THE glitz continues in Betfred Super League’s opening round this evening when two leading NRL stand-offs go head-to-head at Halliwell Jones Stadium.
The season got off to a flying start with an epic contest between St Helens and champions Wigan Warriors on Thursday and last night saw more high-profile action including the Hull derby.
However, plenty of people see Leeds Rhinos’ trip to Warrington Wolves tonight as arguably the most intriguing tie of the round.
Leeds have Tui Lolohea, the Tonga No 6 signed from Wests Tigers, making his bow against one of the competition’s biggest 2019 recruits – Blake Austin.
The Canberra Raiders star – hitting his prime at 27 – turned down a new offer from the NRL side plus his boyhood heroes Parramatta Eels in preference for a move to big-spending Wolves where he is a marquee capture.
Austin has already been installed as favourite to win the Steve Prescott Man of Steel.
With former England stand-off Kevin Brown having cruelly been ruled out for the season last week due to an Achilles injury suffered in training, attention will be on Austin even more as beaten Grand Finalists Wolves bid yet again to lift a first league title since 1955. Lolohea admitted: “He is a decent player.
“He has a name for himself, he comes to a good club as well and I feel like I’ve come to a good club, too, in Leeds.
“He’s got a lot of threat with the ball in his hand. We’ve a couple of guys in our team who love the ball in their hands, too, so I think there’ll be lot of footy played and fans will enjoy it.
“It’s going to be great Saturday night football. I was watching Saints v Wigan on Thursday thinking: Saturday, Saturday, Saturday!”
For all people are curious to see how nearly-men Warrington fare – they have also signed Sam Burgess’ highly-respected back-row colleague Jason Clark from South Sydney – Leeds offer their own interesting narrative as well.
Dave Furner, the Australian coach who replaces Brian McDermott, has been tasked with returning the eight-time champions to glory after last year’s latest dice with relegation.
They have, in fact, invested even more than tonight’s rivals.
Rhinos have not one but two marquee signings on show in the shape of Lolohea’s blockbusting Tonga team-mate Konrad Hurrell at centre and former Australia back-row Trent Merrin.
Aucklander Lolohea, 24, links up with England scrum-half Richie Myler and he said: “Furnsy’s got us prepared.
“What a way to start the season. I feel ready to go. I’m really excited.
“This period back home in New Zealand we’re still in pre-season but here we’re into Round 1 already – it’s action time.
“We get to put everything we’ve been doing into practice.
“As for my own role, I don’t want to go in and think I have to do this or that.
“I just want to do my job so the team is going well.
“And if the team does go down I want to be a player that’s there to hopefully lift the boys and pep them up.”