With the 2015 NRL Telstra Premiership season about to kick-off, NRL.com looks at some of the biggest match-ups to look forward to in the opening round of the season. Let the games begin!
10. Eto Nabuli v Marika Koroibete
We don't know for sure that Eto Nabuli has played himself into a Round 1 start but based on what we saw at the Auckland Nines and in the World Club Series we'd suggest he must have. He's played both left and right wing in his time in the NSW Cup but with senior man Jason Nightingale seemingly settled on the Dragons' right flank, Nabuli would almost certainly take Brett Morris's vacant left wing spot, denying us a direct head-to-head battle between himself and Storm left-edge specialist Koroibete. But still, the sight of either of these flying Fijians racing into open space is exactly the type of thing the fans will be hoping to see from this clash (although probably more Nabuli for those who come through the turnstiles at Jubilee Oval in Round 1).
9. Adam Docker v David Klemmer
These two young hitmen came on in leaps and bounds last year and will most likely be tasked with bringing the fireworks from the bench for their respective sides in 2015, a job every bit as important as starting in modern rugby league. They made their senior representative debuts opposite each other last year: Docker for Country Origin and Klemmer for City. A raft of injuries among the Kangaroos' front row stocks saw the latter get a call-up as a bolter for the Four Nations where he was highly impressive. While Docker has earned a reputation as one of the hardest hitters in the NRL despite not being particularly big for a forward, Klemmer is simply gigantic. The impact each provides off the pine will be crucial.
8. Will Hopoate v Brett Stewart
They won a premiership together at Manly in 2011, now they line up against each other. Will Hopoate deputised for Brett Stewart at fullback for the Sea Eagles several times during their 2011 premiership-winning campaign before securing a wing position. After taking two years out from the game for his Mormon mission, Hopoate will now play fullback for Parramatta and is set to take on the Prince of Brookvale. With the heavily publicised departure of Jarryd Hayne, Hopoate now can claim the Eels No.1 jersey as his own, and this is sure to be a fascinating clash of contrasting styles.
7. Ben Barba v Blake Austin
The clubs that finished last and second last in 2014 face off in Round 1 at Remondis Stadium as each looks for a far happier run this year. Both will be equipped with a shiny new five-eighth too; the Raiders have recruited dangerous utility Austin from Wests Tigers, while the Sharks are now armed with 2012 Dally M Medallist and former Bulldogs custodian Barba. Neither is a career five-eighth; Barba made his name at the back of the field while Austin used to be a back-rower, and a hooker, and a fullback, and a... well you get the idea. Anyway, both are armed with an incredibly dangerous running game and can be expected to work on their playmaking skills alongside what should be a pair of more classical-style controlling halfbacks in Jeff Robson (Cronulla) and rookie Mitch Cornish (Raiders).
6. George Burgess v Josh McGuire
South Sydney built their premiership-winning side around their forward pack and winning the battle in the middle of the field. Clive Churchill Medall winner Sam Burgess has gone, but his brother George was an equally vital factor in ending the Rabbitohs' 43-year premiership drought. His bullocking runs and quick play-the-balls proved an unstoppable force and he'll be expected to do more of that now that his brother has left. McGuire is just as important for Brisbane, a true workhorse in both attack and defence. McGuire can be a battering ram in perpetual motion, or he can be the enforcer in the middle of defence; either way, he is one of the hardest working props in the game today.
5. Matt Scott v Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
They've clashed in NRL finals and World Cup deciders and their battle is always heated in the middle of the park. Matt Scott has been an integral member for the Cowboys, Queensland and Australia, while Jared Waerea-Hargreaves has been the designated hitman for the Roosters and New Zealand. This battle could go a long way to deciding the outcome of what could be the best match of the opening round of the season. Rip in boys!
4. Glenn Stewart v Corey Parker
Corey Parker returns permanently to the back-row after some lengthy stints at prop for the Broncos in 2014, while Glenn Stewart will play his first NRL game in the Cardinal and Myrtle after leaving Manly last season. Stewart showed enough in South Sydney's World Club Challenge victory over St Helens to suggest he will be a massive gain for the Rabbitohs in 2015, while Parker was at his tireless best in England against Wigan. Both these players will be integral to their side's chances this season. Parker likes to play at the line, backing into a defence before offloading, while Stewart is more adept at playing before the line, adding another dimension to the defending premiers' attack. This should be a great contest.
3. Jamie Soward v Josh Reynolds
Here we have two of those perennially stubborn five-eighths, the type of players who grate on the nerves of the opposition team's fans but who are at the heart and soul of everything their own team does well. Having spoken to both on plenty of occasions, NRL.com reckons you'd struggle to find a pair of nicer blokes in the game, but it won't stop the crowds booing the heck out of them during away fixtures. While Reynolds is more the 100-miles-an-hour type of player who throws himself into everything full pelt and Soward's biggest strength is a superb kicking game, each is now a strong enough all-round playmaker that they can almost single-handedly drag a team over the line. When the Bulldogs travel to Pepper Stadium in Round 1 it will be Reynolds copping a ribbing from the crowd but who will it be singing the team song in the sheds afterwards?
2. Anthony Watmough v Manly
New Eels recruit and NSW representative Anthony Watmough has said his bitter exit from his 12th and final season at Manly left him "miserable and moody", and the polarising forward has certainly not held any punches leading up to the blockbuster Round 1 match-up with his former team. The saga sets the tone for an emotional clash at Parramatta Stadium. It will be an intriguing clash with Watmough coming up against a very much new-look Manly pack including Willie Mason and Feleti Mateo.
1. Johnathan Thurston v Mitchell Pearce
Two of the best halfbacks in the game go head-to-head when the Roosters travel to Townsville in Round 1. Thurston has been one of the benchmark playmakers for a decade, and has achieved just about everything in the game short of a premiership at halfback – a blip on the resume he will be desperate to correct in the twilight of his career. Almost the polar opposite, Pearce has a premiership ring but hasn't won an Origin series in five attempts, nor represented his country – with Thurston a key reason for both of those. Their head-to-head battle could define not just this game but both clubs' aspirations this year.
Round 1 draw
Thursday: Broncos v Rabbitohs
Friday: Eels v Sea Eagles
Saturday: Knights v Warriors
Titans v Wests Tigers
Cowboys v Roosters
Sunday: Panthers v Bulldogs
Sharks v Raiders
Monday: Dragons v Storm