Well, it’s that time of year again where the first word out of any player’s lips will be to tell how it’s been the toughest off-season they’ve ever had. This pre-season has been somewhat unique in the fact that there have been former player’s and player’s agents probably sweating more than some of the game’s stars, but more on that later.
Stephen Kearney has been flogging the Eels and really instilling some discipline into proceedings.
It’s a completely new way of doing things at Parramatta apparently which makes you wonder how Daniel Anderson and Brian Smith could possibly have earned the reputation as hard task masters if their pre-season drills involved a bit of tunnel ball and the odd game of touch footy.
Even Timana Tahu was caught in the press talking up his brutal off-season.
A sizeable call from a man who was training in his mate’s back garden… mind the compost big fella.
Tahu told one of nation’s finest Sunday publications how desperate he was to get back and prove himself in the NRL. What a pity he didn’t show the same desperation when he actually had a contract.
But yes it’s been a hard off-season, I think I’ve counted possibly a dozen articles about how fit Jamal Idris is this season how much he is looking forward to playing now he is no longer technically blind.
The fitness thing even hit Willie Mason who despite not training with anyone still managed to tell journalists in Hull that he was in the “best nick” he has been in for years.
Let’s see how that stacks up once he has been on the pints and Hull’s legendary fish and chips for six months.
But come next Tuesday the balloons of hopes will have been burst by the harsh reality that dodging witches hats is often no substitute for the real thing.
That’s what makes round one so hard. Every line up seems to include a bolter who has “trained the house down all summer”, 20 minutes into round one people realise that mastering the beep test is no good if you can’t tackle.
While the year promises to be exciting, for some coaches it resembles a long, slow march to the gallows. Neil Henry knows only a miracle will save him, John Lang probably needs even more than that and poor old Ivan Henjak didn’t even get the obligatory six weeks to save himself after receiving the full support of the board.
But every coach is probably only as good as their relationship with their Gen Y tattooed lunatic of a star player, I can’t imagine holding down a job where the number one goal was to keep someone who thinks they should twitter what they had for lunch happy.
But what of predictions? Using the team sheets for round one I’ll go so far as to install the Dragons as my tip for Grand Final glory. They simply have the best looking roster from number 1-17 and Wayne Bennett while often appearing as a less than laugh a minute fellow does seem to have the knack of keeping the kids under control.
Challenging them will be Tigers who hope to get some luck to go with their extra year of experience, the Raiders will hope their kids come good, the Bulldogs will hope their recruits come good. The Roosters will hope their stars stay sober, while the Storm won’t need to look far for motivation.
Meanwhile, despite being in the headlines every five minutes over the last few years and having reached the Grand Final in 2009 and then having gone out and spent up big, Parramatta’s side looks god awful. This is probably largely due to the fact they embarked on the maddest recruitment drive of all time.
Still they look in better shape than the Sharks. The side from the Shire has an impressive forward pack but their backline reads like something from a Stephen King novel. If Shane Flanagan can have it producing enough points to win matches then he will earn every cent.
As for the rest, well, everyone is undefeated at present.
There will be a thrilling Origin series in which the Blues with a pack full of grunt and a backline featuring Todd Carney and Josh Duggan finally end the era of Maroon domination.
There will no doubt be the odd scrape in a nightspot, but there will also be countless hours spent passing the ball and signing autographs for school kids (particularly if you are in Western Sydney, where it will probably be newsworthy if a school assembly is held without an NRL star).
It will be big and brutal. I can’t wait.