Tasty battles have NRL fans salivating

By Steve Jancetic,

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    The NRL regular season can often seem an entree to the main meal of finals football, but rarely has an initial offering seemed so capable of satisfying even the most insatiable of rugby league appetites as that tabled in 2012.

    From opening night in Newcastle when the Wayne Bennett era gets underway against his former club St George Illawarra, blockbusters of intrigue and sub-plots come so thick and fast they would put a list of Oscars finalists to shame.

    What about a grand final re-match at Auckland’s famed Eden Park, or last year’s grand final coaches going head to head on debut with their new clubs, or the latest edition in the longest-standing rivalry of all – South Sydney v Sydney Roosters.

    And that’s just the opening round.

    The main protagonists from last year’s Brookvale Donnybrook – Glenn Stewart and Adam Blair – will lock horns in round two, while Tim Moltzen – who snubbed his nose at the Dragons after signing with them – is sure to get a noisy welcome when his Wests Tigers venture down to Kogarah in round three.

    Then there’s the clash which shines out like a beacon above all others, when Des Hasler – accused of attempting to rip the heart out of a Manly premiership juggernaut he created as he headed to Canterbury – takes on the Sea Eagles for the first time.

    There’s no denying the Sea Eagles have the date marked in their calendar.

    Questioned by a journalist – who claimed not to know when the two sides would meet – about the rivalry, Manly prop Brent Kite’s eyes lit up.

    “Yeah … round eight,” he responded with little hesitation.

    “We have thought about, we have talked about it, had a bit of a laugh about it.”

    Then the standard: “We can’t get too caught up with it because it’s just another game.”

    Hasler knows his performances at the Bulldogs will be held up against his portfolio of work at Manly, but claimed he wouldn’t be on his own there.

    “Every side should be comparing themselves to Manly,” Hasler said of the premiers, now guided by his former understudy Geoff Toovey.

    “Manly are the benchmark. They’re the number one team out there.

    “All the sides will be really working well to compete against that Manly side. They’re a very good side and they’ve earned that right.”

    There’ll be little love lost when Parramatta venture to ANZ Stadium to face South Sydney, pitting former Rabbitohs halfback Chris Sandow against his former club.

    While Souths fans will be hoping rookie playmaker Adam Reynolds has them chanting ‘Chris who?’ by the time the two sides meet, it’s doubtful the acrimonious split – which included Souths owner Russell Crowe tweeting details of Sandow’s new salary – will be quickly forgotten.

    As much pressure as Reynolds is under, it has nothing on the man taking on the Brisbane No.6 jumper in 2012.

    Replacing Darren Lockyer, one of the greatest to ever play the game, will not be easy.

    Anyone doubting that need only look at Newcastle, who haven’t been a premiership force since Andrew Johns hung up his boots.

    There’s a new superstar in Newcastle now, and while Bennett won’t make a tackle or set up a try, it’s an indication of his qualities that the Knights, who barely cracked a finals berth last year, are being discussed amongst the premiership favourites.

    The team with the question mark are Cronulla, who took the biggest punt of any NRL side during the off-season by handing troubled star Todd Carney yet another lifeline.

    At his best, Carney could return the Sharks to the glory days when Andrew Ettingshausen and David Peachey were running in tries for fun.

    But the Cronulla faithful only need to look at the Carney-inspired demise of the Roosters last year to appreciate just how wrong it can all go.

    While Toovey will be under the spotlight as Manly look to go back to back, there’s just as much pressure on fellow newcomers to the NRL coaching ranks Brian McClennan and Steve Price.

    McClennan takes over a youthful but richly-talented Warriors side seemingly destined for a sustained period of dominance, while Price will be hoping the Dragons’ premiership window is still ajar as he follows in Bennett’s big footsteps.

    Bring on the rugby league feast.

    © AAP 2018

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    The Crowd Says (9)

    • February 25th 2012 @ 10:18am
      oikee said | February 25th 2012 @ 10:18am | ! Report

      Round 2, Broncos Cowboys at Suncorp. Looking forward to this and the Dragons Knights game.

    • February 25th 2012 @ 11:04am
      KSI said | February 25th 2012 @ 11:04am | ! Report

      It a shame that Channel 9 are screwing us again. First match of the year and the only place its going live is in NSW. I know the rest of Australia has been fighting for live games for years but you would think QLD would get the first game of the season live. Bring on new TV rights deal.

      • February 25th 2012 @ 3:16pm
        voodoo people said | February 25th 2012 @ 3:16pm | ! Report

        Or endless Big bang theory or CSI repeats in Victoria.

    • February 25th 2012 @ 11:12am
      B.A Sports said | February 25th 2012 @ 11:12am | ! Report

      First round has a lot of enticing matchups. And then only about 30 weeks to the playoffs…

    • February 25th 2012 @ 1:20pm
      Matt_S said | February 25th 2012 @ 1:20pm | ! Report

      The other great battle have been the membership battles with over 27,000 new members joining the ranks.

      Ticketed memberships will skyrocket once a fixed schedule is finally introduced.

      • Roar Guru

        February 25th 2012 @ 9:06pm
        Dan Wighton said | February 25th 2012 @ 9:06pm | ! Report

        Hi Matt, do you know where to get accurate membership figures?

        Some clubs publish them on their website, but the NRL hasnt done this in 2012 unlike last year.

        And by the way, I reckon a fixed schedule is very unlikely if the game is chasing the big TV dollars….

        • February 26th 2012 @ 10:40am
          warren said | February 26th 2012 @ 10:40am | ! Report

          I do not necessarily agree that a flexible schedule is needed for the big TV dollars. The powers that be know who the big drawing teams will be year in year out regardless of their position on the table. I have not looked closely but you will find the Broncos have a high percentage of Friday night games & if you mix them with the Tigers, St George, Parramatta and Canterbury to other sides you know that the ratings are going to be ok regardless. Lets face if Canberra and the Storm were on top of the comp the ratings would be lower than if St George v Tigers were running mid table. The fixed schedule will mean more people attending the games which will also add to the atmosphere. I have been trying to get to the GC this year to spend some time with my dad. We can not plan this properly until we find somehow look for the dates on the games. In the end I will not go because it just becomes more expensive to book flights more closer to the time.

    • February 26th 2012 @ 3:00am
      Gaz said | February 26th 2012 @ 3:00am | ! Report

      Channel 9 need delayed telecasts to cram more advertisements. Gyngel is wanting to slow the game down during scrums and goal kicks so they can do more adds as part of live television. They already dictate when a ref can restart games after points are scored waiting for the adds to finish. The new Tv deal is all about money but the fans also need a bit of continuity that is now likely to affect those at the game as well.
      The IC needs to take back the running of the game from the TV moguls before it gets further out of hand.
      By the way if 9 loses out to 10 on the TV rights it may very well push them over the brink if current reports on their financial position are correct.
      Getting rid of their biased commentary during SOO would go down well with Maroon supporters I’m sure.

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      • February 27th 2012 @ 12:59pm
        Paul said | February 27th 2012 @ 12:59pm | ! Report

        See Gaz, I reckon they are biased to QLD becuase they try so hard to be unbiased.

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