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The 2017 Darwin Club Rugby Season gets underway at Land Rover Rugby Park this weekend with a Grand Final replay between South Darwin and Palmerston the highlight.

The Rabbitohs have recruited well in the off-season compensating the loss several key players including loose forwards Misioka Timoteo and Tom Hiramatsu plus the now retired Tim Atkinson and Lepani Nabuliwaqa who has returned to Fiji.

Their 2013 Eric Johnston Medallist David Boyle returns after an injury enforced lay-off of 18 months and blockbusting centre Henry Burns is back at the Warren after spending last season in Cairns.

Souths:”X” factor could be Abele Atunaisa, nephew of Coach Setefano Cakaunivalu who hails from the Wardens Club in Fiji and would not look out of place in a Super Rugby Jersey.

Palmerston who went from Wooden Spoon to Runner-up in the course of twelve months have gone down in both Pre-Season Cup matches and will sorely miss the services of inspirational captain Michael Killiner who has relocated to Perth while work commitments have prevented Coach Ravin du Plessis taking on a second term as coach.

Casuarina are to be co-coached by Sam Batty and Joe Albert after Peter McGrath stepped down after eight years at the helm. 

Both Batty and Albert played under McGrath for several years and the transition is likely to be seamless.

Amongst several key gains for the Cougars is backrower Tani Fakaalofa from New Zealand while the mercurial local product Ryan McMurray returns to the side after missing 2016 through injury and should provide plenty of spark at half-back.

Casuarina’s season projection is to make the Grand Final as a minimum.

Darwin Dragons will again look to Drew Tobin as their one field general and the return of representative player Nigel Maher is a boost while talented teenager Jet Norris has moved across from Palmerston.

Wayne Robinson has been appointed captain again at University under the coaching of Hone Edwards and after missing the finals for the first time in over decade the Pirates will be hell bent on finals qualification.

Much interest this season will centre of the performance of the Rural Area based Swampdogs whose simple goal for the season is to successfully field First and Reserve Grade teams for the first time since the last wet season competition in 2001/02.

Blessed by an abundance of youth the Doggies have picked-up Reece Manning, a hard running prop from the Moree Bulls in Country NSW.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of NT Rugby.