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Up and down the country several hundred Rugby League players will be beginning to feel a little nervous. The adrenaline will begin to course through their veins. They're going to start to visualise their plays and leave the torturous days of the pre-season behind them. It's time for another season of NRL to begin, and it's not just the players who are excited. The game's legions of fans are bursting at the seams in anticipation as well.
And why shouldn't they be? This past off-season has been chock-a-block with scandal, intrigue and some already exceptional football. Throw in an inspiring level of generosity and goodwill by some of the clubs in very troubling times and you have a top-class pre-season package of entertainment.
Now it's time to turn our eyes forward and to the mouth-watering Friday night of football that lies just around the corner. In Queensland there is the state derby between the Brisbane Broncos and the North Queensland Cowboys. Both teams will be running out onto a now dried-out Suncorp Stadium with points to prove.
The Broncos will take to the field under rookie coach Anthony Griffin for the first time after the shock sacking of Ivan Henjak in February. This is the first time in the club's proud history that a coach's head has fallen on the chopping block, and it will be interesting to see how Darren Lockyer and his players can put the tumultuous recent weeks behind them and get the two points on offer.
The Cowboys, and particularly coach Neil Henry, need to get season 2011 off to a flying start and keep that momentum going through the opening rounds. They have not only missed the finals for the past three years, but have languished near the bottom of the ladder as well. They need to fire, and fire quickly; otherwise they may face another long year of disappointment and underachievement.
Inevitably this game will be a test of who can handle the pressure of the first match of the season the best: the Broncos' team of talented youngsters or the Cowboys' mix of old heads such as Glenn Hall, Dallas Johnson and Aaron Payne. It looks to me like the Cowboys have the edge in this encounter, and will win in another nail biting clash that always makes this opening round derby a must-see.
In Sydney the NRL's biggest off-season signing, Greg Inglis, will be taking the field for the first time in Rabbitohs colours against bitter rivals, and 2010 Grand Finalists, the Sydney Roosters.
It's been another off-season of confidence and promise by the