NRL takes on the world

The NRL announced to the world it was back last night with a thrilling season opener between the Newcastle Knights and St George Illawarra Dragons that went into golden point.

How good was it?

So good that it was the second most talked about topic on Twitter worldwide! Think about that for a second: a game played predominately in Australia was the second most talked about topic in the whole world last night. Well done rugby league fans, it’s good to be back.

What was number one you ask? Some guy named Justin Bieber had apparently just turned 18, ho-hum.

Still the fact #NRLNewSti was the number one trending topic in Australia, and the second in the world, shows how much rugby league fans have waited and wanted the 2012 campaign to start.

There is so much excitement around the game and if last night is anything to go by, we are in for one hell of a ride. And you know the best thing? We still have seven games to look forward to!

Chris Sandow finally gets his chance to answer all the critics after going through the perennial talk about the famous Parramatta number seven jersey. Apparently no halfback for the Eels has been any good since a guy named Peter Sterling ran around in the '80s. Sure, they have ultimately come up short, but I would argue there have been some decent players over the years to fill that role in the blue and gold.

On the other side, we have a young Corey Norman who will replace Darren Lockyer in the Broncos number six jersey. He is a good young kid and should do well, more to the point, I hope he does well (he’s in my Toyota NRL Dream Team!). But don’t put pressure on him to be something he is not, the next Lockyer.

In Canberra, they have just received the best news of all – local product and emerging superstar Josh Dugan this week re-signed with the club until 2014. That, with the return of Terry Campese, has Raiders fans salivating at the prospect of finals football and beyond.

The Raiders clash with the Storm to start their season; Dugan v Billy Slater – if you are anywhere near Canberra, I implore you to get to the game to watch two of the most exciting athletes in the flesh.

Penrith and Canterbury-Bankstown have mirrored each other with off-season transformations. Both have new coaches who appeared in the Grand Final last year, both have new captains, both have lost inspirational forwards (Petero Civoniceva and Andrew Ryan), both are rebuilding. But there are still high hopes that 2012 could see the return to finals football.

In North Queensland, Johnathan Thurston starts his quest to become Queensland and Australia’s five-eighth after a distinguished career in the number seven. Their opponents the Gold Coast Titans will be hoping a strong recruitment drive pays instant dividends, while Scott Prince will look to recapture the form that had him one of the best halfbacks in the competition.

Across the ditch, the Warriors take on Manly in a Grand Final rematch at Eden Park with 24 players from last year’s decider lining-up against each other to kick-off 2012. Tickets have been selling well for the encounter, but with the likes of Shaun Johnson, Manu Vatuvei, Feleti Mateo, Brett Stewart, Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans all on display, is it any wonder? It should prove fantastic entertainment.

The footy is back and Wests Tigers are playing at Leichhardt on a Sunday afternoon – all is right with the world. With the news that Gareth Ellis is leaving at the end of the season, the Tigers know they need to take their opportunity; they have been installed as premiership favourites, but the big question is whether they can take their game to the next level.

Cronulla has long been the punch-line of bad jokes, but there is real cause for optimism in the Shire this season. They have one of the most fearsome looking forward packs in the competition and there is no-doubting the talent of new recruit Todd Carney. They will be tough to beat this year.

Had enough footy yet?

Those suffering Mondayitis have no fear – you have the local derby between bitter rivals the Rabbitohs and Roosters to get you through. There have been 203 games between the two clubs dating back to May 16, 1908 and after all that time, only 49 points separate them.

It’s going to be a cracking weekend of footy, so fire up the BBQ, dust off your favourite jersey and get out and support your team as they play the greatest game of all.