So in an effort to say "I told you so", the Rolling Maul looks into the tea leaves (not literally - the Rolling Maul only has access to instant coffee) to predict how the eight teams will go in their quest to become the first, and possibly only ever, winner of the ARC - the pinnacle of Australian Rugby (except for the World Cup, the Bledisloe, Tri-Nations, Lions Tours, Super 14, the Shute Shield, my local subbies comp and whatever it is that they play for in Brisbane).
The Melbourne Rebels
Digby Ioane, who spent the first 14 years of his life in Melbourne before moving to Queensland because it was warmer and they play Rugby, has returned to Melbourne to play for the Rebels. Rumour has it he even intends to attend a few training sessions, but only if they're held in Sydney, and has considered an invitation to have a beer in the Esplanade Hotel.
Judging by a quick straw poll of the Rolling Maul's friends in Melbourne, one is already a Rebel Rebel (the expected name of the Melbourne fan club which conveniently comes with a song to match). He has even bought the jersey and is considering life membership which is pretty brave considering the competition may only last one year. The Rolling Maul's other two friends can't stand Rugby, but if this quick survey is anything to go by then over a million Melburnians can be expected to attend each Rebels home game.
Prediction: 8th (or last last if you prefer)
Predicted headline: Rebels Without a Cause
East Coast Aces
Last time the Rolling Maul checked a map the Australian east coast was about 4,000 km long. How a team drawn from such from the tiny proportion of it that is the Gold Coast can represent all 4,000 km, including the Central Coast and Sydney that have their own ARC teams is beyond the Rolling Maul (which is getting used to speaking about itself in the third person). Featuring the mercurial (as in old) Andrew Walker, the exciting prospect (as in young) that is Quade Cooper, five New-Zealand born players and no other names recognisable beyond the Lamingtons (not the spongy cake but the hills out the back of the Gold Coast though both could be true) the Aces will struggle not to look like jokers.
Late mail has it that Chris Latham will be playing two matches for the Aces, so they can expect to win - two matches.
Predicted headline: Aces Come Up Trumps
A tornado in Brisbane is about as likely as the USA winning the (or winning any) World Cup. Just the fact that most of the tornadoes are drawn from the Brisbane club competition with a sprinkling of players from the highly successful Queensland Reds indicates that the Tornadoes will struggle to put the wind up any team. Clinton Schifcofske provides a bit of oomph at the back but when your captain Tom McVerry, who was born in Melbourne, can't even get a game with the Melbourne Rebels you've got to worry. Elia Tuquiri may have the pedigree but Benny Elias would have a better chance of sneaking a win through the back door.
Predicted headline: Tornadoes Run Out Of Puff
Central Coast Rays
Peter Hewat has already admitted he's just fulfilling his contract. Sam Norton-Knight admits he's pissed off at Berrick Barnes getting the World Cup nod ahead of him. Clint Eadie hates the fact he'll forever be compared (and not particularly favourably) with his Dad Graham. Ofa Fainga’anuku just has a really funny name but is pissed off that Nifo Nifo's name is even funnier. Is this a recipe for team harmony?
Predicted headline: Rays Of Hopeless
Force Fever has become Spirit Stupidity in Perth. Captained by notorious bad boy Matt Henjak and featuring that other great booze hound of Australian Rugby Scott Fava, the Spirit are expected to show spirit on the field and drink spirits off it in large quantities. Opposition front rows have already been warned not to breathe for fear of sucking in the fumes. Rumour has it that a few locals have also been named in the squad so you can expect them to spend a lot of time standing on the sideline in a tracksuit.
Predicted headline: Spirit Reach For The Top Shelf
Kurtley Beale got a special dispensation to play for the Rams even though he plays his club Rugby for Norths. At least he comes from St Marys. Indeed a quick scan of the team list shows only one Penrith player, two Parramatta players and four West Harbour players have been selected to warm the Rams bench. Most of the players are from Eastwood which is a worry as they only squeaked into the Sydney club competition finals. Surely the Rams shouldn't have had too much trouble recruiting New Zealanders. Beale is a genius and should be on his way to France but it won't help.
Predicted headline: Lambs To the Slaughter
The Brumbies' second stringers are sponsored by the Navy which is extraordinary considering that the entire coastline of the ACT is limited to a small part of Jervis Bay, 260 km from Canberra. And why the public servants of Canberra in their cushy desk jobs would want to give it all away for a 6-month stint in a submarine or in the Persian Gulf is difficult to imagine. Not only that, but off all the nonsensical teams names in the ARC, what do Scandinavian warrior rapists and pillagers with handle-bar moustaches and horns on their helmets have to do with Canberra? Maybe that's where the link to the Navy comes from. Do not expect any of these questions to be answered as the ARC progresses.
Predicted headline: Vikings Go Down In Flames
When the ARC was first proposed there were three clubs who were bitterly opposed and fought long and hard for it not to happen - Sydney Uni, Randwick and Easts. So what did the ARU do? It put all three of them together and called them the Fleet. It will interesting to see if the Fleet are inspired or resentful at having to play a competition they don't believe in. Fleet glory could lead to the success of the ARC and more power to it at the expense of its component clubs. It could happen to as Easts and Uni were the finalists of the Sydney club competition. Just the cheering through gritted teeth will make the entire ARC worth watching.
Predicted headline: Australian Rugby Championship's Fleeting Existence
Read more about the ARC here