THERE will be a Northern Rivers flavour to it when the NRL makes its long awaited return to the region on Saturday.
The Gold Coast Titans take on the New Zealand Warriors at Oakes Oval, Lismore, which will be the first trial game the region has hosted since 2009.
Ballina product and Titans centre Brian Kelly was only 12-years old at the time.
Titans winger Anthony Don was 21 back then and was still four years away from making his NRL debut after winning a premiership with Grafton Ghosts in 2010.
Kelly made his NRL debut in 2017 before joining the Titans two years ago.
He has been named at centre for Saturday night:
- Alexander Brimson
- Anthony Don
- Brian Kelly
- Patrick Herbert
- Corey Thompson
- Ash Taylor
- Jamal Fogarty
- Jarrod Wallace
- Mitch Rein
- Moeaki Fotuaika
- David Fifita
- Kevin Proctor
- Tino Fa'asuamaleaui
- Phillip Sami
- Tyrone Peachey
- Sam Lisone
- Jaimin Jolliffe
- Beau Fermor
- Sam Stone
- Tanah Boyd
- Treymain Spry
- Greg Marzhew
- Erin Clark
- Jai Whitbred
- Toby Sexton
"I was sitting at home in Mum's house (recently) and the ad for the game came on and my big head popped up and everyone was screaming at the TV," Kelly said.
"My nieces and nephews are always yelling 'uncle Bud' when I'm on the TV, to have an NRL game in Lismore is exciting and I've definitely had a few ticket requests, I'm booked out.
"Trials are a good gauge as to how your body is feeling and where you've pulled up after the pre-season."
The Warriors also have strong links to the region with new coach Nathan Brown and chief executive Cameron George.
George, attended High School at St John's College Woodlawn and is the son of former Lismore MP Thomas George.
He finished high school in 1993 and played rugby league for the Casino Cougars until 2005.
He started out in administration roles with New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing and has been the Warriors chief executive since 2017.
George steered the Warriors through a tumultuous 2020 where the team was separated from their families for most of the season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Brown comes to the club after previously coaching St George Illawarra and the Newcastle Knights.
He was born and raised at Maclean and went on to play 172 first grade games with the Dragons.
The Warriors main squad, including star recruits Addin Fonua-Blake, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Kane Evans and Euan Aitken are all expected to play on Saturday.
Meanwhile, there is plenty of buzz around the Titans with new recruits David Fifita and Tino Fa'asuamaleaui arriving at the club this season.
Australian Kangaroos coach and NRL immortal Mal Meninga is taking a more hands-on approach with the Titans after taking on a consultancy role at the club.
Meninga will be the special guest speaker at the Legends of League dinner at the Lismore Workers Club on Friday night.
The Titans and Parramatta Eels set an Oakes Oval attendance record in 2007 when they attracted 8612 people.
The last major professional sporting event at the venue was the Gold Coast Suns and Sydney Swans preseason AFL game which attracted 4918 in 2019.
The game on Saturday is set for a 5.30pm kick-off.