The Big League: 10 things I'm looking forward to
Like most of my stories, here is a long and convoluted journey centred around how I knew I was ready for footy to start again.
People wouldn't suspect it because I'm part of a very blessed group of people in society – sports journalists – who get paid to watch something they would usually pay to watch anyway. But the NRL season is long and mentally draining, and much like the players, we need a little break at the back-end. So when October hits and the dust settles, journos scatter to enjoy rare weekends off and see their loved ones for the first time in nine months.
I did just that. I even had an awesome European trip (#humblebrag) where I didn't talk about footy once!
The pangs started to come around the new year and it reached fever pitch in the first week of January. Our flight home got cancelled and after a last-minute airline switch and two days without sleep, I turned on a replay of the 2016 Grand Final which was miraculously playing on my Japan Airlines flight to Sydney.
It may have been the exhaustion, but I cried from start to finish, a fresh dam bursting when the Sharks celebrated their first-ever premiership win.
And then I knew. It was time.
Naturally, that has led to a couple of months of soaking in all the pre-season games I can, speculating about everything to anyone who will listen and several trips to shops ending with new merchandise I didn't really need.
In the meantime, I also drew up a list of the things I'm really looking forward to in 2017.
1. Robbie Farah up against the Wests Tigers in Round 1, which we feature on our cover. I love drama (it's why I follow this great sport) and this situation has eeeeverything.
2. The intention to pay more attention to my NRL Fantasy team, which will lead to me beating my co-workers in our competition.
3. Watching the Warriors. Will THIS be the season they finally pull it together? I haven't picked them for my top 8, so probably.
4. The overhaul at the judiciary, with small offences incurring a $1,500 fine instead of a suspension. A great idea that I hope translates well.
5. International footy back on the map for the Rugby League World Cup held in Australia, New Zealand and PNG. More recognised NRL players representing minnow nations = 10 thumbs up from me.
6. Two games on a Friday! I know the 6.00pm timeslot has its detractors but I'm really excited for it. Catch me in front of the TV with a wine in hand.
7. What happens at the Titans. Their recruitment has been spot on and I'd love to see Neil Henry succeed.
8. Watching Jason Taumalolo run over a bunch of people.
9. State of Origin (sorry, I know it gets earlier every year).
10. My first hot dog and beer at the ground.
Fair to say I'm ready for kick-off. Bring it on!
The Round 1 issue of Big League is on sale now at newsagents and at the ground. Digital version also available through Apple iTunes, Google Play or www.zinio.com.