The National Rugby League competition symbolically begins when the Roosters and the Rabbitohs belt the bejesus out of each other in Sydney on the first weekend of the season.
2019’s version of the traditional clash was laced with infrastructure interest, thanks to the rugger boys destroying the sacred Sydney Cricket Ground surface just a week before the Chooks and the Bunnies took to the field.
Thankfully, the playing surface appeared to maintain its structural integrity in wet and sodden conditions, for what proved to be a closely fought battle between two teams tipped to be somewhere in the vicinity when the whips are cracking in September.
With coaching legend Wayne Bennett at the helm, South Sydney loom as likely premiership contenders and if the first instalment of their season was anything to go by, any predictions of success appear to have some merit.
Bennett’s men took an early lead after a try to Cam Murray, before the Roosters responded with two tries of their own. It built a 12-10 lead at the break and the Chooks appeared to have the Bunnies’ measure.
However, as the rain increased in velocity early in the second half, the Rabbitohs took the initiative against an error-riddled Roosters outfit. Adam Reynolds took control of the bridge and manufactured set after set for the cardinal and myrtle.
His adept kicking led to repeat sets and positional pressure, as well as the try to Cody Walker that skipped the Rabbitohs ahead by eight in the 60th minute after an earlier second half try to Campbell Graham.
When Alex Johnston crossed with just 12 minutes remaining on the clock the Bunnies were home and only a late Daniel Tupou try pulled the Roosters back within ten points.
In the end it was a convincing 26-16 victory for South Sydney and a perfect start to Bennett’s reign at Redfern. Far from a premiership hangover, the Roosters will lament dropped ball and missed opportunities.
The Eagles had better be ready for the Roosters next week, and Bennett’s next target will be the Dragons on Thursday night.
Earlier, two teams with many questions surrounding their fortunes in 2019 did battle at McDonald Jones Stadium.
It loomed as a potentially instructive match in terms of where the remodelled Knights and the freshly coached Sharks stood heading into the season.
It turned into something of a bumbling stalemate for much of the evening, before the contest came to life on the back of a Tim Glasby try that saw the Knights take the initiative after 68 minutes, and an 8-2 lead.
Just a penalty goal apiece had bothered the scorers prior to that point. The Sharks looked clunky in attack; making numerous errors in wonderful attacking positions and the Knights played something of a conservative game, as they struggled for combinations in a team containing a host of fresh talent.
The Sharks would level the scores after a controversial Sione Katoa try and Shaun Johnson conversion, before Edrick Lee ran 80 metres from an intercepted Chad Townsend pass to seal the game for the home side.
As one of the most talked about teams heading into the season, the Knights delivered on the predictions of many around their potential finals play in 2019.
David Klemmer was simply outstanding, Kalyn Ponga looked comfortable at pivot and their defence showed signs of real improvement, particularly on their try line.
Connor Watson impressed at the back and Lee was a constant threat in both attack and defence.
Most concerning for the Sharks was the attacking play of Matt Moylan and Shaun Johnson.
As free spirited and spontaneous players with touch football in their blood, the Sharks key men played anything but direct and Cronulla’s attack took on more and more of a crab-like appearance the longer the match went and the stiffer the resolve of the Knights became.
Rookie coach John Morris will feel as though his team leaked competition points against Newcastle in Round 1 and Johnson’s assessment of the Sharks as their ‘own worst enemy’ was eloquently accurate.
They will look to bounce back against the Titans next week and the Knights do battle with the Panthers in the Hunter.
Whilst the signing of Johnson brought much excitement to the Shire and hopes of a second premiership for the club that waited so long for its first, I am far from convinced that the inclusion of Moylan and Johnson in the same team isn’t more of a hindrance than a help.