Which clashes are going to be the most eye-catching in NRC round one?
The NRC season kicks off this weekend, with four tantalising matchups across Saturday and Sunday, including the debut of Fijian Drua.
Let’s look at some of the individual battles that may be decisive in the opening round of action.
BRISBANE CITY VS FIJIAN DRUA
Sam Talakai vs Joeli Veitayaki
The old takes on the new as the NRC season kicks off at Ballymore Stadium on Saturday, with young Brisbane City tighthead prop Sam Talakai taking on a man double his age – Fijian Drua loosehead Joeli Veitayaki.
50-year-old Veitayaki played 49 time for Fiji, including two World Cups in 1999 and 2003, and most recently played for Ulster in 2012.
Having not been sighted in professional rugby since, Veitayaki is out of retirement and rearing to go against the far younger Talakai, who enjoyed a strong season for the Queensland Reds, establishing himself as their starting THP.
It will be a battle unlike we’ve seen in rugby before. Will Talakai’s youth or Veitayaki’s experience come out on top?
CANBERRA VIKINGS VS QUEENSLAND COUNTRY
Sam Carter vs Izack Rodda
This fixture will feature its fair share of Wallabies, but the locking battle between Sam Carter and Izack Rodda literally and figuratively stands tall as one of the most exciting matchups to watch this weekend.
Rodda is on a high, having impressed in his international debut last weekend in the Bledisloe Cup, playing 15 minutes and diving on a loose ball that set in motion a length of the field try.
Meanwhile, Sam Carter was forced to watch the test from home, after playing twice for the Wallabies in June, but being cut from the 34-man squad for The Rugby Championship.
Rodda will be keen to continue his rise in the Australian rugby ranks, while Carter will be out to boost his chances of a recall against the man who took his spot.
GREATER SYDNEY RAMS VS NSW COUNTRY EAGLES
Hugh Roach vs Tolu Latu
Hugh Roach was once viewed as the most promising hooker in New South Wales, but Tolu Latu’s breakout year for the Waratahs and Wallabies has relegated Roach to the bench, and occasionally out of the matchday squad altogether.
He will have a chance to strike one back this weekend; a strong NRC campaign could see him grab back some of the momentum he generated in the 2015-16 seasons.
Latu, recalled to the Wallabies squad for South Africa and Argentina, will be returning from injury in the clash, with match fitness crucial for the Waratahs hooker.
Both have plenty to prove, and with these two teams tipped to be two of the title contenders, a good start will be imperative to start the year with confidence.
PERTH SPIRIT VS MELBOURNE RISING
Michael Ruru vs Nic Stirzaker
The battle at scrumhalf between the Perth Spirit’s Michael Ruru and the Melbourne Rising’s Nic Stirzaker is not only a battle of two of Australia’s brightest young halfbacks, but also two of the country’s young leaders.
Stirzaker captained the Melbourne Rebels through a tough season this year, whilst Ruru made his name as one of the Western Force’s best, before being named captain of Perth in the NRC.
Big things are expected of Ruru and the Spirit in this year’s NRC as they attempt to defend their premiership, while Stirzaker and the Rising will be keen to improve on last year’s semi-final appearance.
With both men harbouring Wallabies aspirations for the future, they will be keen to lead their team to victory in the round-ending fixture.