After a couple of seasons of blistering-hot form with my annual fearless predictions, I think I’ll come falling back to earth with an almighty thud this year.
I can’t recall feeling as optimistic about the game following the first round of an NRL season. I am sure I probably have, I just can’t remember it.
The footy over the weekend gave me immense pleasure and I can’t really explain why.
To be honest the quality of rugby league was hit and miss with the wet weather proving to be a factor in a number of matches.
Perhaps it was because the off-season stank like the two-week old prawns that your best (or worst) mate has hidden in the curtain rods.
The opening game between Melbourne and Brisbane proved to be a record breaker with more eyes on the combined television coverage for an NRL regular season match than ever before: 1.18 million viewers in fact.
At the end of last season, I was pondering what the competition might look like after two rugby league greats in Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater hung up the boots.
The weekend showed we have players coming through that will ensure the NRL has a bright future.
A couple of debutants caught the eye, a Kiwi looked to replace a legend at the Storm and elsewhere two veterans proved there is life in the old limbs yet.
Jahrome Hughes (Melbourne Storm) Age 24 NRL matches 18
Jahrome is technically past the youngster stage at 24 years of age but with only 18 NRL matches under his belt, he is relatively inexperienced at the top level.
No one is going to fully replace what Slater provided in the foreseeable future. He is a legend of the game. However, Hughes at the very least cemented the number one jersey at the Storm for the next few matches.
After receiving a verbal spray from Craig Bellamy upon returning to pre-season training in unacceptable physical condition, the Storm fullback said he was still having nightmares about it months afterwards.
After running for 224 metres and scoring a try it would be safe to say that ‘Bellyache’ would be feeling a little bit easier about the former Palm Beach Currumbin State High School student.
Hughes will be looking to develop the combinations with Cameron Smith and the Storm halves that made ‘Billy the Kid’ so successful.
Sam Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs) Age 30 NRL Matches 164
With a change of position and his England national team mentor now coaching the Rabbitohs, no one looked more delighted that the footy is back in town than ‘Slammin Sam.’
Burgess was at his intimidating best against the Roosters as a right side second-rower, scoring a try and making some solid hits in defence. He also had the most run metres of both teams with 173.
Could this be Sam’s best season since he returned to the Rabbitohs from English rugby union in 2016?
Adam Keighran (New Zealand Warriors) Age 21 NRL Matches 1
It was always going to be a big challenge for the Wyong Roos junior to partner Blake Green in the halves in his debut match after Mount Smart Stadium hero Shaun Johnson left Auckland for the Shire in Sydney.
Keighran handled it with aplomb, picking up a try after stepping through a couple of defenders and kicking six goals in the Warriors 40-8 victory over a hapless Bulldogs team.
While coach Stephen Kearney was guarded in his praise for Keighran describing his first game as a “positive start” you get the feeling that the halves combination may suit his game plans more than Johnson’s off the cuff style.
Dylan Brown (Parramatta Eels) Age 18 NRL Matches 1
There is a theory in sport that class athletes always look like they have more time to execute plays and after watching Dylan Brown make his debut for the Parramatta Eels we may be witnessing the beginning of a very promising career.
The 18 old year old five-eighth looked like a seasoned professional working on the left edge with backrower Shaun Lane, having a hand in two of the Eels tries at Panthers Stadium.
Coach Brad Arthur praised Brown’s calmness and composure in both defence and attack mentioning that the composure was also “good for Mitchell Moses” who has been known to be a tad erratic and volatile.
Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers) Age 35 NRL Matches 283
After enduring a gruelling pre-season training campaign under Michael Maguire the veteran rake is looking as fit and strong as ever.
Apparently Robbie doesn’t like being referred to as ‘grandad’ or ‘fossil’ by teammates. He showed that he can still match it with the youngsters against Manly at Leichhardt by topping the Wests Tigers tackle count and ticking over the points on his favourite scoreboard after scoring two tries.
His contribution against a frankly lacklustre and mistake riddled Manly side went a long way to ensuring victory for the Wests Tigers who will also be looking to improve if they want to match the Warriors next weekend.
A number of other players contributed to a good weekend of rugby league including 20 year old Eels hooker Reed Mahoney and established first graders David Klemmer – in his first hit out for the Knights – along with Jason Taumalolo and Michael Morgan having big games in Townsville.
Some nice touches occurred on the Gold Coast when Bailey Simonsson son of Paul, who played a few games for the North Sydney Bears in the early 90s, and Cory Horsburgh son of former boxer Rick ‘Butterbean’ Horsburgh, made their NRL debuts for Canberra with their Dads watching on in the stands.
While we are on the Raiders, Ricky Stuart looks to have backed yet another English winner after John Bateman had an exceptional first up match for the Green Machine in their victory over the Titans.
Bring on Round 2. I can’t wait!