Andrew Voss sings the praises of one of the best NRL pre-seasons in recent memory, and looks ahead to a campaign where every club that missed the finals in 2017 can be confident of improving in 2018.
It's time again for a Tuesday feast folks. The barbecue is loaded. Let's talk a little footy.
How good is rugby league?
Listen up. Gather round. Maybe even take a knee. It's time for a Vossy pep talk.
I can't recall such a positive rugby league pre-season as the one we've experienced over the last few weeks.
I know we will all find plenty to 'blue' about during the season but how about we take time out to appreciate what we've just witnessed to get us ready for the NRL season kickoff on March 8.
It was great having the three Super League clubs on Australian soil. Melbourne's performance in winning the World Club Challenge was first class. We've all been able to watch more of the pre-season games on television and through streaming than ever before.
Last weekend the crowds in Mudgee and Maitland were fantastic. Up in Port Moresby, the Broncos were treated like rock stars. The amount of community work done by the clubs has been enormous. We celebrated two of the modern day champions of our sport, Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston. And across the board there were performances in trials that gave fans great hope for the year ahead.
The signs are there for all to see: 2018 is going to be big. If you haven't got a membership for your team, make an enquiry. You can purchase non-ticketed membership packages just to show your support for your team.
There are so many positive elements to the NRL draw this year and that will start with the Perth double header on March 10. From a television perspective, the coverage has never been bigger. I can tell you that at Fox Sports, we've never churned out more hours of rugby league content than what you'll see this season.
For every team that missed the finals last year, I can see reasons for hope for improvement from their playing rosters. Some will click quicker than others. As an example, what I saw from the South Sydney attack last Saturday night was exceptional.
We have a great reigning champion, and a whole bunch of chasers trying to match the benchmark.
We usually speak of a countdown to a new season in terms of how many sleeps are left. In theory there are nine sleeps remaining until the opening game between the Dragons and Broncos.
But by this time next week I'll be too excited to sleep! Bring it all on. Whether you make it to a game, or watch from your lounge room, I am confident the NRL is going to deliver the 'best sporting theatre in town'.
This week's good
Mudgee. I've covered a lot of matches over the years at country venues but I would rate the Glen Willow Stadium as the best I have been to. How good was the playing surface? Well done to everyone involved in a fantastic promotion.
I can't wait for the NRL's next visit to the town when the Dragons tackle the Raiders in round 11. I strongly recommend fans of both clubs make a weekend out of it.
This week's bad
I find it hard to believe that anyone could criticise the referees for cracking down on the play-the-ball. I wrote about this a few weeks ago. We can put up with some short term 'pain'. The clubs have been given plenty of warning to prepare. So long as our officials remain vigilant they'll have my support.
Pass the sauce
I don't know how things unfolded with Blake Green being released by Manly to join the Warriors, but boy I reckon the Sea Eagles are going to regret it.
There will be plenty of contenders for buy of the year in the NRL with so many high-profile switches, but Green is sure to be a big asset for Stephen Kearney's team and that was witnessed straight away in the Warriors' trial against the Titans.
Manly fans are entitled to be disappointed after Blake contributed so much to their team's charge to the finals in 2017, and was under contract for 2018.
As always, I welcome your feedback on the above topics.