Schick Preview: Parramatta Eels v Brisbane Broncos
Sunday, 4pm (AEDT)
A new NRL season hasn't officially started until the oldest club rivalry in the game has been renewed.
The 2013 premiers host the 2014 premiers on Sunday afternoon with both having endured their share of off-season disruption. Now it's time to let the footy do the talking.
With the Roosters having twice bowed out of the finals after finishing minor premiers since their 2013 title, combined with a huge roster shake-up due to a range of issues, this represents the biggest challenge yet of coach Trent Robinson's still-young NRL coaching career.
Similar could be said of Souths clipboard-holder Michael Maguire, who has said goodbye to a stack of talent since their 2014 title. He's far too smart a coach to expect returning Clive Churchill medallist Sam Burgess to be the magic tonic to fix a side that struggled through the back end of last year.
The challenges facing Robinson though are arguably greater; he has serious forward firepower in internationals Boyd Cordner and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves sidelined til mid-season with injury and Origin half Mitch Pearce out indefinitely, having already said goodbye to two star playmakers in pivot James Maloney (Sharks) and fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Warriors).
Rookie halves in Jackson Hastings and debutant Jayden Nikorima will need to steer the ship for now with untried fullback Blake Ferguson looking to fill some big shoes at the back.
With Luke Keary suspended for one game Souths also have a debutant five-eighth in Cody Walker, while Maguire is handing a debut to hulking youngster Zane Musgrove on the bench with both Burgess twins, George (suspension) and Tom (ankle) unavailable.
Nikorima is just one of three debutants for the Tricolours; young star Latrell Mitchell breaks into the side on the wing and Vincent Leuluai on the bench is the beneficiary of Cordner's injury.
Watch out Roosters: We're sorry to be predictable, but it starts with "Sam" and ends with "Burgess". The so-called sparkly-eyed man returns and while he denies suggestions he is the club's saviour there will be plenty of Bunnies fans hoping he is anyway. He sat out the Charity Shield but was powerful in the final trial, against the Titans, scoring a try. With both of his twin brothers unavailable he will only carry more responsibility in a revamped pack. Wise pundits won't be banking on an immediate return to late-2014 Sam Burgess but even 50 per cent of that would still be a mighty handful.
Watch out Rabbitohs: An absence of experience by definition implies an injection of youthful enthusiasm and the Bondi Boys will have that in spades. Much-hyped 18-year-old back Latrell Mitchell was sensational in the pre-season Auckland Nines and World Club Series matches, where 19-year-old playmaker Nikorima showed composure well beyond his years. In Vincent Leuluai, Robinson has a powerful ball-running back-rower who is certain to make an impact when he takes the field. With a smattering of old heads such as skipper Jake Friend around the give the youngsters a hand this new-look Roosters side boasts plenty of firepower.
Key match-up: Jayden Nikorima v Cody Walker. NRL games with debutant playmakers facing off against each other are rarer than hen's teeth and which of these two NRL rookies adapts to the bright lights quickest will be a key subplot here. While teenager Nikorima has the advantage of a big 38-12 win against St Helens recently under his belt, 26-year-old Walker has the advantage of having plied his trade around the country in the NSW and Queensland state competitions and developing his own game away from the harsh glare of the top grade.
The history: Played 212; Roosters 96, Rabbitohs 111, Drawn 5. The storied history between these two clubs has the Bunnies ahead overall in both wins and titles as well as a slight 5-3 advantage over the past eight meetings. Souths have lost their past three matches at the venue though, and their last two there against the Roosters.
What are the odds: When markets opened months ago, the Roosters were $1.55 favourites with Sportsbet however the off-season from hell has seen the Rabbitohs overtake them as the favourites and the bookie is finding very few people willing to back the Roosters. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Jared Maxwell; Assistant Referee: Adam Gee; Touch Judges: Nick Beashel and Jeff Younis; Review Officials: Ben Galea and Jason Robinson; Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 3.30pm AEDT. Fox Sports 1 – Live 3.30pm AEDT.
The way we see it: As with any Round 1 fixture the lack of form line and new-look squads make tipping near impossible. The Roosters have had a solid warm-up in the World Club Series, which was played at a higher intensity than the Rabbitohs' lacklustre 18-14 Charity Shield win. Both sides have a big chunk of their salary cap on the sidelines for this one, though the Roosters have the bigger chunk. If you're a Roosters or Rabbitohs fan there's no reason not to tip with your heart. If you're a neutral, do what we did and flip a coin, which says... Roosters. Just.