Wests Tigers v Sea Eagles preview
3 hours ago | Tim Costello
NSWRL's Simon Masterton previews all the action ahead of the opening weekend of the Intrust Super Premiership.
UOW Jubilee Oval, Saturday 4 March
Broadcast LIVE on Fox League (502)
With the prospect of back-to-back titles, newly-named Illawarra RLFC will host the Penrith Panthers in the first game of the 2017 Intrust Super Premiership NSW at UOW Jubilee Oval. It will be no easy task for the team formerly known as the Cutters, however - they have lost their coach, a number of experienced players and will have to adjust accordingly. The inclusion of Matt Dufty and Jai Field, who were stars of the 2016 Holden Cup, is certain to help Illawarra's cause.
The Panthers, who welcome back former coach Garth Brennan and will field a particularly young side, will still need to be at their best to challenge the defending premiers, but undoubtedly have the talent to do so. Penrith's Holden Cup outfit has made the past two grand finals - winning the decider in 2016 - and many of those players will graduate into the Intrust Super Premiership NSW. With sufficient depth at the club, some genuine future superstars will be on show in the opening game of the season.
Ringrose Park, Saturday 4 March
While the Magpies and Bears both missed out on playing finals football this year, there is every chance that they will find themselves higher up the ladder at season's end. Key for the Wentworthville side is a full off season under coach Nathan Cayless, who arrived at the helm midway through last year. He will have at his disposal a good mix of young and old as his men aim for an impressive first-up display at home.
North Sydney, meanwhile, have experienced a minimal player turnover when compared with other clubs. Consistency was experienced in the playing roster more than on the field last season and coach Ben Gardiner will want to close the gap between the Bears' best and worst performances. After a shake-up to the team's pre-season preparation, time will tell whether the Bears will be serious contenders in 2017. It all starts on Saturday afternoon at Ringrose Park.
Aubrey Keech Reserve, Saturday 4 March
Broadcast LIVE on SteeleSports.com.au
After the heartbreak of a single-point loss in the 2016 Intrust Super Premiership NSW Grand Final, none of the other 11 teams would have wanted to draw Mounties in Round 1 this year. That is the situation for the Bulldogs and the fact is they will face a team desperate to avenge their most recent defeat in December. The 2016 minor premiers, of course, have experienced significant player movements and while a good portion of the new group weren't playing in that game, it is a memory that might still linger at the club. Mounties' signings have been quality and they will be favourites at home against the Bulldogs.
The biggest change for the men from Belmore is the addition of new coach Steve Georgallis, who took charge of the Panthers in 2016. With him he brings former Panther Andy Saunders, while experienced Papua New Guinean Rod Griffin arrives from the Wests Tigers. In what is expected to be a muddy affair at Aubrey Keech Reserve, the will to dig in and hold onto the football will be the biggest factor.
Morry Breen Oval, Saturday 4 March
It was the semi-final last year that had many seriously considering the Wests Tigers as potential premiers; the joint venture club defeated the Wyong Roos 26-16 at Pepper Stadium to send them packing from the competition. This time around, the Tigers travel to Kanwal to take on an opposition stacked with young players fresh off a Holden Cup premiership with the Roosters; it is certainly a different outfit to the one they outplayed last year.
A number of senior men at Wyong make them an interesting prospect this season, while the Tigers bring in a new coach and reasonably high player turnover. The slate from 2016 is well and truly clean as these two teams line up for a Round 1 match-up at Morry Breen Oval.
Mt Smart Stadium, Sunday 5 March
1:45pm NZT (11:45am AEDT)
Broadcast LIVE on Fox League (502) and Sky Sport NZ
In the second televised match of Round 1, the Warriors get the opportunity to impress at home against a Newcastle side which, frankly, were well and truly the least effective team in the competition last season. The only way is up for the Knights, of course, and both opponents head into the match with shake-ups to their respective coaching staffs. That, along with significant player movements, makes this match a relative unknown.
Given last year's results - the Warriors finished fifth before exiting at the semi-finals stage -the home side will clearly start as favourites, but they will need to show greater consistency than they displayed in 2016. Ricky Henry has named a strong side for Round 1, as has the Knights' Simon Woolford, with experienced players Manu Vatuvei, James Gavet, Timana Tahu and Mickey Paea on display at Mt Smart Stadium on Sunday.
HE Laybutt Fields, Sunday 5 March
Broadcast LIVE on Hawkesbury Radio 89.9 FM
The final match of Round 1 will see a piece of history in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW: for the first time, the Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles will line up in a new partnership between Blacktown Workers and the Manly Sea Eagles. The match will cap off an historic triple-header at HE Laybutt Fields, in which the new franchise will also field their Sydney Shield and Ron Massey Cup outfits.
The change in scenery from the Northern Beaches to Western Sydney has forced a monumental player turnover for the Sea Eagles, with just four members of last year's 11th-placed squad taking their place in the team for Round 1. As veteran Newtown coach Greg Matterson explains, however, every team is new at this time of year and it won't affect his side's preparation.
"All the teams are new; there's turnover in every team," Matterson tells NSWRL.com.au. "Every team's got some quality players in it and they're all starting the season on zero.
"It wouldn't matter who we're playing this week, we're going to treat them with respect and hopefully we can put our best foot forward."
Round 1 poses unique challenges for every team and the Jets - who have only had their part-time and full-time playing groups together for two training sessions - will be looking to find their feet as quickly as possible in the new season.
"Hopefully we gel and we're ready to put a good performance in," Matterson adds. "It's a bit unknown, like most sides - you get your NRL players back pretty late for this first round.
"We're preparing for a tough game. Everyone's going to be strong and keen early so yeah, we're ready for a battle."
Newtown, who were 2016 preliminary finalists and are a feeder for NRL premiers Cronulla, should probably start the game as marginal favourites - but with so many unknowns in the Blacktown Workers' side, it is a difficult one to pick. Some quality players on both sides of the park will make this one an enjoyable game to witness live, or to listen to on Hawkesbury Radio 89.9FM.