The Rays will have a week to watch on as the other sides get underway, before throwing themselves into the 2017 fray.
Last year's regular season runners-up will again be relying on a host of Shute Shield prospects to compete in the NRC and unearth some local gems.
Damien Fitzpatrick (c)
WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR?
The Rays fell one game short of the grand final in their first year under a NSW NRC restructure
Second after the regular season, the Rays were bettered by the Perth Spirit in the semi-finals.
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER
Damien Fitzpatrick has taken over the leadership at the Rays with the departure of Matt Lucas to the Brumbies and how he pulls together this side will be criticial. Fitzpatrick made some headway in the hooker pecking order at the Waratahs last season and will look to continue that good work in the NRC.
With Tolu Latu off for a shoulder operation at some stage in the off season a good NRC season will provide the perfect springboard into the brave new world at the Tahs in 2018.
With the mix of youth in this squad, there are a few players in contention to break through in this year’s NRC. U20s scrumhalf Harry Nucifora has come across the border for game time with the Rays, and the youngster will have a chance to prove his worth in the provincial competition.
They don’t have the host of Super Rugby stars that their other NSW sides do, but that didn’t seem to worry them in 2016.
If they can find the same cohesion they did last year, expect them to push for the playoffs again, but they'll be up against it.