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View from Down Under: NRL Season Kicks Off

Summer is officially over and that means one of Australia’s greatest pastimes is back, with the National Rugby League season set to kick off this weekend.

All 16 clubs will be in action after a long preseason in the sun and the good news for the rest of the competition is that the reigning premier Cronulla Sharks have lost three key players for their title defence.

The men who won’t be there are the retired Michael Ennis, the released Ben Barba and the injured Valentine Holmes. This means they have dropped way back to the ninth line of betting for back-to-back titles at $17 (+1600).

The favorite for the Premiership is the Melbourne Storm at $7.50 (+650) who open their campaign with a trip to Canterbury on Friday night, where they will start as a $1.80 (-125) favorite.

Last weekend produced a great Australian sporting moment when the Aussie cricket team won its first Test in India in 13 years.

The betting market responded with Australia's odds being slashed in series betting from $12 (+1100) to $2.75 (+175) following the monster win. The hosts, who suffered their first Test lost on home soil since November 2012, eased from $1.14 (-714) to $2.25 (+125).

All of a sudden, the Australians are on the front foot, with India having to overcome the fact that they’ve only come back from a 1-0 series deficit once in a four-Test series in their 85-year history.

On the other hand, Australia has only won one series in the last 48 years on Indian soil. We will all be watching with interest on Saturday when the second Test starts in Bangalore. India is $1.92 (-109) to level the series with a win in that match.

Australia's two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, love a rivalry and that's in evidence in two sports this weekend.

Firstly in horse racing, where two Group One races for three-year-olds over the mile will be contested, one in each city. The Australian Guineas is to be run at Flemington in Melbourne, while up in Sydney, the Randwick Guineas takes place.

In the round ball code, Sydney FC will host Melbourne Victory in a top-of-the-table blockbuster on Friday night to kick off Round 22 of the A-League. As mentioned in this column last week, Sydney lost its first game of the season two weeks ago, but bounced back with a clinical 3-1 win over the other Melbourne club, City, last week.

The hosts are $2 (+100) favorites to extend their lead over Victory ($3.45/+245) to 11 points and all but secure the Premiers’ Plate, which is awarded to the team who is top of the table before playoffs.

As usual, the AFL takes a back seat to the NRL for the next two weekends, as Round 1 in Australian Rules is still three weeks away.

Sticking with the AFL, and in the women’s league, Adelaide and Brisbane are the only clubs who remain unbeaten after four rounds and meet in a top-of-the-table clash at Adelaide’s Norwood Oval on Saturday night.

As you’d expect, Round 2 of the Super Rugby season will be highlighted by Friday night’s all-New Zealand clash in Hamilton when the Chiefs take on the Blues. Despite featuring six current or former All Blacks on their squad, the Blues are outsiders, a sign that New Zealand rugby is as strong as ever. Sigh.

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