Only 22 more sleeps until the real footy begins

OPINION

Thank God, the footy is back.

Last weekend’s All-Stars game probably wasn’t one for the purists, but Ben Barba’s show-stealing first-half display was a tasty appetiser before the main course is served on March 7.

That’s when the mighty South Sydney Rabbitohs meet the Sydney Roosters in the 2013 season-opener, which is also the first of four Thursday night footy broadcasts on Channel Nine.

Of course, a few interesting pre-season clashes will help keep us going for the next few weeks, including those aforementioned mighty Rabbitohs taking on the Dragons in the Charity Shield and Melbourne’s World Club Challenge showdown with Leeds.

The start of a new season is always exciting.

Melbourne fans want to see if the Storm can stay ahead of the pack. Roosters supporters can’t wait to see if SBW is worth the hype (and salary). Cronulla Sharks diehards are daring to dream this might finally be their year.

When it comes down to it, most footy fans love to head into a season with high hopes, even if half of them are in denial.

And then there’s us Rabbitohs followers, who have waited more than 40 years to celebrate a premiership.

If you disregard South Sydney’s minor premiership-winning team in 1989, last year’s heart-breaking semifinal loss to the Bulldogs was as close the Bunnies have come to a title since Clive Churchill masterminded a 16-10 grand final win over the Dragons in 1971.

For those of us born in 1969, that ‘71 triumph obviously isn’t burned into the memory bank.

Which brings us back to this season.

A lot of commentators and so-called experts reckon the Rabbitohs are top four certainties.

That makes Souths fans nervous.

Bunnies supporters want to be optimistic and it’s hard not to be after a quick glance at the playing roster.

But right up there with the optimism of a new dawning is the usual dash of cynicism/scepticism/pessimism/defeatism - take your pick.

Because while the Rabbitohs look like title contenders on paper, so do the Storm, the Dogs, the Sharks and Manly, not to mention North Queensland, Canberra and the re-jigged Wests Tigers.

When you start throwing in the Titans, Dragons, the Roosters and the Ricky Stuart-coached Eels, it’s plain to see no team can afford to play the under-estimation game.

The competition looks as close as ever and office tipping battles are sure to create their usual weekly headaches.

If the Rabbitohs can stay on an even keel throughout the 26-round season, hopefully it’ll be a red and green celebration on grand final day.

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