Although the season is starting a little later than normal, the 15-man game will revel in the free air before the NRL season kicks off, but it is imperative the quality of matches is of a high enough standard to convince all sports fans that the game they play in heaven is a product worth watching.
Rugby Australia and the Super Rugby franchises will be hoping the new broadcast deal with Nine – the owner of this masthead – and Stan Sport can create a fresh feeling around the code.
“There’s tons of excitement as this is a reset for the game in every way,” Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan said. “We’re better prepared this year compared to last year and there’s more positivity around the game than I’ve ever seen.”
Seldom do rugby league State of Origin matches fail to live up to the hype, so there is plenty riding on Friday’s opener at Suncorp Stadium between the Queensland Reds and NSW Waratahs. If it’s a flop, rugby can expect to lose casual viewers with one eye on the TV.
Last year’s fixture was a spicy affair, with NSW back-rower Lachie Swinton the chief instigator. He is suspended for Friday’s clash, but expect his NSW teammates to be fired up against a far more experienced Reds outfit.
While the Brumbies and Reds are the favourites to take out the title, the Western Force have built an excellent roster, on their day the Melbourne Rebels’ stars can deliver and the Waratahs are the the sleeping giant of the competition with the pressure right on them.
A wave of new Wallabies emerged in 2020 in the post-Michael Cheika era and how they handle their second years will be intriguing.
With no Michael Hooper this season, Reds back-rower Fraser McReight has clear air to show he can be Australia’s premier on-baller.
Then there’s new Force recruit Tevita Kuridrani, who will be up against his old team the Brumbies in the opening round, while Tom Robertson might have an interesting battle with a few old Waratahs teammates following his comments about NSW having serious off-field issues to contend with.
With Rob Kearney, Jake McIntyre, Tim Anstee and Tomas Cubelli on the books, the Force are certain to improve on their 0-8 record from last year.
Playmakers Noah Lolesio and Will Harrison will be nipping at the heels of Wallabies James O’Connor and Matt To’omua, and pressing their claims to be included in 2023 World Cup plans.
And every hooker and second-rower in the competition will know there is a gold jersey up for grabs in July when France are likely to tour.
That is unless COVID-19 intervenes.
There are rule changes, league convert Suliasi Vunivalu, under-pressure Waratahs coach Rob Penney, red cards, styles of play, the influence of the TMO … the list storylines goes on.
The season can’t come fast enough.
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Tom Decent is a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald