Broncos-Bunnies blockbuster a perfect start
The long wait is over. The season has changed from summer to autumn. From cricket to footy (well, almost). From "Howzat!" to "Doing it all day ref!" The days are getting shorter and the dew lingers on suburban footy grounds a little longer. Most of the sundown BBQ invitations have dried up and once again the question begs; where are we watchin' the footy?
Like the desperate league junkies we are, we've voraciously lapped up little hits over the off-season to keep us going; desperately looking up trial match results, "geez Danny Wicks came off the bench for Wentworthville" or "Dragons are back in business, they drew the Charity Shield". Sitting glued to the Auckland Nines, "that Valentine Holmes is going to be good, how much is he on Fantasy?" or "Bunnies will struggle with nine-a-side… or maybe not". Or setting the alarm for 5am to watch the World Cup Series, "that Eto Nabuli is the best buy of the year" or "see... I told you Super League isn't up to NRL standard".
But we don't have to scrape by on meagre rugby league morsels anymore! Kick-off is here and I can't wait.
There are mouth-watering match-ups littered right through Round 1, starting on Thursday night with a sell-out at Suncorp Stadium.
Picture this: On October 5 last year, while Sydney witnessed a watershed moment in rugby league history with the Rabbitohs winning their first Premiership in 43 years, cardinal red and myrtle green colours streamed from the stands at ANZ Stadium and "Glory Glory" rang out around the streets of Redfern, there was barely a murmur north of the border. Brisbane hadn't seen a league match for four weeks.
In fact, the town known for free flowing XXXX and rowdy Caxton St parades hasn't really had anything to cheer about since 2006. That was the Broncos last premiership, some eight years ago. For a town so used to success, that's a long time. In 2008 the Broncos lost their main man, Wayne Bennett. They'd never been without the tall, quiet coach with a steely gaze and wry smile. Bennett was there from the very start, orchestrated the budding club into a rugby league powerhouse, a club that carried an aura. But when he left to take up with the Red V, in some ways the Broncos never got over him.
But now it's 2015 and Bennett is back home. A return to good old fashioned hard work and manners at Red Hill. I've been told if a player loses his training shorts or shirt there is no simply grabbing another one out of the storeroom, he must pay to replace his kit. No handouts, no freebies, not under Bennett's watch. Whether the Broncos' strict house rules will result in a premiership is impossible to say, but what it does mean is change. And that's an important step for this once mighty team.
Change will be Brisbane's best weapon against the Bunnies, who haven't lost a single thing since their drought-busting Grand Final victory. In fact, Souths can't stop winning with the Auckland 9s, the Charity Shield and the Club World Challenge trophies all stashed in their clubhouse. Brisbane needs to be different to the side that clung on to eighth place at the end of last season. Justin Hodges is now the outright leader of a side that will unveil a no-longer homesick Anthony Milford to partner Ben Hunt in a promising halves combination.
Souths have changed too, obviously without the inspirational frontman Sam Burgess and Ben Te'o the Rabbitohs take on a different shape. They have picked up Glenn Stewart who offers that easily agitated attack back into the forwards and Souths' happy-go-lucky halves Adam Reynolds and Luke Keary promise to keep the opposition guessing throughout 2015.
So the season starts with a battle between the champions South Sydney, once banished from the competition but now the pride of the league, and Brisbane - a club that has reached out to former mentor Wayne Bennett to return them to being "Simply the Best" in the NRL.
After an endless summer, what more could a league fan want?