Can you believe it?! Footy is back! The shortened off-season has been a blessing in many ways and we can all rejoice.
Plenty to prove for many sides as they look to get off to good starts. Some want to stay consistent, others want to move up but not all will prevail.
Here are the teams for round 1 of the NRL Telstra Premiership:
Melbourne Storm v South Sydney Rabbitohs (#NRLStormSouths); AAMI Park, Melbourne; Thursday, March 11. Kick-off: 8:05 pm.
Storm: 1. Ryan Papenhuyzen 2. George Jennings 3. Reimis Smith 4. Justin Olam 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 7. Jahrome Hughes 8. Jesse Bromwich (C) 9. Brandon Smith 11. Christian Welch 12. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenny Bromwich 13. Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
Interchange: 14. Chris Lewis 15. Tui Kamikamica 16. Tom Eisenhuth 17. Nicho Hynes.
Reserves: 18. Darryn Schonig 19. Cooper Johns 20. Trent Loiero 21. Tyson Smoothy.
Coach: Craig Bellamy.
Rabbitohs: 1. Latrell Mitchell 2. Alex Johnston 3. Dane Gagai 4. Campbell Graham 5. Josh Mansour 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds (C) 8. Thomas Burgess 9. Damien Cook 10. Tevita Tatola 11. Jacob Host 12. Jaydn Su’A 13. Cameron Murray.
Interchange: 14. Benji Marshall 15. Mark Nicholls 16. Keaon Koloamatangi 17. Jai Arrow.
Reserves: 18. Patrick Mago 19. Jaxson Paulo 20. Tautau Moga 21. Troy Dargan.
Coach: Wayne Bennett.
Referees: Grant Atkins. Sideline Officials: Chris Butler & Todd Smith. Video Ref: Steve Chiddy.
Ricky’s View: A blockbuster to kick us off in 2021 as the reigning champs go up against the bookies’ favourites.
A tough one, given the firepower both sides possess and the battle of the fullbacks (Ryan Papenhuyzen and Latrell Mitchell) and the five-eighths (Cameron Munster and Cody Walker).
Just leaning towards the Storm ever so slightly; the fact that their spine is fresh off the premiership win in 2020 and will want to take their game to new heights and go back-to-back.
It will be very close and a great way to kick us off but the Storm. Just.
Newcastle Knights v Canterbury Bulldogs (#NRLKnightsBulldogs); McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle; Friday, March 12. Kick-off: 6:00 pm.
Knights: 1. Tex Hoy 2. Starford To’A 3. Enari Tuala 4. Bradman Best 5. Gehamat Shibasaki 6. Kurt Mann 7. Mitch Pearce 8. David Klemmer 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Daniel Saifiti 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Mitch Barnett 13. Connor Watson.
Interchange: 14. Sauaso Sue 15. Jacob Saifiti 16. Josh King 17. Brodie Jones.
Reserves: 18. Hymel Hunt 19. Pasami Saulo 20. Jack Johns 21. Simi Sasagi.
Coach: Adam O’Brien
Bulldogs: 1. Corey Allan 2. Nick Meaney 3. Will Hopoate 4. Nick Cotric 5. Dallin Watene-Zelenziak 6. Jake Averillo 7. Kyle Flanagan 8. Ofahiki Ogden 9. Sione Katoa 10. Jack Hetherington 11. Adam Elliott 12. Corey Waddell 13. Josh Jackson (C).
Interchange: 14. Bradley Deitz 15. Renouf Atoni 16. Raymond Faitala-Mariner 17. Dylan Napa.
Reserves: 19. Tuipolutu Katoa 20. Chris Smith 21. Brandon Wakeham 22. Ava Seumanufagai.
Coach: Trent Barrett.
Referees: Ben Cummins. Sideline Officials: Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski & Kasey Badger.
Video Ref: Alan Shortall.
Ricky’s View: An interesting clash as both teams had their ups and downs in 2020. The Bulldogs are a new-look side under coach Trent Barrett and the Adam O’Brien-led Knights are without superstar Kalyn Ponga.
