Rothfield: 20 reasons why I’m excited about NRL restart
The NRL is back on Thursday night - and after weeks of no live sport, fans across the country couldn't be happier.
So to kick off the excitement, here are PHIL ROTHFIELD'S 20 reasons to get pumped up for the resumption of the footy season.
From blistering attacking play to the last roll of the dice of one of the greatest to ever play the game; an uninterrupted feast of footy and maybe even the end of the longest premiership drought in the competition.
Here's what we've got to look forward to in the coming months.
1 Latrell Mitchell
Cast your mind back to May last year at the SCG. The Roosters flogged the Wests Tigers 42-12. Latrell scored a hat-trick of tries, set up two others and kicked seven goals. It was one of those perfect-10 performances, the ones only champions produce every two or three years. Latrell, for all his issues, is the game's biggest superstar. I cannot wait to see him run out for the Rabbitohs against his old club on Friday night.
2 The fullbacks
We might have lost Billy Slater and Greg Inglis in recent years but what about this lot.
James Tedesco, Kalyn Ponga, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Tom "Turbo" Trbojevic, Ryan Papenhuyzen, Latrell, Val Holmes and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad. You can throw in Clint Gutherson, too, and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
I defy anyone to recall any era with so much talent and so much excitement across the competition in the No.1 jersey. Each and every one of them can turn a game in a flash.
3 Craig Bellamy
There's nothing quite like watching Melbourne Storm's supercoach going ballistic in the coaching box. This is the best theatre in the competition. A coach who rides every play and every tackle with the most extraordinary passion and desperation.
Then you bump into him at a function and he is completely normal, calm and even laid-back. The Storm have got two huge games to restart the competition against the Raiders and then the Rabbitohs.
4 June, July with no Origin
This is such great news for the integrity of the competition. There's nothing worse than watching good teams bomb out of premiership contention around August because they've had to give up their NSW Blues and QLD Maroons players for six weeks.
Watch the Roosters recover from their two losses now that champion fullback James Tedesco and skipper Boyd Cordner will be on deck every week. The standard of football without 34 of the best players also falls away.
5 Gus and social media
We're framing a market on the inevitable closure of Phil Gould's Twitter account. Grand final day is paying $66. Round 8 is a $1.08 favourite, a time of year when frustrated fans traditionally start harassing the great man about his pre-season predictions, five-year plans, the abysmal mess he left behind at the Panthers etc, etc, etc. Gus however has had more comebacks than Johnny Farnham and will be back again in 2021, hopefully unblocking your columnist.
6 Wayne Bennett's future
I wrote earlier in the year that WAYNE'S PAIN would be a backpage headline in the Tele by August. There will be so much debate and drama over the seven-time premiership-winning coach, with genuine questions about him keeping up with the modern game at 70 years of age. Bennett is under contract until the end of 2021, when assistant Jason Demetriou steps in as the Rabbitohs' head coach. The rumour that he's returning to the Dragons next year won't go away.
7 David Fifita
The most exciting young forward in the competition since Sonny Bill Williams is off contract at the end of the season. This 113kg youngster has got the lot … the most awesome power and strength, incredible speed for a man of his size and he can step like Benji Marshall in his heyday.
He's already scored a magnificent tearaway try this year against the Cowboys, running 70 metres and leaving Valentine Holmes clutching at air.
8 Referee rage
Fast forward to Thursday night, 10pm. Full-time Broncos v Parramatta. The press conferences. What price the losing coach, Brad Arthur or Anthony Seibold, blames the one referee, the captain's challenge, the bunker, the touch judges or new rulings around the ruck.
Considering the backlash when Peter V'landys overruled just about everyone in the game to implement his changes, it will be happening all weekend.
9 Roosters three-peat
Can this championship outfit recover from two straight losses in a shortened season to become the first team since Jack Gibson's Parramatta Eels (1981-83) to win three straight titles. It's going to be a tough return to football with matches against arch rivals the Rabbitohs and the Brisbane Broncos in the first two rounds. So much pressure will be on young halfback Kyle Flanagan, who is replacing the one and only Cooper Cronk, playing behind big boppers Jarred Waerea-Hargreaves and Sio Siua Taukeiaho.
10 Radio ratings
It's a whole new ball game with the retirement of 2GB Continuous Call team legends Ray Hadley and Bob Fulton. It's okay to say "don't touch the sets, don't touch dial, don't go anywhere", but you simply cannot replace an immortal and old Hadley's 33 years of broadcasting.
