Hunter Stadium plays host to the opening clash, with all eyes on how the Dragons will handle the pressure and emotion of coming up against their former mentor. Wayne Bennett coached the Dragons to premiership success in 2010 but walked out on them at the end of last year, persuaded no doubt by Nathan Tinkler's dollars and ambitious vision for the Hunter region and in particular the Newcastle Knights.
Questions such as how the Dragons will manage to cover up the hole left by Bennett, arguably the greatest coach in the history of the game and how much influence Bennett is able to exert over the Knights will ensure that come kick-off all league fans around the country will be glued to their television sets. Undoubtedly Dragons fans will be hoping they can get one up on their former coach early in the season and put to bed any notion of being 'one coach wonders'.
Both sides have named strong teams, with St. George coach, Steve Price, naming an imposing centre pairing of Beau Scott and Matt Cooper and young tyro Kyle Stanley at fullback to replace the departed fullback and current Newcastle Knight, Darius Boyd. Boyd is sure to face a hostile reception from his ex-teammates, eager to remind him what he walked out on when he joined Bennett at Newcastle.
On Friday night, the Broncos will kick off the post Darren Lockyer era with a clash against the Parramatta Eels. New Brisbane captain Sam Thaiday has made a surprise shift to the front row to partner Ben Hannant in covering for Petero Civoniceva who is facing a one-game suspension. "Sam gets his hands on the ball a bit earlier (as a front-rower) as well which he likes to do" said coach Anthony Griffin, explaining the rationale behind the move. Thaiday's switch means off-contract back rower Ben Te'o will get an early crack at pushing for a regular starting spot in Brisbane's star studded back row.
As expected Corey Norman has pushed Ben Hunt to the bench and claimed the vacant number 6 jersey, made famous by the retired Darren Lockyer. For the Eels, Jarryd Hayne has failed in his bid to recover from the ankle injury he sustained in the trials and has been left out of the side, replaced by the ever reliable Luke Burt at the back. Queensland and Australian representative Willie Tonga has also been left out as he continues to recover from his hamstring injury.
Adam Schoenmaker is a high school chaplain in the northern suburbs of Brisbane for three days each week and serves two days a week in his local church. Adam loves a good book, a classic album and all Queensland sporting teams.
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