Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Set of six

Elijah Taylor. Photo / Getty Images
Elijah Taylor. Photo / Getty Images

1. Game of the Week
Manly v Brisbane

The NRL have lined up yet another combustible first-round clash. The Broncos are desperate to start their season on a winning note, as talk echoes around Queensland about their long premiership "drought". They also lost seven of their last eight matches in 2012 but hope new signing Scott Prince can provide the scrum-base smarts that were missing last year.

The Broncos have a reshuffled team, with Josh Hoffman on the wing, Corey Norman at fullback and Sam Thaiday - who has had leadership training after admitting he was "drowning" at times last year - in the front row.

Manly are without Glenn Stewart but bolstered by a fully fit Kieran Foran, and Antony Watmough will play despite a minor rib injury. The Sea Eagles have a strong record north of the border, having won five of the last six clashes.

2. Tayloring his needs

It's sad to learn Elijah Taylor will leave the Warriors at the end of the season to take up a contract with Penrith in 2014. The 22-year-old is a player of considerable potential and was seen as a future Warriors captain but has felt disillusioned over contract negotiations and might be looking for a fresh start after a difficult year on and off the field.

3. Opening game blues

If your gut feeling tells you the Warriors are traditionally slow starters, you would be right. The club have won just four of 16 opening-round clashes dating back to 1995 (in 1996 their match wasn't played owing to Super League complications and they had a round-one bye in 2002). Like any rare jewel, their first week victories tend to stand out. In 1999 Matthew Ridge led a team of young guns to a surprise 26-16 win over the star-studded Roosters, while a year later Mark Graham's team beat the reigning NRL champions the Melbourne Storm in a brutal Mt Smart clash. As a positive omen ahead of tomorrow's match against Parramatta, their last two opening day victories came against the Eels (34-18 in 2007, 26-18 in 2009).

4. Stat of the week

As an illustration of the competitiveness of the NRL, just one team has reached the finals in each of the last four seasons. No, it's not the Storm, or the Tigers or the Dragons. The Manly Sea Eagles have been the benchmark in terms of consistency since 2009. As another statistic, each of the 16 NRL teams have reached the playoffs at least once since 2009 - showing an evenness of competition that Super rugby and the ANZ Championship can only dream about.

5. Surprise, surprise

It's always amazing how close negotiations over TV deals get to the start of a season or event only to be sorted out hours before. It would have been a PR disaster for Sky TV and the NRL if they couldn't have sorted out a deal in time for last night's NRL kickoff, especially as that match featured the player with the most recognisable initials in the game. Common sense has prevailed.

6. All bets are off

Speaking of Sonny Bill Williams, the phenom even has his own betting category with centrebet.com. Punters can wager on how many games he will play this season (the line is at 15.5) and how many tries (7.5) he will score. There is no mention of how many stories will be written, rumours circulated and Twitter pictures posted.

- NZ Herald

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