Footy’s back

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PAPUA New Guinea’s rugby league faithful will welcome in the new NRL season with hope but trepidation as well. How well sides in Australia’s premier rugby league tournament fare is anyone’s guess but tonight’s opening matches will tell the tale. 
Parramatta skipper Nathan Cayless claims the lessons of campaigns past will ensure the Eels do not get caught up in the hype that has some pundits engraving their name on the NRL premiership trophy before a ball has been kicked in the 2010 season.
Without a premiership in 24 years, the Eels have been installed as premiership favourites ahead of their season-opener against St George Illawarra to night.
But Cayless has warned the blue and gold army not to get carried away just yet, having fallen victim to false dawns before.
He saw it in 2002 when the Eels, shock losers in the 2001 grand final to an Andrew Johns-inspired Newcastle, were tipped to use the experience of defeat to go one better.
Meanwhile, the  other intriguing match-up tonight is a local Queensland derby between the Brisbane Broncos and the North Queensland Cowboys .
It will provide a fitting welcome for former NSW hardman Willie Mason after sitting out most of last season.
Brisbane themselves are bare in the depth department but still can call on the experience of Darren Lockyer against the Cowboys who have rightfully been tagged the 2009 disappointments.
Tomorrow, the Canterbury Bulldogs can start of their season feasting on a Newcastle Knights outfit low on morale and match-winners as a drug controversy has already claimed two casualties while injuries have taken out captain Kurt Gidley.
In the other fixtures tomorrow, Penrith, who can boast one of the biggest forward packs in the NRL, play the Canberra Raiders at home while world club champions Melbourne Storm travel to the shire to play the Cronulla Sharks.
Missing Cooper Cronk may not be a great loss this early in the season especially with the likes of Greg Inglis and Billy Slater fit  and in good form but the Sharks are a different team at home.
On Sunday, the Gold Coast Titans play the New Zealand Warriors in  Auckland while the South Sydney Rabbittohs get to unveil their full forward arsenal against the Sydney City Roosters.
Monday night’s clash has Benji Marshall’s Wests Tigers looking to exploit an ‘Orfordless’ Manly Warringah at the Sydney Football Stadium.
It will also be Lote Tuquiri’s reintroduction into rugby league after a seven year sabbatical in the ‘other’ code – AAP