The long wait is over and the NRL is finally back tonight, so let’s look at five reasons to watch round one.
The first game back
It’s a no-brainer every year but the first game back is always something fans look forward to.
However, this year looks set to be even better than usual with the NRL scheduling a blockbuster between two premiership contenders to kick-off 2021.
The defending premiers, the Melbourne Storm, host the South Sydney Rabbitohs in a game that could set the season alight from the start.
For the first time since 2002, the Storm will be without Cameron Smith who finally announced his retirement yesterday.
They still have the roster capable of contending again in 2021 but it will be interesting to see how well they do without their champion hooker.
The Rabbitohs have been the most hyped team this off-season and after an impressive pre-season, many are predicting them to win the comp.
They have never won in Melbourne so this opening clash is the perfect test to see just how much they have improved from last season.
Another storyline is the battle of the coaches with two of the greatest ever going against each other in Craig Bellamy and Wayne Bennett.
With the likes of Latrell Mitchell, Cameron Murray and Cody Walker going up against Cameron Munster, Ryan Papenhuyzen and Josh Addo-Carr, this promises to be a beauty.
The return of Josh Hodgson
Hodgson had a stellar 2019 season before an ACL injury ruined his 2020, but he is now ready to go again.
He looked in tremendous touch playing 40 minutes in the Raiders trial match against the Roosters.
Hodgson was his usual crafty self out of dummy half and even showed some pace to make a line break that led to a try.
The Raiders have been so close to winning the premiership over the last two seasons, and you feel that Hodgson’s return should keep their premiership window open.
With GIO Stadium at full capacity for round one of the NRL, Hodgson will lead the side out to a thunderous Viking Clap which is always fun to watch.
Ryan James is another Raider making a long-awaited comeback and deserves a mention as well. Sunday’s match against the Wests Tigers will be his first match since April 2019 so all the best to James and Hodgson.
Are the Titans and Warriors finals contenders?
2021 is probably the first time in the club’s history that people are actually starting to feel excited about the Gold Coast Titans.
They have long been the laughingstock of the competition, but a strong finish to 2020 and some smart recruiting has them in the finals picture for 2021.
Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and David Fifita come to club as two of the most exciting young forwards in the NRL and should add plenty of firepower to the side.
AJ Brimson had a breakout year in 2020 and is electrifying at fullback, while Jamal Fogarty showed he can steer the team around the park.
They’re coming up against a New Zealand Warriors side that was mighty competitive in 2020 despite playing through difficult circumstances.
They are once again set to be based in Australia for the start of the season, but they proved they can handle it last year.
Addin Fonua-Blake is a huge inclusion to the Warriors side and provides some grunt to a strong Warriors pack.
2021 will also be Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s final year in the NRL before pursuing a dream to play in the All Blacks side so, expect him to want to go out in style.
It promises to be a highly competitive game and could tell us a bit about each side’s 2021 NRL prospects.
How will the Broncos respond now they have ‘Kevie’?
The Broncos became the joke of the competition last year as they picked up their first wooden spoon.
There is always pressure on the biggest club in the NRL to perform but that has only intensified off the back of their dismal 2020 campaign.
They signed club great Kevin Walters as head coach and even released an interesting song called ‘Next year we’ve got Kevie’ to celebrate.
Despite a new head coach, the Broncos are running with a similar team to last year with Jamayne Isaako getting first crack at fullback and Anthony Milford and Brodie Croft in the halves.
Milford and Croft underperformed last year and are likely on their last chance at the club so need to fire right away.
To make things more difficult to start the year, they will be without their two best players in Kotoni Staggs and Payne Haas for their NRL round one match against the Parramatta Eels on Friday night.
The Eels are expected to play finals again in 2021 so the Broncos don’t need to beat them to show improvement, but they must at least be more competitive than they were last year to make their fans happy ‘they have Kevie.’
How do the Panthers respond to Grand Final disappointment?
The Panthers were the best team all year in 2020, until a terrible opening 50 minutes of the Grand Final that cost them the premiership.
They looked incredible winning 17 games in a row until the Grand Final where they didn’t handle the pressure well at all.
The have a core nucleus of stars like Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai, Api Koroisau, James Fisher Harris, Viliame Kikau and Isaah Yeo that should put them around the top 4 again.
They should be too good for the Cowboys in round one, but there is always added interest in seeing how the Grand Final loser responds to the ultimate disappointment.
For more sport: