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The Illawarra rugby league premiership kicks off on Friday night. The competition is at it's strongest for years, with 2004 premiers Collies defeating Jim Beam Cup side and former Illawarra premiership participants Wentworthville by 48-4 in a trial a few weeks ago. Collies' main rivals in 2005 look to be Thirroul, Wests and Dapto. Every other club in Port Kembla, Corrimal, Uni, Helensburgh and Wollongong are a genuine finals chance.
TOOHEYS ILLAWARRA RUGBY LEAGUE ROUND 1 PREVIEW
Helensburgh Tigers v Wollongong Bulls 8pm Friday April 1 Rex Jackson Oval
The Bulls face Helensburgh in a match where both teams get a good opportunity to spend 19 hours as competition leaders. Their Friday night clash is sure to draw a vocal crowd at Rex Jackson Oval to see the strongest Tigers lineup for a few years enter the 2005 premiership with the intention of making the finals. The Bulls have a side that looks closer in strength to their 2003 semi final side than their 2004 wooden spoon lineup. It will be a good tussle, with the winner picking up a handy two points as both sides introduce an array of new signings to the Tooheys League.
Collegians Collie Dogs v Corrimal Cougars 3pm Saturday April 2 WIN #2 Ground
The Cougars will know where they stand compared to the premiers and competition favourites in their opening match away to Collies. The Dogs will be satisfied with nothing less than a comfortable win if they are to continue their standards of 2004 and if anything, Collies look stronger than last year as opposed to Corrimal, who have stuck with a very similar lineup. The Cougars will therefore be relying on the experience gained in climbing to equal fith last year compared to their opponents, who have many matchwinners in their side. Corrimal cannot rest in defense as the premiers have attacking firepower right across their 17.
Wests Red Devils v Dapto Canaries 3pm Saturday April 2 Parrish Park
Dapto also face a tough test in their opening clash. They travel to face the Devils, who are flexing their muscles with four teams in 2005 after having a fine season last year. Wests displayed exceptional trial form in their thrashings of Milton-Ulladulla and Uni and will be favourites at home. This is despite the fact the Canaries will be led by former Milton-Ulladulla skipper Justin Holbrook and have added plenty of depth to their squad with the likes of ex-Canterbury Bulldog Adrian Rainey and Collies strike forward Steve Grant. Expect these two professionally-run traditional rivals to serve up a quality contest.
Port Kembla v Thirroul 3pm Saturday April 3 Noel Mulligan Oval
The Blacks have had their ranks severly depleted in the off-season with some fine players leaving the club. They face a Thirroul who have snapped up some key signings that give them an ominous look with depth across the paddock. Port will have their spirit tested and unless they have signed some late forwards, their pack will be quickly tested. Port still have some very good players and the loss of some of their recent stars does not mean they will field a weak lineup, it will just not have the look of their opponents who will be favourites. Mark Simon is back and is generally responsible for producing well over 10 points a game by himself. Another huge crowd can be expected to do everything they can to upset the Butchers, making this a classic bout to kick off a long-anticipated season for both clubs.
There will again be a competitive 10 team reserve grade competition. Berkeley face Uni in their match and will likely face a tough squad as no player is a real reserve grader yet and some fighting for first grade will be out to impress. Helensburgh and Wollongong clash in a contest that will gauge what sort of depth they will take into the 2005 premiership. The Tigers will be favourite after the Bulls terrible 2004. Corrimal will face a side full of first grade standard and will not be expected to match Collies on Saturday. Wests are reserve grade's standouts in recent times and will enter the Dapto clash favourites to overcome the Canaries in a tough opening match. The Butchers and Blacks meet in another good reserve grade clash and have very similar credentials. Either team could take the two points, with Thirroul probably favoured to triumph by a narrow margin.
The 18's will be looked at next week when some form from the first round can be determined. The lineups should be quite different as many players are no longer eligible due to age. The eight teams contesting the eighteens this year will be Berkeley, Corrimal, Dapto, Helensburgh, Port Kembla, Thirroul, University and Wests.
TOOHEYS NEW CUP
Tooheys Cup Tens Time Unknown - Jim Allen Oval
Jim Allen Oval will see all seven teams in the rejuvenated Tooheys Cup meet to contest their pre-season tens tournament. After an uninspiring five team competition last year, a respectable seven sides will play in 2005, with the Wests Red Devils' third grade side and debutants Bulli Bushrangers welcome additions to incumbants Avondale, Berkeley, Mt Kembla, Norths and Windang. Clubs have been busy signing players in the off season and the competition looks like it is climbing out of the doldrums.
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