Roosters v Rabbitohs
The 2013 Club Championship looks set to kick off with a belter when two of last year’s most exciting teams signal the much-anticipated return of rugby league.
Bunnies fans will be hoping the razzle-dazzle continues – last year the Rabbitohs were outscored only by Canberra and minor premiers Canterbury – but will be doing so with a vastly different line-up.
Only time will tell how much the loss of explosive and clever ballplayers Apisai Koroisau and Luke Keary will cost.
The Roosters enter this season off the back of one built around defence. The formidable second-row combination of Rhyse Martin and Jack Siejka combined for nearly 50 tackles per game last year and the pair will head into battle alongside each other tonight.
The ever-emotional clash will be lent even more feeling given the fact it was the Roosters that ended South Sydney’s charge at the flag last year, in a stirring two-point victory during the first week of the finals series.
Both sides sport a very different looking 17 to last year, but such is the nature of the Holden Cup. It will likely be a high-scoring nail-biter, and the perfect appetiser to the next seven months.
Tip: Roosters by four.
Broncos v Sea Eagles
Two of last year’s most under-performing teams do battle in a clash that has all the makings of a redemption classic.
What better stage than a packed Suncorp Stadium to spark powerhouse forwards Caleb Timu and Stephen Coombe in their quest to exorcise the demons of 2012?
In their way stands a Manly outfit that last year was at times hapless, at others embarrassing: the Sea Eagles leaked an astronomical 811 points last season and managed only six wins.
Fans will be desperate for players like prop Jake Trbojevic, anointed by NRL captain Jamie Lyon as a star of the future, to fire on all cylinders lest a repeat of last year’s nightmare transpires.
For the Broncos, a little bit of magic could come by way of their 1, 7 and 9. Lining up at fullback will be Kurt Capewell, who impressed many with his seven metre-eating appearances last year. Kodi Nikorima, a gifted and speedy halfback, will form a vital link between Capewell and hooker Timu who last year made 23 line-breaks, scored 19 tries and made an average of 22.5 tackles per game.
That trio, and the cauldron of Castlemaine Street, stack this match-up in favour of Brisbane.
Tip: Broncos by 14.
Eels v Warriors
One of the most faultless teams in the Holden Cup takes on one of its most mistake-riddled. That’s if last year’s form is anything to go by.
The Warriors were outstanding in defence last year, letting in just 21.5 points per game (third fewest in the NYC). With the ball New Zealand also dazzled and made 10 errors or less a total of 15 times through the home-and-away season.
In stark contrast, the Eels’ battles through injury and misfortune left them shattered, eventually limping into 15th place with the worst defence in the competition and nearly 12 errors per game.
The home crowd will be looking for big games from hooker Luke Vescio and talented five-eighth Mitchell Brassington – who replaces Jason Wehbe following his graduation to the NSW Cup.
For the Warriors, halfback Mason Lino (seventh-highest point-scorer last year) could well hold the key. This is one of the least predictable clashes of the round, but it’s hard to go past New Zealand.
Tip: Warriors by eight.
Bulldogs v Cowboys
Oh, what could have been. It’s the thought lingering on everybody’s mind in the Belmore area. After dominating last year’s competition for 26 weeks, the Bulldogs bowed out in straight sets, failing to get within 20 points of the eighth-placed Dragons in the second week of the finals.
That fact might make their opponents this week, the North Queensland Cowboys, a little uneasy.
The Bulldogs will stride onto Bluetongue intent on making amends. And it takes only a glance at their side to realise fireworks are on the card.
Winger and try-scoring machine John Sila is backing up from a year that saw him cross the line 19 times. Brilliant young half Moses Mbye is also going around again. Last year he made 24 line-breaks with the ball and 47 one-on-one tackles, the fourth most in the competition.
North Queensland will be aiming to mount a rear-guard action from fullback Zac Santo whose craftsmanship with the ball last year was second to none.
Also watch out for lock Chris Grevsmuhl who offers plenty of promise and could turn this one on its head.
The Bulldogs will want this one more than ever – and it’s hard to see how they won’t get their bone.
