Excitement is building around McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday afternoon as the Newcastle Knights prepare to kick off their 2021 NRL campaign with a blockbuster showdown against the Canterbury Bulldogs.
While there’s no love lost between the two clubs, both sides will be keen to open their account with a victory in round one.
For the Knights, it’s also an opportunity to build on their strong finish to 2020, when they contested the play-offs for the first time in almost a decade.
Tex Hoy is being given his chance at No. 1 in Kalyn Ponga’s injury absence while Connor Watson will move into lock.
Tyson Frizell will make his debut for Newcastle, too.
“We’ve known for a long time who we were going to have in our team,” coach Adam O’Brien said.
“The guys that are missing, we’ve known for ages and we’ve prepared really well.
“It’s not like these absences have popped up yesterday on us, that won’t be an excuse for our performance.”
Newcastle’s rivals, on the other hand, are equally determined to impress Canterbury coach Trent Barrett.
He’ll unleash an array of off-season recruits in the form of halfback Kyle Flanagan, fullback Corey Allan, centre Nick Cotric, second-rower Corey Waddell and prop Jack Hetherington.
“It’s a pretty new team, we’ve had a lot of work to do but I’m happy with where they are at,” Barrett said.
“We have a really young spine, I’d be surprised if there was 50 games between the four of them, but we’ve got a lot of senior players in our forward pack.
“They’ve just got to play their role.”
Who’s your money on?
Round one line-ups:
Newcastle Knights –
1. Tex Hoy, 2. Starford Toa, 3. Enari Tuala, 4. Bradman Best, 5. Gehamat Shibasaki, 6. Kurt Mann, 7. Mitchell Pearce, 8. David Klemmer, 9. Jayden Brailey (C), 10. Daniel Saifiti (C), 11. Tyson Frizell, 12. Mitch Barnett 13. Connor Watson. Interchange: 14. Sauaso Sue, 15. Jacob Saifiti, 16. Josh King, 17. Brodie Jones, 18. Hymel Hunt, 19. Pasami Saulo
Canterbury Bulldogs –
1. Corey Allan, 2. Nick Meaney, 3. Will Hopoate, 4. Nick Cotric, 5. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 6. Jake Averillo, 7. Kyle Flanagan, 8. Ofahiki Ogden, 9. Sione Katoa, 10. Jack Hetherington, 11. Adam Elliott, 12. Corey Waddell, 13. Josh Jackson. Interchange: 14. Brad Deitz, 15. Renouf Atoni, 16. Ray Faitala-Mariner, 17. Dylan Napa, 19. Tui Katoa, 20. Chris Smith
Date: Friday 12 March
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium
Gates open: 3.30pm
NSW Cup: 3.45pm
NRL kick-off: 6pm