Despite that, the Knights may just pip the Bulldogs. There is enough class there with Mitch Pearce, Kurt Mann, Bradman Best, and Connor Watson to snag the win.
The Bulldogs are no pushovers by any means but their side may need time to gel and that usually takes a few weeks to get the combinations going efficiently.
Brisbane Broncos v Parramatta Eels (#NRLBroncosEels); Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane; Friday, March 12. Kick-off: 8:05 pm.
Broncos: 1. Jamayne Isaako 2. Xavier Coates 3. Herbie Farnworth 4. Tesi Niu 5. David Mead 6. Anthony Milford 7. Brodie Croft 8. Tevita Pangai Junior 9. Jake Turpin 10. Matthew Lodge 11. Alex Glenn 12. Jordan Riki 13. Patrick Carrigan.
Interchange: 14. John Asiata 15. Thomas Flegler 16. Ethan Bullemor 17. Ben Te’o.
Reserves: 18. Tom Dearden 19. Rhys Kennedy 20. Richard Kenanr 21. Cory Paix.
Coach: Kevin Walters.
Eels: 1. Clint Gutherson (C) 2. Maika Sivo 3. Tom Opacic 4. Waqa Blake 5. Blake Ferguson 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitch Moses 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Ryan Matterson 13. Nathan Brown.
Interchange: 14. Oregon Kaufusi 15. Isaiah Papali’i 16. Keegan Hipgrave 17. Will Smith.
Reserves: 18. Haze Dunster 19. Joey Lussick 20. Jordan Rankin 21. David Hollis.
Coach: Brad Arthur.
Referees: Adam Gee. Sideline Officials: Belinda Sharpe & Michael Wise. Video Ref: Henry Perenara.
Ricky’s View: A wooden spoon in 2020 and heading into without Kotoni Staggs (ACL) and Payne Haas (suspension) is a big loss. It only makes the Broncos’ job even harder.
This is an Eels side that has revamped their depth stocks and will look to stake their claims early as premiership contenders.
They have been unable as of yet to take the next step and reach the back-end of the finals but their team is capable of doing so. Mitch Moses looms as the key as always.
Despite the Kevin Walters-led Broncos likely to have plenty of heart, two of their key attacking sparks in Staggs and Haas will likely be a mountain too hard to climb. The Eels by a solid amount.
New Zealand Warriors v Gold Coast Titans (#NRLWarriorsTitans); Central Coast Stadium, Gosford; Saturday, March 13. Kick-off: 3 pm.
Warriors: 1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (C) 2. David Fusitu’a 3. Euan Aitken 4. Peta Hiku 5. Ken Maumalo 6. Kodi Nikorima 7. Chanel Harris-Tavita 8. Addin Fonua-Blake 9. Wayde Egan 10. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown 11. Eliesa Katoa 12. Bayley Sironen 13. Tohu Harris.
Interchange: 14. Jazz Tevaga 15. Ben Murdoch-Masila 16. Leeson Ah Mau 17. Bunty Afoa.
Reserves: 18. Adam Pompey 20. Sean O’Sullivan 21. Tom Ale 22. Josh Curran.
Coach: Nathan Brown.
Titans: 1. Alexander Brimson 2. Anthony Don 3. Brian Kelly 4. Patrick Herbert 5. Corey Thompson 6. Ashley Taylor 7. Jamal Fogarty 8. Jarrod Wallace 9. Mitch Rein 10. Moeaki Fotuaika 11. Kevin Proctor 12. David Fifita 13. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui.
Interchange: 14. Tyrone Peachey 15. Sam Lisone 16. Jaimin Jolliffe 17. Erin Clark.
Reserves: 18. Philip Sami 19. Beau Fermor 20. Herman Ese’ese 21. Sam McIntyre.
Coach: Justin Holbrook.
Referees: Ashley Klein. Sideline Officials: Phil Henderson & Jon Stone. Video Ref: Steve Chiddy.
Ricky’s View: Perhaps one of the more difficult games to pick this round given the revamp both sides have undergone in 2021.
The Titans forward pack is impressive and looms as one of the best in the comp but so does that of the Warriors.
