Bring on the footy
The gentle waft of hot chips in the air, the repetitious clicking of turnstiles, the sight of the players emerging from the tunnel onto freshly cut grass, the unmistakable scent of deep-heat, the sun-faded jersey and matching cap in the crowd, the nervous anticipation of the season that lies ahead. Can't it just start already?
We all know the drill. Players have just had the 'best pre-season of their careers'; the young guys are ready to step-up and take the world by storm, while the older players have a new lease on life and have been 'training the house down'. We roll our eyes at the clichéd lines, yet it all serves a purpose – the excitement builds for the whistle to blow and the NRL season to kick-off.
Speaking of clichéd rugby league lines, can somebody please explain the NRL power level system we hear so much about? Surely Johnathan Thuston and Greg Inglis are at the zenith of the rugby league spectrum and can't possibly take their game to 'another level'. They are off playing and finishing Super Mario Bros 3 while everyone else is stuck playing the original Nintendo classic. How many levels are there?
The Auckland Nines is a welcome addition to the pre-season and has become a great launching pad for the NRL Telstra Premiership. The Nines provided a non-stop frenzy of rugby league action with a nice blend of your favourite established players and a bunch of unheralded rookies looking to make a name for themselves.
The women's games were a great addition to the Nines tournament with the Kiwi Ferns taking on the Australian Jillaroos. The women didn't just showcase their strength and skill, they stole the show. When it was all said and done, some of the biggest tackles and most gripping contests of the rugby league extravaganza in Auckland belonged to the women's game. They certainly made a statement and turned heads with the intensity of their clashes - hopefully it can continue to get bigger and stronger.
It was also great to have the NRL All Stars back on the rugby league calendar. It was a terrific week of community engagement and activities culminating in an exciting contest that served to whet the appetite for the season ahead. The sight of Inglis and Thurston weaving their magic is something to behold.
The World Club Series was played with tremendous passion in front of raucous English crowds packed to the rafters. There were two ferocious battles played with great intensity, while one lopsided result where the Rabbitohs emphatically cemented their place in the history books does not make the series meaningless. As a game, we need to realise the importance of such fixtures and hope that the success of this three-day extravaganza can be built on in years to come. It is so easy for Australians to overlook the impact these fixtures have had in England and we should nurture this concept to help it build the game internationally.
As with each year there are questions about how each NRL team will go, how a new coach or recruit - and there have been plenty of them - will affect the destiny of their respective clubs. Conjecture has raged across the country, from water coolers and office breakout areas, through to homes, family barbeques, clubs and pubs where such debates solve the problems of the world.
Can anyone beat the Rabbitohs? Can Barba return to his best at Cronulla? What about Milford in the famous Broncos No.6 jersey? Is this the year the Warriors led by Shaun Johnson finally make good on their promise?
Meanwhile fans everywhere have been studying team trial lists and results, desperately tending to their NRL Fantasy Teams where, by the start of the season, they will have changed the make-up of their side 10 times over.
Just as the Fantasy coaches are getting excited, their real life counterparts are equally nervous and excited about the coming weeks. Have they done all they can do? Did they get the best out of the pre-season? Have they got enough depth? Who will they pick on that opening Tuesday afternoon when the first team lists are due?
With 20 rounds already completely scheduled into the NRL calendar, fans are salivating at the prospect of the upcoming fixtures and have circled the games that they are organising their lives around.
Footy fans, Rugby League is back!
Get your tickets and strap yourself in for NRL season 2015. Put on your favourite sun faded jersey, get ready for the sight of your team taking the field to the tunes of rock music, the electricity of the crowd, the promise of the season ahead, the first hit-up, and yes, the allure of the gentle wafting aroma of those delicious hot chips.