Sea Eagles set for flying start to 2009 - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Sea Eagles set for flying start to 2009

By David Beniuk and Steve Jancetic 01/10/2008 07:44:38 PM Comments (0)

Manly, Parramatta and South Sydney appear to be the winners and Newcastle the biggest losers after the NRL released the draw for the 2009 season.

Grand finalists Manly look primed for another flying start with a clash against the New Zealand Warriors their only meeting with a side from this year's finals inside the first seven rounds of competition.

In all, they face fewer games against 2008 top eight sides than any other side in the competition - 10 matches compared with up to 13 for their rivals.

The Sea Eagles' first grand final rematch will take place in round eight, by which time Melbourne will have been softened up by St George Illawarra, Brisbane and the Warriors.

Parramatta are the only side to avoid meeting the Storm or Manly twice in the season, while three sides - the Sydney Roosters, Wests Tigers and Newcastle - will be forced to play both grand finalists on two occasions.

Souths' luck comes in the form of facing five of this year's top eight once only, the only side that will do so.

The Knights' bid to get back into finals footy hasn't been helped by a rotten draw which sees them play their opening three games away, while only one of their byes will come before a State of Origin fixture.

While the Broncos, North Queensland, the Roosters and the Storm receive both of their byes before Origin games, the Knights will have to stand down any of their rep players before Origin I and III.

New St George Illawarra coach Wayne Bennett will return to Suncorp Stadium to face former club Brisbane in round four, the Dragons also facing a daunting first-up assignment in Melbourne against the Storm.

The Broncos, meanwhile, kick-off their new era under Ivan Henjak at home to North Queensland.

"I usually look at the teams we don't have to play away, I see we don't have to play Manly at Brookvale because that's usually a tough assignment so that's one plus," Broncos skipper Darren Lockyer said.

"You tend to look at you first month of footy and we've got three home games.

"Admittedly we've got the Storm at home and we've got Benny (Bennett) coming back in round four with the Dragons."

Asked about life without Bennett, Lockyer said: "I think that Wayne's departure won't really sink in until we turn up to pre-season training and he's not there.

"Ivan's seen Wayne and how he's coached the team and he knows the culture up there so I think, had there been a coach from another club come in, it might have been a bit more difficult but I'm really confident Ivan's going to do a great job."

It will be a case of deja vu for South Sydney half Craig Wing with the Rabbitohs again to face arch-rivals the Roosters in round one.

Wing lasted just eight minutes in the corresponding match this year before a dislocated shoulder all but ruined his return to the Bunnies.

"Right through my career it's always been a game I've looked forward to, a local derby against the team next door so hopefully I can play a few more minutes than I did last year," Wing said.

"It was really heartbreaking ... you train three or four months in the off-season to get yourself to peak condition for that first game and I got injured with my very first touch of the ball and you lose all that fitness, you go right back to square one."

Other new features in the draw include the mid-season Australia-New Zealand Test being played in Brisbane on May 8 on the same night City take on Country at a venue in regional NSW.

State Of Origin I will be played in Melbourne before the series heads to Sydney and Brisbane.

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