By Casey O’connor
The countdown to lift off for Project Apollo is in its final stages. Against all odds Rugby League will make its scheduled return tonight. Back on the menu at last and a smorgasbord of rugby league is the only smorgasbord we will be seeing in a very long time.
Take a bow Peter V’Landy’s the game of rugby league, players, coaches, staff and fans owe you a debt of gratitude. You would have to have been living under a rock for the past three months not to know that without the leadership of V’Landy’s there would be no NRL.
The final obstacle was overcome earlier in the week when V’Landy’s and the referees representative came to an agreement. Anyone who did not see that coming needs a trip to Spec Savers.
And so tonight NRL will be front and centre of the sporting world as the Broncos and Eels line up at Suncorp Stadium and surprise, surprise there will be only one official in the middle..
It is just another example of how V’Landy’s, who has been rightly recognised as an administrator extraordinaire – almost magician like has been able to take the game of rugby league by the scruff of the neck and given it the good shake many have been calling for.
He has worked with all levels of government and relevant authorities and stakeholders to get players back on the paddock but with no affiliations in club land he has been able to bring about change to the game itself. He consulted, listened to varying opinions, apparently butted heads with some of the wisest in the game and worked his magic to engineer change.
All this at a time when there has never been a greater opportunity to showcase the “greatest game of all“. The NRL gets clean air with the AFL not commencing on June 11 and most sporting competitions across the country still in hibernation.
When Project Apollo blasts off tonight the man of the moment will not be front and centre accepting the accolades he undoubtedly deserves. Tonight is about Rugby League not individuals and V’landy’s says he will be at home watching the game on TV with his family much like thousands of other fans. Like the rest of us, I hope he is kicking back enjoying his tipple of choice.
As the Broncos and Eels head to the launch pad we will enjoy the ride but there is no-one who deserves to enjoy watching a good game of rugby league more that Peter V’Landy’s.
Here’s to a successful LIFT OFF.
Casey’s Footy tips
NRL round 3 Relaunch
NRL TEAMS PREPARING FOR RELAUNCH
Here’s how I see the NRL teams shaping up prior for lift off in the NRL take Two season 2020.
The Broncos return to season 2020 after a two from two start. There is good and not so good news for Broncos fans. Captain Alex Glenn will be a welcome addition to the team when they run out on Thursday night after missing the first two games with injury. Matt Lodge will make an unexpected return off the bench. We’ve seen the softer side of forward Joe Ofahengaue in recent weeks after he and his wife welcomed a baby daughter. Don’t expect the Eels to see anything soft. Ofahengaue who returns after a two match suspension and has been challenged by the Broncos’ hierarchy to step up to a leadership role.
Winger Corey Oates and Brodie Croft have both overcome injuries picked up in the first two rounds of the season. On the flip side the Broncos’ have lost Jack Bird for the season and arguably one of the best young forwards in the NRL, David Fifita. Jamayne Isako is a more than worthy replacement for Bird. Although they will be without Tevita Pangai Jnr due to suspension they are probably in better shape for the reboot than prior to the break.
Expect a bold showing in round three and beyond
The Eels are another of a handful of clubs who started the season with a perfect report card and their backline remains settled. There have been no set-backs over the shutdown which is positive news for Eels supporters . Dylan Brown’s back injury will require careful managements though the season.
Eels Hooker Reed Mahoney is in some doubt with a foot Nathan Brown is suspended until round five, this gives Parramatta’s key recruits Regan Campbell-Gillard and Ryan Matterson an opportunity to stamp their authority.
Many good judges have them in their 2020 top four. They have a good record at Suncorp and look ready to hit the ground running.
Expecting a tough game on Thursday night and they should make their presence felt for throughout the season.
The Cowboys will be looking to make amends for their loss in the opening game of the season at their new home Queensland Country Bank Stadium.
