Mounties v Penrith: Minor Premiers Return
GIO Stadium, Saturday 5th March, 12:40pm
Watch Live on Fox Sports on Channel 501
Last season’s minor premiers, Mounties, are hungry to go one better and win it all in 2016, and a victory over the Panthers would be the ideal beginning for them.
Opening the 2015 season with seven consecutive wins, Mounties are aiming to replicate their perfect start again.
Despite losing a large number from last season’s squad, Mounties still possess a formidable line up featuring recently-acquired Joe Tapine and the 2015 Player of the Year, Mitch Barnett.
For Penrith, fast-rising star Te Maire Martin leads the side with new coach Steve Georgallis at the helm. Martin is brilliant with the ball and will be a constant threat to Mounties.
It’s set to be an electric matchup to ignite the new season.
Wests Tigers v Manly: Dust Settles for Season Opener
Campbelltown Stadium, Saturday 5th March, 1:15pm
While new Wests Tigers coach Paul Stringer has prepared his side for the season, there remain many unknowns for his side. However, he is purely focused on his own squad in their first matchup.
“We haven’t focused on Manly at all,” Stringer told NSWRL.com.au. “The side they put out will be a strong side but if we worry about our own backyard instead of theirs, we’ll be fine. We’ll go from there and it will be our starting point.”
While Manly have plenty of confidence after a finals finish in 2015 and a promising showing at the Auckland Nines tournament earlier this year, their season took a severe hit with Jayden Hodges ruled out with a season-ending injury.
The Sea Eagles still possess the likes of Brenton Lawrence, Luke Burgess and Tim Moltzen. Returning from injury, Moltzen gains his opportunity to cause the Wests Tigers to regret letting him go last year.
Wests Tigers will need to keep careful watch on Moltzen and Stringer asserts they have worked tirelessly on their defence during the preseason.
“We’ve strongly based our training around our defensive system,” Stringer said. “The whole club has worked to improve the defence.
“Manly haven’t played together much, the same as we haven’t played much together. A few of the guys have come back from first grade trials and it’s essentially our first hit out together this week. It’s a matter of completing sets, holding the ball and making them tackle as long as we can – then we’ll take it from there.”
Illawarra v Warriors: Powerhouses Collide
WIN Stadium, Saturday 5th March, 3:00pm
Posing as two of the competition’s major contenders, both sides face a stern test right off the bat.
“They’re a fairly unknown side,” Illawarra coach Jason Demetriou told NSWRL.com.au. “They finished well last year and made the finals. They’ve got plenty of good players including Konrad Hurrell and Ali Lauitiiti, who has had plenty of NRL experience, will relish playing with the younger guys.”
Under new coach Demetriou, Illawarra experienced a busy offseason with Shaun Nona, Josh McCrone and Sebastine Ikahihifo joining the side. Nona starred in the Queensland Cup and many believe he is destined for the NRL. Similarly, McCrone starred for Mounties in their minor premiership last season, and it won’t be long until he earns some playing time in first grade.
For the Warriors, Hurrell starts at centre with Lauitiiti in the front row. After an impressive performance in the Auckland Nines, the talented youngster Ken Maumalo will also demonstrate his ability up against the Cutters.
Demetriou states the game plan isn’t about stopping the Warriors.
“For us, it’s about preparing well and playing to those standards we set in the preseason,” Demetriou said. “We have to come out with enthusiasm and match it with their forwards but it’s about focusing on ourselves and getting the job done.”
Newtown v Canterbury: Newtown, New Team
Henson Park, Saturday 5th March, 3:00pm
Listen Live via Steele Sports Radio at www.steelesports.com.au
“We’re looking forward to playing some footy and seeing if all the hard work will pay off dividends,” Jets coach Greg Matterson told NSWRL.com.au. "We just want to start well as do the Bulldogs. Two points now is as important as two points at the back end of the season. We’re expecting a tough game. We have to worry about ourselves and getting it right. Hopefully it pays off.”
The Jets are determined to return to the finals after a two-year absence but they will have their hands full taking on a physical Bulldogs side with plenty of size and skill to match.
“Our defence has to be good to not let them build momentum,” Matterson said. “They have Shaun Lane, Pat O’Hanlon, Makahesi Makatoa, Lloyd Perrett – they’ve got some big men that gain some momentum with their outside backs to capitalise off it. We need to get our defense right.”