Tip: Bulldogs by 10.
Panthers v Raiders
‘Battle Royale’ seems to say it all about this out-of-towners clash that pits the grand finalists against a side that was, at times, the best of 2012.
Though last time the teams met the spoils went the way of the Raiders in a dull 20-10 scrap-fest, Sunday afternoon shapes as a stunner.
Eventually costing them the silverware in the decider, Canberra’s defence had a tendency to take a sickie and despite finishing third, the Raiders leaked more points than any other team in the top eight.
They’ll need to address that in their preparation for this game, with the Panthers proving their aptitude for swashbuckling rugby league, scoring an average of 29 points per game.
Fullback Kieran Moss needs to fire like he did last year: the custodian led the Panthers in hit-ups (371), metres gained (3860) and tries (21).
The one to watch in green is halfback Mitch Cornish. Partnered in the halves by Mitch Cronin in 2012, the gifted Cornish scored 162 points, made 28 try assists and 31 line-break assists.
It’s going to be a nail-biter but hometown advantage swings this one in favour of the west.
Tip: Panthers by two.
Storm v Dragons
History may well forget the valiant effort of the young Dragons to scrape into last year’s finals race, but that’s not to detract from their amazing story.
The Red V looked gone for all money two-thirds of the way into the season, managing only six wins from their first 16 games. But the extra gear they found wreaked havoc on the competition and saw the Dragons lose only twice more before the playoffs.
Melbourne went close to pulling off a similar miracle, winning seven from their last night to finish just a point adrift of the Dragons.
Cue the blockbuster, as two of the fiercest and most evenly matched rivals in rugby league face off.
Fullback Kurt Mann, poached from Newcastle at the end of last year, will prove thoroughly vital given the absence of dynamo Young Tonumaipea.
Mann’s adversary in the red and white, Aquila Gela, is also stepping into the imposing boots of genius back Evander Cummins.
The clash of the titans that will be props Kem Seru and Rhys Kennedy barging into each other is worth the price of admission in itself.
It’s a tough call, but with Charly Runciman in the centres, expect the Dragons to spoil Melbourne’s party.
Tip: Dragons by eight
Sharks v Titans
WELL, Gold Coast fans, the only way is up. And it won’t be easy to start as poorly as the Titans did last year, winning one from their opening 13 games.
A woeful defence and an even worse attack saw the Titans lose by an average margin of 16 points per game in a season they perhaps had to have.
It’s difficult to find a silver lining in their statistical record, except maybe a 42-18 thrashing of the Sharks the last time the teams met.
On that rare day the Titans were ruthless and competed more than 80 per cent of their sets with just eight errors.
The Sharks enter round one with pretty lacklustre memories themselves. They struggled into 10th spot with 11 wins, but showed far more bite than their opponents.
Watch for big games from winger Malcolm Congoo and prop Kurt Dillon, talented players aiming to secure ownership of their respective jerseys.
Might be a bloodbath, might be match of the round. Gold Coast will win this and go on with it.
Tip: Titans by 14
Knights v Wests Tigers
Newcastle host the reigning premiers to round out the first week of Holden Cup action and the match promises to be a scorcher.
A year older and a year wiser, players like centre Peter Mata’utia and hooker Adam Clydesdale make the Novocastrians a pretty formidable outfit. In any case, all 17 players will have to lift 10 per cent and more to cover the loss of fullback Kurt Mann to the Storm.
For the 2012 champions Wests Tigers, a team blending elements of the old and new will set out to be the first to capture consecutive NYC flags.
Key players like lock Brenden Santi and fullback Kurtis Rowe remain, but myriad stars from last year’s campaign will be absent this Monday – putting a huge question mark on the match.
The Wests Tigers only just won a gruesome grudge match when the teams last met in round 16 last year and the Knights, in the top eight at the time, would only win two more games all season.
Those sort of clashes can either make or break seasons and have a habit of sticking around in the memory bank for months to come.
On Monday we’ll see how much those memories hurt.
Tip: Knights by four