They will be without their skipper Michael Morgan which will be a blow to the backline. Morgan is sidelined after undergoing shoulder surgery during the break in their season. Jake Clifford the youngster from Tully is expected to give a good account of himself as Morgan’s replacement. Valentine Homes is sure to be much sharper with a couple of games and plenty of training under his belt. Looking forward to seeing how the relationship between he and Scott Drinkwater progresses during the season. Could be exciting for Cowboy’s fans. Usual suspects Kyle Feldt, Jake Granville, and a fit and healthy Josh Maguire will provide plenty of leadership. Gavin Cooper ruled out early in the week,
The NQlanders have a strong forward pack and with a revitalised Coen Hess and a fully fit Jordan McLean alongside the big unit, Jason Taumalolo there is plenty to like about the Cowboy’s chances in 2020.
This week they should post the first of many wins at their new home base.
GOLD COAST TITANS
The Gold Coast Titans might have a new coach , Justin Holbrook, but their opening performances of seemed to all too familiar. Holbrook believes his team will return a from the shutdown a stronger unit. We all hope so; if only for his sake.
AJ Brimson one of their best is out for the season. His strike power and X factor will be sorely missed..It remains to be seen if Phillip Sami can be a consistent replacement. Tyrone Roberts has overcome an ankle injury and it is time for Ash Taylor to step up to the plate for his team.
The loss of Ryan James for the season is another massive blow for the club. Kevin Proctor is expected back from a hamstring injury. Shannon Boyd has overcome a shoulder injury, but fitness will be an issue. Cartwright may have paid the price for his anti vacs shenanigans, unlikely to be seen this game. May not be a great loss however.
While the coach is talking up their chances I am yet to be convinced.
The start to the 2020 season did not go to plan for the Roosters. Their title defence starting with no wins from their two outings.
Josh Morris joins them from the Sharks. The coach hoping Morris can help fill the void left by Latrell Mitchell. Recruit Kyle Flanagan must begin to deliver in the number seven jersey.
Skipper Boyd Cordner, who was rested from the opening two rounds will be a massive boost to the Roosters stocks. He will be joined by Jake Friend and Sam Verrills. The Roosters winning pack will be back to full strength for the clash with arch rivals the Bunnies.
They may have had a horror start to 2020 but expect them to be thereabouts when the finals roll round.
SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS
South Sydney started the season with a win and a loss. During the shutdown they have more than their share of distractions to deal with. After Latrell Mitchell’s social isolation blunder they are now dealing with the blackmail saga that has engulfed Cody Walker and his subsequent suspension.
It is yet to be seen if James Roberts plays. Forward, Patrick Mago remains unlikely to be seen until June as he battles a pectoral injury.
Fans will be keen to see how Latrell Mitchell performs at fullback against his old club.
The Bunnies look to be a work in progress and have plenty of obstacles to overcome .
Whatever they do in round three they should improve on as the season rolls on.
The Warriors were always going to face some big challenges this season but no-one expected the mountain to be quite as insurmountable.
When three players succumbed to significant injuries in the space of four days during their Tamworth lockdown it ruled out nine of the 30-strong squad listed in early March.. An application to be allowed to access players on loan from other clubs has finally been met with some positive news from the NRL but replacement players have yet to be confirmed.
The embattled Warriors performed the Ka Mate Haka in the forecourt of their hotel as they bid farewell to their temporary home of Tamworth earlier this week.
As the Warriors set up home in Terrigal for remainder of the season they are facing some very unique challenges and are overdue for a change of luck. All NRL fans are hoping they can create orchestrate some success.
They deserve it without them we would have no competition.
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS:
The Dragons are expected to welcome back Euan Aitken as look to re-open their 2020 campaign and will be looking to open their winning account. The experiment of playing Zac Lomax at fullback appears over with Matt Dufty given the chance to make the position is own. Much depends on how Ben Hunt and Corey Norman igniting the Dragons’ attack.
The Dragons forwards should have everyone on deck except Jack de Belin to choose from. Cameron McInnes is the big in for the club at hooker and captain. Corbin Sims will provide depth to the club’s front row stocks after overcoming a broken arm.
The Dragons are a club that will cause a few headaches along the way.
Sharks fans and the NRL have been shocked this week by the announcement that Bronson Xerri has returned a positive ASADA drug test. He has been provision all suspended by the NRL pending his B sample being tested. It is a blow for the Sharks only days out from the season reboot.
