Round 1 of the 2015 NRL season is just seven weeks away, and it promises to be a cracker with Brisbane and South Sydney kicking off proceedings on Thursday, March 5th at Suncorp Stadium. Heavyweight Cowboys-Roosters and Panthers-Bulldogs duels, as well as a showdown between arch-rivals Parramatta and Manly, ensure it will be an opening round to remember. To whet your appetite, we’ve hand-picked the top 10 Round 1 matches of the NRL era.
10.1998 – Illawarra v Melbourne
Unfancied newcomers Melbourne enjoyed a stunning NRL premiership introduction in 1998, rolling the respected Illawarra outfit 14-12 in Wollongong. The Steelers led 12-0 midway through the first half, but Scott Hill powered over for the Storm’s first-ever try before the break and sliced through for his second in the 78th minute to even the scores, before Craig Smith’s conversion confirmed a famous victory.
9.1999 – Double-header: Manly v Newcastle & Parramatta v St George Illawarra
A then-world record crowd of 104,853 packed in for the unveiling of Sydney’s new Olympic Stadium in 1999. The atmosphere was electric as arch-rivals Manly and Newcastle went head to head, with the Johns brothers inspiring the Knights to an emphatic 41-18 victory. The St George Illawarra joint venture succumbed 20-10 to heavyweights Parramatta in their first-ever game, Jason Smith scoring two tries for the Eels.
8.2012 – Wests Tigers v Cronulla
A dramatic Round 1 clash at Leichhardt Oval was decided in golden point by mercurial Tiger Benji Marshall, who slotted a field goal to snare a 17-16 win. The Tigers led 12-4 during the first half, but after debutant fullback James Tedesco was carried off with a season-ending knee injury, the Sharks rallied to hit the front 16-12 during the second stanza. A remarkable kick-and-chase try by winger Beau Ryan – his second four-pointer of the day – levelled the scores with four minutes to play, before Marshall piloted over his 82nd-minute match-winner from 35 metres out.
7.2010 – Brisbane v North Queensland
The traditional Queensland Round 1 derby enjoyed another spectacular chapter in 2010. With 18-year-old fullback debutant Corey Norman producing a string of try-saving plays, the Broncos leapt out to a 24-0 lead after 48 minutes. But the Cowboys launched a stunning comeback, piling on four unanswered tries to level the scores with 10 minutes remaining. Brisbane winger Denan Kemp, in his first game for the club after an ill-fated stint with the Warriors, sprinted 50 metres down the sideline for the 75th-minute match-winner – Broncos 30, Cowboys 24.
6.2000 – Wests Tigers v Brisbane
The Wests Tigers joint venture made an outstanding entry into the NRL in 2000, claiming a 24-all draw with premiership favourites Brisbane at Campbelltown. The Tigers raced out to an 18-6 lead, but the Broncos’ giant pack – led by Gorden Tallis and Brad Thorn – powered the visitors to a 24-18 advantage. The plucky Tigers rallied again, though, and fullback Joel Caine scored his third try before landing the sideline conversion (completing a 20-point haul) and grabbing a competition point for the new club.
5.2012 – Newcastle v St George Illawarra
The Thursday night season opener pitted the Dragons against their old coach Wayne Bennett and his new Knights side at Hunter Stadium. A bumper crowd of 29,189 turned out for the clash. The Saints led 14-6 midway through the second half of a tense struggle, but Timana Tahu brilliantly set up James McManus for a try and a subsequent penalty goal by Kurt Gidley levelled the scores with eight minutes left. Several field goal attempts sprayed wide and the match went into golden point, where Jamie Soward clinched a 15-14 win for the Dragons with a 27-metre field goal in the 85th minute.
4.2004 – New Zealand Warriors v Brisbane
The 17-year-old Karmichael Hunt was the shock fullback replacement for Broncos talisman Darren Lockyer, who had moved to five-eighth, in the Round 1 clash with the Warriors at Suncorp Stadium in 2004. A Brent Webb double gave the Warriors an early 10-0 lead, but the Broncos posted four unanswered tries to claim a 22-10 advantage. The visitors hit back twice to cut the deficit to two points with 10 minutes left, before centre Shaun Berrigan sealed a 28-20 result for the Broncos with his second try.
3.2014 – Manly v Melbourne
Melbourne, missing gun halfback Cooper Cronk, pulled off a stunning comeback against bitter rivals Manly in their Brookvale backyard, prevailing 23-22 in golden point after falling behind 20-0 after half an hour. The Storm scored four unanswered tries to draw level, before the sides traded penalty goals to be tied 22-all at the end of regulation time. Cameron Smith grabbed the result for the visitors, slotting a 22-metre field goal in the fifth minute of golden point.
2.2007 – Brisbane v North Queensland
The Broncos’ premiership defence got off to a rough start via a 23-16 loss to a Cowboys side inspired by the majestic Thurston-Bowen combination. A 50,416-strong Suncorp Stadium crowd watched the visitors build a 16-6 halftime lead, but brilliant tries to Karmichael Hunt and Joel Moon levelled the scores with 17 minutes to go. A stunning 60-metre try by Bowen put the Cowboys back in front, however, and the mercurial fullback sealed the win with a field goal.
1.2012 – South Sydney v Sydney Roosters
In one of the all-time great regular season finishes, the Roosters snatched a 24-20 victory over arch-rivals the Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium. The scores were locked 12-all at halftime, before Souths grinded their way to a 20-12 lead, which they held with just over two minutes on the clock. But a determined Jared Waerea-Hargreaves try gave the Tricolours the faintest of sniffs, and a mind-blowing 70-metre team try involving Mitchell Pearce, Mitch Aubusson and Boyd Cordner, and finished off by Anthony Minichiello with 19 seconds left stole the win. The Rabbitohs memorably gained revenge with an even more incredible late comeback later that season.