One of the Jets’ biggest challenges will be containing the try-scoring machine Tyrone Phillips who impressed at the Auckland Nines tournament following his stellar season as the leading try scorer in 2015.
Undertaking a large turnover in the offseason, the Jets shape as the dark horses of the Intrust Super Premiership loaded with plenty of talent, along with many fans eyeing Arana Taumata lining up at fullback.
“We’re pretty stocked in the spine with Fa’amanu Brown, Josh Cleeland, Matt McIlwrick, and Kurt Kara; Jaline Graham isn’t even in the starting side,” Matterson said. “Our depth is strong. We’re looking for Arana to give us some input from the back and we think he’ll handle it.”
In one of the greatest live game day experiences, the bluebags faithful will make themselves heard at Henson Park.
“That’s not going to help us if we don’t play well,” Matterson said. “The emphasis is on us playing well, completing our sets and putting the Bulldogs under a bit of pressure.”
Newcastle v North Sydney: Knights Begin Premiership Defense
Kurri Sports Ground, Sunday 6th March, 3:00pm
The Newcastle Knights open their premiership defence against the North Sydney Bears. However, off the back of their magical grand final success, there’s no added championship aura for the Knights this season.
“No there isn’t; we haven’t spoken about it (defending the premiership),” Knights coach Matt Lantry told NSWRL.com.au. “There aren’t too many guys from the grand final playing with us on Sunday. It’s nice to see a big portion of those guys making the NRL debut in Round 1.
“2015 is 2015. We’ve got a new crop of kids coming through and we’re a young team again. There’s eight or nine guys from the NYC Under-20s playing with us this weekend so it’ll be interesting to see how they handle the physicality of the Intrust Super Premiership NSW in their week to week performances.”
With several players of the Knights’ grand final squad rewarded with their NRL debuts this weekend, it will be a very different looking side taking on the Bears. The unexpected naming of talented back Jake Mamo is a major boost for Newcastle this weekend but Lantry doesn’t hope to enjoy his presence for long.
“We’ll see a different Jake Mamo this year,” Lantry said. “We’ll see a more calm composed individual that won’t let emotion get the better of him and ensure he’s leading as a senior figure for those young guys when he is playing Intrust Super Premiership NSW. Hopefully there aren’t too many games where he will be playing Intrust Super Premiership.
“It’s a long season and there’s a few things Jake needs to tidy up in his game and we’re aware of those and we will continue to work on that. Jake’s a great player as we’ve all seen but we’ll ensure he’s putting pressure (for the fullback position) on Jaelen (Feeney) right from this weekend.”
North Sydney are desperate to ignite their season right from the get go. The Bears stumbled out of the gates last season before storming into the finals after instating Ben Gardiner as coach.
With his first preseason in charge of North Sydney, it’s predicted Gardiner and the Bears will pick up right where they left off from in 2015.
It shapes as an explosive showdown between two of the competition’s heavyweight contenders.
Wentworthville v Wyong: Plenty for Wenty to Prove
Ringrose Park, Sunday 6th March, 3:00pm
Broadcast LIVE via 90.5 Alive FM
After last year’s grand final defeat, Wyong are determined to kick start their premiership aspirations and it seems Wenty make for an easy task.
But a lot has changed for the Magpies with Joe Grima seizing the reins and making his presence known immediately.
“We had a huge turnover of players from last year to this year’s squad,” Grima told NSWRL.com.au. “We have some genuine NRL superstars in the squad.”
Isaac De Gois, Mitch Cornish, Bureta Faraimo and Danny Wicks feature in Wentworthville’s new-look revamped squad adding valuable NRL experience to the developing side.
Also joining Wenty is Newcastle Knights grand final hero, Honeti Tuha, who claimed the man of the match award with an inspirational hat trick of tries in the 2015 premiership decider. The 22-year-old moved to the Parramatta Eels and continued to show signs of promise during a busy offseason.
“Honeti’s exciting and has come off the back of a fantastic season,” Grima said. “He causes the defence havoc whenever he carries the ball with his evasiveness. It’s just reward for someone who’s worked so tirelessly hard in the offseason and he’ll bring an X-factor to the side.”
Opening their season at Ringrose Park is a major advantage with Grima hoping the home crowd can push the Magpies home against a formidable opponent ready to resume proceedings in 2016.
“They’re a very good side,” Grima said. “After last year’s finish, this season is unfinished business for Wyong. It’ll be a great start to see where we’re at.”
This article first appeared on NSWRL.com.au