David Fifita and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui against the likes of Katoa and Harris will be good battles but it is the halves that will dictate this one.
Chanel Harris-Tavita and Kodi Nikorima against Jamal Fogarty and Ashley Taylor. Who steps up? The Titans just over here but in a very entertaining contest.
Sydney Roosters v Manly Sea Eagles (#NRLRoostersManly); Sydney Cricket Ground; Saturday, March 13. Kick-off: 5:30 pm.
Roosters: 1. James Tedesco 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Josh Morris 4. Joseph Manu 5. Brett Morris 6. Lachlan Lam 7. Luke Keary 8. Lindsay Collins 9. Jake Friend (C) 10. Sio Siua Taukeiaho 11. Angus Crichton 12. Sitili Tupouniua 13. Isaac Liu.
Interchange: 14. Adam Keighran 15. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 16. Nat Butcher 17. Daniel Suluka-Fifita.
Reserves: 18. Matt Ikuvalu 19. Fletcher Baker 20. Freddy Lussick 21. Sam Walker.
Coach: Trent Robinson.
Manly: 1. Dylan Walker 2. Jason Saab 3. Brad Parker 4. Moses Suli 5. Reuben Garrick 6. Kieran Foran 7. Daly Cherry-Evans (C) 8. Josh Aloiai 9. Lachlan Croker 10. Martin Taupau 11. Jack Gosiewski 12. Curtis Sironen 13. Jake Trbojevic.
Interchange: 14. Tevita Funa 15. Andrew Davey 16. Morgan Boyle 17. Taniela Paseka.
Reserves: 18. Josh Schuster 19. Sean Keppie 20. Toafofoa Sipley 21. Morgan Harper.
Coach: Des Hasler.
Referees: Chris Sutton. Sideline Officials: Matt Noyen & Nick Beashel. Video Ref: Chris Butler.
Ricky’s View: The loss of Tom Trbojevic for Manly cannot be understated. His ability is tremendous and last year showed just how much Manly missed him.
With a very similar playing group in 2021, the Roosters have all hands on decks and raring to go.
With the expected form of James Tedesco, Luke Keary and Angus Crichton potentially set to go up another level in 2021, the Roosters should win this by a decent margin.
Penrith Panthers v North Queensland Cowboys (#NRLPanthersCowboys); Panthers Stadium, Penrith; Saturday, March 13. Kick-off: 7:35 pm.
Panthers: 1. Dylan Edwards 2. Charlie Staines 3. Paul Momirovski 4. Stephen Crichton 5. Brian To’o 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary (C) 8. Moses Leota 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Kurt Capewell 13. Isaah Yeo (C).
Interchange: 14. Tyrone May 15. Spencer Leniu 16. Matthew Eisenhuth 17. Liam Martin.
Reserves: 18. J’Maine Hopgood 19. Matt Burton 20. Robert Jennings 21. Mitch Kenny.
Coach: Ivan Cleary.
Cowboys: 1. Scott Drinkwater 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Esan Marsters 4. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow 5. Valentine Holmes 6. Michael Morgan (C) 7. Jake Clifford 8. Francis Molo 9. Reece Robson 10. Jordan McLean 11. Mitch Dunn 12. Coen Hess 13. Jason Taumalolo.
Interchange: 14. Jake Granville 15. Josh McGuire 16. Corey Jensen 17. Reuben Cotter.
Reserves: 18. Lachlan Burr 19. Shane Wright 20. Murray Taulagi 21. Ben Hampton.
Referees: Matt Cecchin. Sideline Officials: Todd Smith & Liam Kennedy. Video Ref: Alan Shortall.
Ricky’s View: The Cowboys are rightfully dark horses for the entire season under new coach Todd Payten, even if some long-term positional questions remain.
Val Holmes or Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow at fullback. Scott Drinkwater or Jake Clifford at five-eighth. Any side with Jason Taumalolo can never be discounted, though.
Penrith fell one step short in 2020 and will want to taste premiership glory.
With a largely similar side from 2020 and several key re-signings, their tilt begins here and the Panthers should start 2021 with a good win.
