Broncos seeking revenge as NRL season kicks off
Australian rugby league fans will be delighted to see action on the pitch, instead of off it, when a controversy-filled off-season ends on Thursday.
The NRL kicks off on Thursday when last season's runners-up the Brisbane Broncos take on the Parramatta Eels at Pirtek Stadium in Sydney's west.
Brisbane enter the season as favourites, despite a heart-breaking Grand Final loss to the North Queensland Cowboys in 2015.
Wayne Bennett remains at the helm of the Broncos, despite taking the England coaching job, and is hunting his eighth grand final win and his seventh with the Broncos this term.
Despite the expectation, he is promising his supporters nothing.
"I've always been extremely challenged to coach the Broncos. I've always wanted it to be a great club," Bennett said.
"With that goes great expectation and great responsibility. I'm not feeling any less this year than any other year.
"Expectation, I taught myself how to handle it at the Broncos because it would have killed me or consumed me. Responsibility, I haven't managed as well.
"Responsibility is to turn out a group of young men that you are all proud of. Responsibility is to make the right decision that will continue to make this club great."
And he will face considerable opposition in that quest this season.
The Cowboys are expected to contend after last season's success, led by captain and reigning Dally M Medallist Johnathan Thurston, who has challenged team-mates Jason Taumalolo, James Tamou and Michael Morgan to help the premiers step up their game again in 2016.
North Queensland kick-off their campaign against the Cronulla Sharks on Saturday.
Melbourne Storm are also tipped to fight for honours this season, and will be boosted by the return of Billy Slater, who has been named in the club's round-one squad.
Monday will see Melbourne host the St George Illawarra Dragons.
The New Zealand Warriors will hope to improve on last season's 13th-place finish and have recruited well with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke, and half-back Shaun Johnson coming into the side.
Wests Tigers host the Warriors on Saturday.
The Sydney Roosters are coming off a horror off-season in which Mitchell Pearce was stood down as co-captain and checked himself into rehabilitation after video of the half-back emerged of him engaged in lewd behaviour with a dog.
The Roosters open their campaign against the South Sydney Rabbitohs on Sunday, while the Manly Sea Eagles take on the Canterbury Bulldogs on Friday.
Elsewhere, the Gold Coast Titans start by welcoming Newcastle Knights on Sunday and the Canberra Raiders entertain the Penrith Panthers on Saturday.