After two games a weekend throughout Super Rugby Aotearoa, the arrival of Super Rugby Transtasman feels like wall to wall footy.
Five games every round with a Kiwi team playing an Aussie side has the appeal of the new.
But if the people setting the odds at the TAB are right, it's going to be a long, brutal six weeks for the Australian teams.
Hot favourites are, quite fairly, the Crusaders, at $1.83 to win the competition. Next in order of favouritism are the other four New Zealand teams, and then, at $13, comes the best Australian side, the Reds.
Next Saturday night, in Brisbane, the Crusaders and the Reds face off. I wouldn't want to risk any money against the bookies at the TAB, who picked the margin in last weekend's Crusaders-Chiefs to be 10.5 points, just half a point off the actual winning edge for the Crusaders.
But while I see no real chance of a Reds' victory in Brisbane, if coach Brad Thorn's team can summon up some of the steel he had when he played, it'd be a godsend for the new competition if the Reds kept the game close.
WHO WOULDN'T WANT HIS MANAGER SELLING YOUR HOUSE?
The cynical amongst us wondered all along if the media firestorm suggesting TJ Perenara was about to head to the Roosters to play league may not have always had the major side benefit of making his signing by New Zealand Rugby feel just a little more desirable.
It was reported he'd "been studying and watching (league) his whole life, and this code change is not something sudden or done on a whim." His management team was out hunting for an insurance policy to provide income protection cover at the Roosters. Sonny Bill Williams, no stranger to cross code moves, reckoned that "The energy (Perenara) brings to a team, his fitness, his strength and physically, I think he would make a great rugby league player."
Perenara himself was quoted as saying, "I played league when I was a little bit younger. In contract years I've often thought about it."
So, 2021 was a contract year, he thought very much out loud about league, and now he's signed, not with a Sydney club, but right through to 2023 with New Zealand Rugby. A round of applause, I'd say, for the skills of his boardroom squad.
I THINK THEY CALL IT A SLAP DOWN IN AUSSIE TOO
Having crossed verbal swords with Alan Jones in the days when he was a very good Wallabies coach, rather than a hugely successful but perpetually divisive Sydney radio host, I always enjoy the stingy leg slaps Jones regularly cops from my old mate, Peter FitzSimons.
In the latest rebuke, responding to Jones suggesting there was no vision for Australian rugby, FitzSimons writes, "The vision is to have the professional game prosper, to deliver the money needed to grow the game overall. The vision is to have an inclusive game where all are welcome bar homophobic religious zealots, and ex-coaches who never shut the ruck up; who spend their energy tearing the game down, not building it up – perhaps because the coterie of acolytes they continually push for various positions are not getting the gigs the said ex-coaches want them to get."
(Wow, even a serve for Israel Folau. In the spirit of fairness, not something Jones is famous for, when Folau blamed same sex marriage and abortions for the Sydney bush fires in 2019 even Jones buttoned off his previous fervent support for Folau. "Those comments are quite simply, silly. He needs to button up.")
TOUGH ON TONGA
Playing an All Black test with Tonga at Mt Smart would be one of the most weird, illogical decisions in recent rugby history.
How could playing a test at a league ground not, at best, give just a hint of Tonga being patronised? Why doesn't Tonga deserve to be playing at the home of rugby?
If for no other reason, Tonga deserves the respect of an Eden Park game after the way it was their fans who set the 2011 Rugby World Cup alight before the opening game between the All Blacks and Tonga.
It was Tongan fans who stopped traffic on George Bolt Drive, the 7km stretch to Auckland International airport as a sea of people in red t-shirts, waving red and white flags, surged towards the airport, some dancing as they went to welcome their team? And who remembers how John Campbell, broadcasting live from the terminal, was briefly halted when a Tongan woman, resplendent in leis and a voluminous red top, swept him into an embrace and a kiss?
Or how, walking along Reimers Ave beside Eden Park with the crowd of 60,214 people before the opening game a Tongan brass band came marching around the south-eastern corner of the stadium?
It's great that Pasifika teams are getting a chance to play against the All Blacks. But relegating Tonga to Mt Smart doesn't make sense.