Footy season officially begins tonight and fans are ablaze with anticipation and excitement, with the season opener set to kick off between the Panthers and Sea Eagles.
But already, the season starts with teams experiencing major setbacks to the line ups, especially with the first game of the season seeing Co-Captian Nathan Cleary out for at least the first three rounds for the Panthers, due to a shoulder surgery he underwent last October.
It was confirmed on Tuesday that the defending premiers would experience the early season blow, with it being a surprise to the team according to Jerome Luia.
“It’s come as a surprise to the playing group but obviously Nath and the physios have made the best call for him and the longevity of the year” Luai said on Tuesday.
Cleary will now set his aim on a round four return in a 2021 grand final rematch against South Sydney.
Craig Fitzgibbon was set to make his NRL coaching debut this week as the new Cronulla Sharks coach but won’t make the trip to Canberra due to testing positive to Covid-19.
Although the delay to Fitzgibbons debut may be a set back, Fitzgibbon said “My health is fine and symptoms mild, I look forward to getting back amongst the group next week and will be in constant communication with the coaches and players.”
“Obviously the timing of this isn’t ideal, you can take all the precautions as I have in following NRL apollo advice and protocols, but with four children at home unfortunately it has caught up with our family at an inopportune time” he said.
Cronulla isn’t the only club this week dealing with Covid, the Brisbane Broncos are also feeling the loss of key players.
Adam Reynolds, star recruit and new Captain for the Broncos will also miss the first game against his previous team South Sydney, that he led to last years grand final.
Kobe Hetherington, Bronc forward is also in isolation after testing positive. The pair will miss the first round, meaning Billy Walters, Tyson Gamble and Ablert Kelly (who missed last Saturdays pre season trail against North Queensland due to covid) will now have 2 positions to vy for.
Fans have highly anticipated this first round Broncos v Rabittohs match up, due to new recruit Captain, Reynolds, first game against his former club.
But for now, the pressure is off, and fans will have to wait to see a full strength team under new leadership.
South Sydney are having their own in-house issues with Latrell Mitchell and Jacob Host having to be separated by team-mate Siliva Havili and assistant coach Steve Antonelli in a heated altercation during a training drill this week.
Coming after Mitchell vowed not to change his on field style, it seems not even his own team mates are exempt. The two were seen to shape up with some push and shove before the tussle was broken up.
Mitchell starts the season on a suspension roll-over after his 2021 season ended after being put on suspension for an aggressive high shot that broke Roosters Joey Manu’s cheekbone, subsequently also resulting in ending his season.
The Souths fullback said in a recent interview with The Daily Telegraph “I’m competitive, I play flat out and that’s what I love about myself, I take nothing from no one.”
Mitchell is set to return early off suspension after exploiting an NRL loophole and using the the Indigenous All Stars game as one of his match bans, meaning we will see that firey on field Latrell style back in round 2 against the Storm. Although the Rabbitohs team-mates were quick to reconcile, he may want to rethink his aggresive approach if he wants to steer clear of another suspension, if this week’s training blow up is anything to go by.
Tonight’s season opener kicks off at 8.05pm AEDT Panthers v Sea Eagles. If the first round setbacks are going to be anything to go on, it’s going to be an interesting season of footy.