The NRL has released the 2019 season draw and while some clubs still aren't even certain who their coaches will be come opening kickoff, we've decided to take a look through the first five rounds and pull out some of the must-see clashes.
Sydney Roosters vs. South Sydney Rabbitohs
Friday 15th March, 7:55PM - SCG
The NRL is set to launch the 2019 season in style with several opening round matches catching the eye. The very first game of the year between the Storm and Broncos at Suncorp Stadium on the Thursday night promises to be a belter as Cameron Smith starts his farewell tour at a ground where he has many great memories at club, state and international level.
The Panthers host the Eels in what will be an early test of where Parramatta are at,and the Dragons travel to Townsville to take on the Cowboys in another game of early interest. The Tigers take on the Des Hasler-coached Sea Eagles at Leichhardt Oval in a clash that is always full of emotion.
But the clash you can't afford to miss will be between traditional rivals the Roosters and Rabbitohs at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday night. These two teams have a long history of hating each other and both will be extra keen to start the year with a victory. The Roosters knocked the Bunnies out of the finals last year and have strengthened their 2018 premiership-winning side through the traditional poaching of a Rabbitohs star, this time Angus Crichton.
St George Illawarra Dragons vs. South Sydney Rabbitohs
Thursday 21st March, 7:50PM - Jubilee Stadium
The Broncos host the Cowboys in the second round of the season, in a matchup that always produces the goods. The reigning premiers travel to Lottoland to really test Des Hasler's Sea Eagles and the rivalry continues between the Bulldogs and the Eels, who both had ordinary 2018 seasons.
The pick of the bunch, however, is on the Thursday night with the Dragons hosting the Rabbitohs at Kogarah. Both teams have tough opening rounds and could find themselves battling to get their campaigns off the ground. The Burgess brothers will run headlong into compatriot James Graham and the reunited Sims bothers in a forward battle that is sure to shake the stands. The clash between Dragons half Ben Hunt and Rabbitohs half Adam Reynolds is one that could decide the match.
Penrith Panthers vs. Melbourne Storm
Sunday 30th March, 7:35PM - Carrington Park, Bathurst
Round 3 kicks off with another blockbuster involving the Broncos as they host the Dragons on the Thursday night. The Raiders host the Knights and the Sharks travel to face the Cowboys in other notable games, as the month of March draws to a close.
The Panthers take their home game against the Storm to Bathurst for what will be a Saturday night sell-out on the immaculately groomed Carrington Park. Penrith were bitterly disappointed with the way they finished off the 2018 season and will be looking to fly out of the blocks in 2019, despite not yet knowing who their coach will be. It will be Bathurst's last chance to see Cameron Smith live in action and the Storm will be looking to crush a team they could potentially face in the finals later in the year.
Sydney Roosters vs. Brisbane Broncos
Thursday 14th March, 7:50PM - Sydney Cricket Ground
The NRL are clearly stacking Thursday nights with blockbuster clashes, often involving the Broncos. This weekend the Knights taking on the Dragons, the Storm facing the Bulldogs and the Sea Eagles hosting Bunnies all have merit, but it's hard to go past the Thursday night clash between the Roosters and Broncos.
The Broncos were smashed by the Dragons in the first week of the 2018 finals and will see this clash with the reigning premiers a good way to gauge their position in the pecking order for the 2019 season. With the Roosters' home ground reduced to rubble this is the second of the season's clashes at the SCG -- something which even more flavour to the clash.
Newcastle Knights vs. Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
Saturday 13th April, 5:30PM - McDonald Jones Stadium
Round 5 kicks off with the Broncos again, this time hosting the Tigers. Friday night's Townsville clash between the Cowboys and Storm has merit, depending on how well the home team is travelling. The Rabbitohs take on the Warriors in what is always a punishing clash and the Sharks welcome the Roosters to Shark Park on the Sunday.
But the Knights and Sea Eagles could be two of the big improvers in 2019 and have a history of fiery clashes stretching back to the 1997 grand final. This clash should see Mitchell Pearce up against Daly Cherry-Evans in a battle of the much-maligned State of Origin halfbacks. It'll be Knights coach Nathan Brown with the team he has slowly built against Des Hasler and the team he has just taken over from Trent Barrett -- and so many questions will be answered.