The ABC have been weakened, too, with the inexplicable decision to take the great Craig "Hammo" Hamilton off the team. This is the big opportunity for Triple M to rule the airwaves with Gordie, Kenty and Dan Ginnane, who is now the best radio caller in the business.
11 The Warriors
Everyone's second favourite team because the players, coaching staff and officials so unselfishly left their families and loved ones at home in New Zealand to ensure the NRL could start again on Thursday night.
Their non-appearance could have put in jeopardy the television deal with Channel 9 and Fox Sports.
On paper and on form from the opening two rounds, they could struggle. But they'll be a tight outfit from living, eating and training together for weeks.
12 The Green Machine
Best side in the competition to watch because of their spectacular style of attacking football. But can they handle to pressure of expectation? That's the story. They are the favourites for the first time since the TAB started betting on rugby league.
Ricky Stuart will get no better opportunity to win his first premiership since way back in 2002 at the Sydney Roosters. This is a magnificent Green Machine outfit with a classy new halfback, George Williams, who looks to have settled in well.
13 Cameron Smith's farewell
This will be one of the biggest and most special moments in rugby league history. The champion hooker and immortal-in-waiting has played 413 games over 19 remarkable seasons.
No interchange, no hiding on the edges and, judging by his performances in the opening two rounds, still a wonderful footballer and game manager.
No more diamond rings but deserves a memorable send-off as we salute an all-time great.
14 The Knights
Had a great start to the year under new coach Adam O'Brien but will have to battle on without the most parochial fan base in the competition. This is a side that is potentially top four material.
Four State of Origin players in all the key positions - Dave Klemmer and Daniel Saifiti in the front-row, halfback Mitchell Pearce and fullback Kalyn Ponga. At times they looked a genuine threat last year but lacked discipline as old coach Nathan Brown lost the dressing room.
15 Valentine Holmes
As sad as it is to accept Val in no longer wearing the black, white and blue of the Cronulla Sharks, there's no doubt the Maroons and Kangaroos superstar will light up the premiership.
In fact, he's one of a few players who will have benefited from COVID-19 and the extra time to get his body readjusted after a stint in the NFL. He will no doubt turn what has been a sluggish Cowboys backline into slicker and far more dangerous unit.
16 Parramatta Eels
Is this finally their year? Brad Arthur lifted the blue and golds from the wooden spoon into fifth position on the ladder last year.
There is nothing - and I mean nothing - more exciting than watching this side in full flight at Bankwest Stadium. The wow factor of Sivo, Gutherson, Ferguson, Jennings and Blake. Mitchell Moses has matured into a marquee playmaker, the type of halfback every team needs to win a title. Parramatta fans have gone 34 years since their last one.
Poor old Dean Pay and Mary McGregor need wins - and they need them desperately. The debate about their futures will fill more newspaper space than any other issue as the season progresses. Both need to make the eight and play finals football to be assured of keeping their jobs.
There will also be pressure on Stephen Kearney at the Warriors. This club has made the finals just once in nine years and finished 13th last season. The fact they are on the road all year could buy Kearney more time.
18 Next generation
Where do we start? Kotoni Staggs and Xavier Coates at the Brisbane Broncos. Dylan Brown at the Eels or Bronson Xerri at the Cronulla Sharks. A couple of outstanding youngsters at the Penrith Panthers - Matt Burton and the electrifying Stephen Crichton.
Even Patrick Carrigan at the Broncos. A captain at just 22 in his second season.
There are so many youngsters across the 16 clubs who are ready to become established stars.
19 Ray Warren
Probably the great man's last year behind a microphone. Imagine the emotion around his final call, probably in State of Origin in November. It would be even worth putting up with Gus for 80 minutes to hear one last call.
No doubt the NRL will do something special to acknowledge the Hall of Fame broadcasting legend and our voice of league's magnificent contribution over four decades.
20 Afternoon grand final
C'mon Channel 9, give us one more 3pm kick-offs like the good old days back at the SCG. A backyard barbecue and a party around the television. This year the grand final is scheduled for October 25. For the first time in years, it's not a long weekend. We're back to work and school the next morning.
In a recent poll, only 10 per cent of fans favoured a night-time kick-off. The NRL agrees and wants an afternoon decider, but it will be Channel 9's decision.
Originally published as Buzz Rothfield: 20 reasons why I'm excited