Canterbury are poised to debut a 26-year-old teacher who is supplementing his wage with match payments as old school master Des Hasler gives Manly's Dylan Walker a crash course at fullback.
Late-blooming Bulldogs rookie Bradley Deitz looms as a highlight of round one's highly anticipated team lists that also sees Cronulla drop star forward Andrew Fifita, Brodie Croft and Moses Mbye named in the Broncos and Tigers halves respectively and Walker emerge a surprise replacement for injured Sea Eagle Tom Trbojevic.
Deitz's rise to Trent Barrett's bench on Friday night against Newcastle is a lesson in perseverance and then some given his call-up after six years in feeder systems at the Sharks, Roosters and North Sydney Bears.
An NRL exemption was required for Deitz to be named on Tuesday, his birthday no less, given he is not in Canterbury's top 30 or a development player.
A foot injury to first-choice rake Jeremy Marshall-King gives Deitz his long-awaited crack after playing schoolboy footy almost a decade ago in the same Holy Cross Ryde team as Mitchell Moses, Luke Brooks, Junior Tatola and Bayley Sironen.
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The 174cm rake has come from the clouds to feature in round one after taking up a Bulldogs train-and-trial contract this summer, taking time off from his high school PE teaching gig to do so.
"Up until three weeks ago I was full-time teaching and I had to put that aside to take my chance here and train with the boys. It’s an opportunity I couldn’t pass up and I’m glad I have taken it in the end," Deitz said.
"It doesn’t matter how old you are, as long as you keep sticking to it and you’ve got the determination, you can still get there.
"The extra long wait I have had is making it a little bit more special than it would be if I had have got it a little earlier. I’m really looking forward to it."
Meanwhile, Hasler has sprung as surprise of his own at Manly by naming Walker to play just the third game of his career at fullback against the Roosters on Saturday.
Trbojevic's hamstring injury leaves the Sea Eagles without one of the competition's most influential players and Walker as a shock replacement. It will be his first outing as a No.1 since April, 2016.
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Kieran Foran makes his storied Manly return in the halves with youngster Josh Schuster named as a reserve, while Lachlan Croker has overcome his own hamstring issue to start at hooker.
Thursday's season-opener sees Brandon Smith start at hooker for premiers Melbourne, with Brenko Lee (hamstring) replaced by former Bulldog Reimis Smith.
The Rabbitohs have named star recruits Jai Arrow and Benji Marshall to make their club debuts from the bench, with Jacob Host winning the left-edge back-row spot.
Kevin Walters has opted for Croft at halfback in front of youngster Tom Dearden for his first outing as Broncos coach against Parramatta on Friday.
Queensland Origin winger Corey Oates' transition to the forwards has come at a cost though with the 26-year-old left out of Brisbane's entire 21-man squad for the season-opener.
Herbie Farnworth and Tesi Niu make for a new-look centre combination with Eels signing Tom Opacic confirmed at Michael Jennings' replacement out wide for the visitors.
Penrith's Matt Burton will continue to cool his heels after being named as a reserve for the side that hosts North Queensland after Paul Momirovski was preferred at right centre and Tyrone May given the bench utility role.
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The Panthers have refused multiple release requests for Burton to join Canterbury early as he pursues regular game time.
For the Cowboys, Queensland Origin flyer Valentine Holmes starts 2021 on the wing with Scott Drinkwater preferred at fullback.
Daine Laurie gets a similar first crack at Wests Tigers' No.1 jersey against the Raiders, with former captain Moses Mbye shifting to the halves ahead of youngster Jock Madden.
Finally, Sharks coach John Morris has sprung a surprise by dropping veteran prop Andrew Fifita to his extended bench for Sunday's local derby against the Dragons.
Matt Moylan starts at five-eighth for Cronulla opposite Red V No.6 Adam Clune with Corey Norman suspended for the season-opener.