If you’ve got five games to watch this season, which ones should you get along to?
With derbies, round one blockbusters, a swag of players changing clubs, NRL curtain raisers and more, it’s not an easy choice.
But, never fear, we’ve got you covered.
Here’s five games you simply can not miss!
COWRA v OBERON, Sid Kallas Oval:
Six weeks ago, Oberon wins this game, probably by 50 points too.
I think most Magpies fans in the middle of December would have agreed. It’s not an exaggeration.
But how often do you hear about a week being a long time in sport? So much can change. So much does change.
And so here we are, the beginning of February, a fortnight after the draw has been released, and Cowra has a serious shot of starting the season with a win.
Huh? Say what?
From no committee, no coach and an uncertain roster, to a pro-active board, a hugely respected mentor and, arguably, the second-best line-up ahead of 2018.
Turn arounds don’t come more drastic.
The swoopers shape up as the real deal this winter and a chance to knock off Oberon in round one, in front of the Cowra faithful, makes for a cracking opening to the season.
OBERON v ORANGE CYMS, Oberon Sportsground:
Footy fans have long memories.
Especially Tigers fans. They put elephants to shame.
So when Mick Sullivan and Orange CYMS, the defending champions after that 23-22 comeback grand final win over the Tigers in 2017, trek up the hill in round four, you can expect all of Oberon to be there.
And they’ll be baying for whatever they can get.
Sullivan’s final actions in that grand final – he ran backwards with the ball to wind down the clock – was then, and will still be come round four, what Oberon fans talk about following that decider, the club’s first crack at a title in 42 years.
Unsportsmanlike, is what they’ll tell you. Disgraceful. Deplorable. Heinous. Throw in a handful of cuss words too.
In reality, Sullivan was just ensuring his side didn’t let another crown slip, like it did on the full time siren against Mudgee the year before.
Still, the Tigers don’t care about that. They’ll be geared up for this one in order to get a touch of retribution.
BATHURST PANTHERS v COWRA, at Carrington Park:
Aside from the grand final, this has to be the biggest stage in Group 10, doesn’t it?
I mean, with players like Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott, Michael Morgan and Jason Taumalolo on one side, Nathan Cleary, James Maloney and James Tamou on the other, playing before those guys – in front of a massive crowd - has to be a wonderful opportunity.
Bathurst Panthers will again play a Group 10 game in the lead-up to Penrith’s NRL clash at Carrington Park in 2018, with Cowra heading across to take on the men in black.
With Jeremy Gordon, Braydn Cassidy and Joey Bugg now Magpies, this clash was spicy enough without it being on such a grand stage.
Gordon dominated in this corresponding game as a Panther in 2017. How will he fare as a Magpie in the NRL curtain raiser in 2018?
Should be a pearler.
ORANGE HAWKS versus BATHURST ST PAT’S, at Wade Park:
Two sides with improved rosters heading into 2018, both determined to make their shot at a title count.
Simply, for both clubs, it’s finals or bust this season.
This game in round 14 will likely mean two things: the first, St Pat’s will be gunning for a top three berth, with many tipping Cowra and Oberon to be entrenched at the top of the ladder.
And secondly, for Hawks, after what can only be considered as a horrid run to start the season with just two home games in the first nine rounds, a late season surge is a must.
This will be Hawks’ fifth straight home game so, with wins needed late, momentum shouldn’t be an issue.
A win over St Pat’s, though, could mean the difference between playing finals, or missing out on the post season for a fourth straight year.
It’s basically finals footy a month early.
ALL OF IT!
Four games, all with plenty of meaning – bang, bang, bang, bang.
There’s little that needs to be said about Hawks-CYMS games. Last year’s editions were great, nothing will change in 2018 ... except Hawks might well come out on top this year.
Cowra and Bathurst St Pat’s, neither side has had a genuine claim on the title since the Saints and Magpies squared off in the 2014 grand final.
Panthers and Oberon, well, after last year, when the Tigers knocked off the men in black in week one of the semi-finals and then bundled them out of the competition two weeks later, there’s plenty of feeling between Branighan’s mob and Dougie Hewitt’s side.
And Lithgow and Blayney, you get the feeling wins will be a premium for these two clubs – this could be their grand final.
Bring on 2018.
The 2018 draw is out and there’s some cracking match-ups early in the piece, but what do the clubs think of their respective runs?
Check out the reaction from all nine clubs after the release of the fixtures list for the new season:
- Panthers president Dennis Comerford on Carrington Park being out of action for four weeks:
“It doesn’t really worry us a great deal. In past years, the [NRL] game has been held a bit later which means you’ve got to use lights for training but we’ve overcome that with the use of Walmer Park.”
BATHURST ST PAT’S
- New St Pat’s coach Greg Behan. The blue and whites hit the road in the opening two rounds:
Huge news out of both #Group10 and #Group11, with the latter's reigning player of the year joining Bathurst club St Pat's.— Nick McGrath (@nickmcgrath4) November 30, 2017
He's one of handful of gun recruits for Greg Behan's side ahead of 2018 - @WesternRams@CountryRL
“Workies and Bears have new-look sides. They’re two good teams and it’ll be a chance to see where we’re at … Workies away from home is always a tough game.”
- Magpies coach Steve Sutton is reasonably happy with the swoopers’ draw, including a round one clash with Oberon:
“We have no real complaints. The problems with the grounds in Orange and Bathurst makes it hard. Ideally it’d be home and away all the way through but that’s the way it is.”
- Willie Heta on his side’s tough opening round, with six away games and just two at home:
“It’s unexpected, but our preparation has been good, our boys will handle it.”
- Mick Sullivan on his side’s draw, which includes a round one bye:
“It is what it is, you roll with it. That round four game at Oberon, I’m expecting fireworks. They’ll give me a gob full, but I’m used to that.”
- Bears coach Tim Mortimer on his side’s three homes games to kick-off 2018:
“We’ve got nothing to complain about. Those first few home games are great. There’s an opportunity to start well and from there continue on with some good form.”
- Lithgow coach Graeme Osborne is taking a philosophical approach into his side’s campaign:
“Regardless of the draw teams need to perform both at home and away during the entire season.”
- Dragons mentor Ben Gregory on facing four of last year’s top five in the first five weeks:
“To be the best, you have to beat the best. It’s a good benchmark to know where you’re at. I’m not concerned about the draw at all.
FIRST GLIMPSE!— Nick McGrath (@nickmcgrath4) January 24, 2018
With the draw now out, everyone's gearing up for the 2018 #Group10 season. Here's our first sighting of Oberon gun and former @NRL prop @Starlo33 in Tigers colours! 🐯⚫️🍊
Bring on the footy! @WesternRams@CountryRL#badphotoshopsofCRLpic.twitter.com/4Zc0Snd0UY
- Tigers mentor Luke Branighan ahead of games against Cowra, Lithgow, St Pat’s and CYMS:
“It’s not a massive deal. We’ve got a tough start … we’ll have to be switched on for the first month.”