Canberra Raiders v Wests Tigers (#NRLRaidersTigers); GIO Stadium, Bruce; Sunday, March 14. Kick-off: 4:00 pm.
Raiders: 1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Bailey Simonsson 3. Seb Kris 4. Curtis Scott 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Jack Wighton 7. George Williams 8. Josh Papalii 9. Josh Hodgson (C) 10. Dunamis Lui 11. Hudson Young 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. Joseph Tapine.
Interchange: 14. Siliva Havili 15. Ryan Sutton 16. Iosia Soliola 17. Ryan James.
Reserves: 18. Sam Williams 19. Tom Starling 20. Emre Guler 21. Harley Smith-Shields.
Coach: Ricky Stuart.
Tigers: 1. Daine Laurie 2. David Nofolauma 3. James Roberts 4. Joseph Leilua 5. Asu Kepaoa 6. Moses Mbye 7. Luke Brooks 8. James Tamou (C) 9. Jacob Liddle 10. Joe Ofahengaue 11. Luke Garner 12. Luciano Leilua 13. Alex Twal.
Interchange: 14. Tommy Talau 15. Thomas Mikaele 16. Stefano Utoikamanu 17. Russell Packer.
Reserves: 18. Jock Madden 19. Michael Chee-Kam 20. Tukimihia Simpkins 21. Alex Seyfarth.
Coach: Michael Maguire.
Referees: Gerard Sutton. Sideline Officials: Dave Munro & Drew Oultram. Video Ref: Ashley Klein.
Ricky’s View: No Jarrod Croker to start but Josh Hodgson will play for the Raiders and that is a boost. A talented hooker – which he has shown in the past – his exploits in 2021 will be crucial.
Jack Wighton and George Williams were solid but Hodgson’s level-headedness and calmness will help their games as well.
This is getting closer to the type of side Michael Maguire wants at the Tigers as they look to break their finals duck.
Luciano Leilua is poised to take his game to a new level but will overall teething problems cost the Tigers? The Raiders to get the win in another good clash.
St George Illawarra Dragons v Cronulla Sharks (#NRLDragonsSharks); Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Kogarah; Sunday, March 14. Kick-off: 6:15 pm.
Dragons: 1. Matthew Dufty 2. Cody Ramsey 3. Jack Bird 4. Zac Lomax 5. Mikaeke Ravalawa 6. Adam Clune 7. Ben Hunt (C) 8. Blake Lawrie 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Josh Kerr 12. Tariq Sims 13. Tyrell Fuimaono.
Interchange: 14. Poasa Faamausili 15. Trent Merrin 16. Daniel Alvaro 17. Brayden Wiliame.
Reserves: 18. Jackson Ford 19. Kaide Ellis 20. Jordan Pereira 21. Max Feagai.
Coach: Anthony Griffin.
Sharks: 1. William Kennedy 2. Sione Katoa 3. Josh Dugan 4. Jesse Ramien 5. Ronaldo Mulitalo 6. Matt Moylan 7. Chad Townsend 8. Braden Hamlin-Uele 9. Blayke Brailey 10. Aaron Woods 11. Briton Nikora 12. Wade Graham 13. Toby Rudolf.
Interchange: 14. Connor Tracey 15. Aiden Tolman 16. Jack Williams 17. Billy Magoulias.
Reserves: 18. Mawene Hiroti 19. Teig Wilton 20. Andrew Fifita 21. Braydon Trindall.
Referees: Peter Gough. Sideline Officials: Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski & Kasey Badger.
Video Ref: Steve Chiddy.
Ricky’s View: A bit crazy with this call maybe but a Dragons win is not out of the question as so many think.
Although they have had a turbulent off-season and are missing Cam McInnes, the firepower is still there to play well enough to win. Zac Lomax, Matt Dufty, and Ben Hunt, in particular, are key.
The Sharks will be an interesting side to watch in the absence of Shaun Johnson to see who can step up.
Johnson led the league in try assists in 2020 and no other Sharks player was close to his tally. If no-one can step up to the plate, the Sharks may not get the result they want.
The Dragons in a nail-biter.