the death of his father this week. Chris Houston returns to the Knights after missing last season.
The first round will wrap up with another big local derby between the Bulldogs and Wests Tigers at ANZ Stadium, with Canterbury’s young guns taking on the might of Benji Marshall and Robert Lui.
Bulldogs’ recruit Kris Keating has beaten Ben Roberts in the race for five-eighth in and will partner fellow new signing Trent Hodkinson in the halves with Roberts named on the bench.