Better news for fans is the return of Matt Moylan from a calf injury along with Josh Dugan, and Chad Townsend. The Sharks have also lost Josh Morris to the Roosters.
Another important in is forward Briton Nikor. Cameron King will not play in 2020 after succumbing to a season ending ACL
Another team set to cause their share of upsets.
Tigers coach Michael Maguire has shifted Adam Doueihi from the centres to fullback. In a further reshuffle Corey Thompson shifts to the wing. Moses Mbye returns from a knee injury to take over Doueihi’s duties at centre. The return of Luke Brooks from a calf injury is the key for the Tigers and his combination with Benji Marshall will drive the side’s success.
Thomas Mikaele returns from a knee injury a boost for the Tigers forward pack. Josh Reynolds and Billy Walters will provide good competition with Harry Grant for the hooker role. Reports indicate the Storm recruit will be one of the buys of the year although he is only on loan.
Set for more wins than defeats after starting the season with one win on the board.
You expect it to be business as usual at the Melbourne Storm and that is what the landscape looks like. Paul Momirovski looks to be the only likely change to the Storm backline. The Tigers loan player will likely come in for Marion Seve. How far this side can go will depend on Jahrome Hughes becoming a consistent and reliable No.7. Brandon Smith returns having overcome a facial fracture and provides the perfect utility value off the bench for Craig Bellamy’s side.
There is not one Storm on the injured list as Melbourne reset for season 2020. Expect another Storm like season. There would be no surprise if they delivered another premiership.
The Canberra Raiders look to be a team with some unfinished business after 2019.
This week they will welcome Jordan Rapana back the fold after a stint in rugby union and it is the only change to the Green Machine’s backline. The evolution of George Williams and his partnership with Jack Wighton looks the key for the Raiders as they aim to go one better this year.
John Bateman is not expected to overcome a shoulder injury in time for Round three. It looks the only weakness in the Raiders pack, which is up there with the Roosters and the Storm as the best in the competition.
This will be a great match up at AAMI Park . Although we are unlikely to hear the Viking chant it will be there in spirit .
Look for the Green Machine to figure in the finals again in 2020
The Panthers have had their share of drama during the shutdown. Penrith has lost their highest paid and best player in Nathan Cleary suspended for two games after the Tik Tok fiasco. Matt Burton comes into the halves for Cleary. Dylan Edwards is a welcome return from an ankle injury at fullback.
Star recruit Kurt Capewell is set to return from a quad strain, which will boost the club’s depth upfront.
A club that looks good on paper but seems to fall at the last hurdle too often. Need to live up to their potential to be a force this season
The Knights are two from two after a great start but kickoff the reboot without their gun Kalyn Ponga who copped a suspension for a shoulder charge. Tex Hoy has the job of filling Ponga’s shoes. Mitchell Pearce and Kurt Mann must step up in the playmaking department. Centre Bradman Best is also a massive inclusion after overcoming a foot injury.
Forward Jayden Brailey has suffered a season-ending knee injury. Fortunately Connor Watson excelled at hooker last season. Former skipper Sione Mata’utia’s returns from knee injury and will help make up for the loss of Mitch Barnett to a shoulder injury set to sideline him until July.
Many tipsters have the Knights in their top four and they are set to continue their winning form all the way to the finals.
MANLY SEA EAGLES:
The Sea Eagles return to play with a backline at full strength and on paper looks like one of the most exciting in the competition.
Taniela Paseka from an ankle injury to boost their forwards stocks. Albert Hopoate however will be missing until June at best. The club’s success this season relies largely on Danny Levi’s ability to cover for Manase Fainu who has been stood down.
Any side that includes the Trbojevic brothers demands respect They are one and one going in to this round and are sure to make their presence felt throughout the season.
Kieran Foran returns from a shoulder injury and brings a much needed experienceis to a side that struggled to create opportunities in the opening rounds.
Star recruit Joe Stimson’s shoulder injury will rule him out until October. It is a massive blow to their forward depth. They will also miss Chris Smith who is out until June with a knee injury.
Looks like another tough season looming for Doggies supporters.