After another controversial off-season, finally we get to turn our attention to NRL on-field exploits and there’s no better recipe for an amazing start than the season-opener at AAMI Park on Thursday night.
Melbourne Storm and the Brisbane Broncos have challenges ahead, but you can expect them to set a standard on Thursday that will carry them through 2019.
With the agonising transfer of Rabbitohs coach Anthony Seibold to the Broncos, we now get to see if the administration has made the right decision.
Looking at how the green coach was able to turn Souths into preliminary finalists in only one season, Brisbane fans should be excited about what could be achieved this year.
The shift-for-shift approach Seibold uses to disrupt defences certainly brings out the best in the ball carriers. That approach should suit the Broncos.
This Broncos roster is made to to benefit from this type of structure. The likes of James Roberts, Kodi Nikorima, David Fifita and Anthony Milford, in particular, are likely to be given space to light up their point-scoring abilities.
Expect to see Darius Boyd’s try-assist numbers to go through the roof this year, just as we saw Alex Johnson’s numbers do on the left hand side for Souths last year.
The big question for the Broncos’ Matt Gillett, with his return, is how far off is his best football? The neck injuries he sustained last year mean it is not just a matter of getting back onto the field, but also of building the confidence to endure the consistent contact the NRL requires.
His Origin teammate Matt Scott took more than half a season to get his mojo back and I believe the Broncos will require the same patience with Gillett. But, rest assured, this guy is more important to their success this year than many recognise.
Looking at the Storm, there has been a lot of focus on who is not there.
Undoubtedly, the departure of Billy Slater leaves a huge hole that will not be filled in the short term. However, there are upsides.
While Jerome Hughes hasn’t had a full preseason to focus on developing his fullback play, he is a player you need to put preparation time into because he is such a dangerous man in broken play.
Hughes’ big challenge will be having the same impact on the defensive structure that Slater had for such a long time.
The other factor that is being missed is who is in the Melbourne team; it has 11 players who have representative experience, while the remaining six are quality players.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy will be aware that they must be at the top of their game early in the season.
The last time the Storm lost a round one game was in 2001 – which offers an insight into how thorough Bellamy is preparing his team to start the season positively.
He understands how vital this is as, when the representative season comes around, the Storm normally get taxed as highly as any other team in the competition.
The other phenomenal aspect to Bellyaches’ coaching is his unrivalled ability to get the best out of all players.
It never fails to astound me the amount of journeymen and young players who come under his guidance and not only play their best football but also go on and play at higher levels.
I cannot wait to see how Brandon Smith, Brodie Croft and Curtis Scott have developed over this off-season. Without doubt, they will be significantly better players than in 2018.
No doubt we will be dragging out the same stat next year in respect to Melbourne’s round one success but, equally, I feel this game is going to set a standard for the 2019 season that we are going to love.
Former St George player, Matthew Elliott has coached NRL teams Canberra, Penrith and the New Zealand Warriors