Can Mal Meninga's Maroons make it nine in a row?

YOU can almost smell the liniment and hear the roars of the crowd - yes, footy is back.

The NRL season kicks off tomorrow night with a blockbuster between defending champions the Roosters and the Rabbitohs.

That match is just one of a host of must-see clashes in round one.

On Friday night, emotions will run high when 2012 Dally M medal winner Ben Barba will line up in Broncos colours for the first time when he takes on his former club, the Bulldogs.

The drama certainly won't end there.

On Saturday night in Sydney, arch-rivals Manly and Melbourne will review hostilities in the latest edition of the "Battle of Brookvale".

Later that night, new Canberra coach Ricky Stuart will have the chance to show Raiders fans the club's woes of recent seasons are behind it when the Green Machine takes on the Cowboys, tipped by many pundits to be a genuine premiership threat in 2014, in Townsville.

And for what promises to be one of the closest NRL competitions on record, the Sunshine Coast Daily will bring all of the colour and intrigue to readers through one of the most experienced and highly-regarded rugby league writers in the business.

Following a long and successful stint reporting on major national and international sport for AAP, Wayne "Ticker" Heming said he was thrilled to be making his debut for APN.

"I'm excited to be lining up for my 26th successive NRL season," he said.

"But I'm even more excited that this time I'll be bringing APN readers closer to the action every week.

"Together we'll go into the dressing rooms, we'll talk to the players and we'll chase the big news stories on and off the field as the excitement and the drama of season 2014 unfolds over the coming months."

As well as the weekly action in the NRL, fans can look forward to more State of Origin drama as Mal Meninga's Maroons shoot for nine-in-a-row against the Blues, whose long-suffering supporters have never been able to tweet the words: "NSW wins Origin series".

With more than 30 years experience covering the game, Wayne, as well as APN's other rugby league experts, including former editor of Rugby League Week and now regular columnist, Tony Durkin, will keep you informed and up to the minute with the big rugby league stories as they break throughout the season.

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