The quest for a 2014 Harold Matthews Cup premiership begins in earnest across New South Wales as teams head into round one after months of pre-season training and trials.
Once again the NSWRL will be selecting fixtures to cover through our LIVE Match Centre and ,for round one, the NSWRL media team will be heading to Remondis Stadium for the shire derby between the Cronulla Sharks and St George Dragons.
The Sharks have produced some outstanding performances in the junior grades in recent years and there are high hopes for their Harold Matthews team, which will be lead by halfback Kyle Flanagan.
Flanagan, along with hooker Blayke Brailey, got a taste of Harold Matthews’ football last year and will need to mentor some of the new players against what is predicted to be a typically tough St George outfit.
Greame Wynn’s team looks solid again with plenty of size up front and speed to burn out wide. The Dragons will be lead well by captain Joe Lovodua who returns for his second year in Dragons colours with hooker Treymaine Brown also heading into his second year as a starting hooker.
Kicking-off at the same time at Brookvale Oval is a matchup between last year’s runners-up, the South Sydney Rabbitohs, and Manly.
A familiar name pops up when scanning the Sea Eagles’ team sheet as another Hopoate continues his journey into representative football with John Hopoate Jr selected in the centres for Glenn Moore’s team. The Eagles have plenty of grunt up forward and will be lead by NSW Indigenous Under 16s front-rower Brydon Ramien and Jack Ongosia.
The Bunnies look to have gone through a rebuilding phase with impressive players like Nat Butcher, Jaiden Brown and Reimis Smith all graduating to SG Ball this year. Incoming halves combination Rangi Boyce and Kurtis Preece will carry the hopes of the South Sydney faithful on their shoulders this season.
In what looks to be the match of the round, two western Sydney powerhouses do battle at New Era Stadium in Cabramatta when the Eels host the Panthers.
Whether this match could decide the minor-premiership in round one remains to be seen but it wouldn’t surprise us here at the NSWRL if we look back at this match with some interest come round nine and finals time.
Parramatta has retained the services of Grand Final and national championship back-rower Vinnie Tikeri who plays his second year in the Harold Matthews side. His back-row partner Josh Suli-Ruka also experienced the joys of the Eels’ season last year but was used off the bench throughout the season.
Penrith are perennial favourites and we can’t see a reason not to view them that way this year. Their captain, Jake Gillett-Gow, played last year at the Western Sydney Academy and will be battle hardened after his standout performance for the NSW Indigenous Under 16s last Saturday in Newcastle.
It is hard to fault the Panthers. With Ben Cartwright joining Gillett-Gow upfront and finishers like Berkut Tastan, Jesse Abbot and Levi Petersen in the backline, you can certainly see why many people like the looks of the men from the foot of the mountains.
In other matches, last year’s surprise packets, the Central Coast Centurions welcome the Illawarra Steelers to Morry Breen Oval while the Melbourne Storm begin their second year in the competition with a match against the Sydney Roosters at Casey Fields.
At TG Milner, two foundation clubs in Balmain and North Sydney will be looking to start the season off with a bang when they square off at 12pm.
Our attention then turns to the battle of the academies at St Marys Stadium when the Western Sydney Academy and South Western Sydney kick-off their seasons.
The afternoon matches begin with two sides heavily favoured to feature in finals football at Belmore Sports Ground when the Bulldogs host Canberra. Round one concludes up in the beautiful Hunter Valley when Western Suburbs travel up the M1 to play the Newcastle Knights at Cessnock Sports Ground.