Elks players target World Cup place and Eagles double
Cross-border bragging rights, as well as World Cup places, will be up for grabs when the Rugby League State of Origin Series kicks off at Malone's Gibson Park this weekend.
Despite never having previously tasted victory in such a contest, the Northern Ireland Elks swept the two-game series against the Republic of Ireland Eagles last season, so the southern side are sure to have revenge on their minds come Saturday afternoon (4pm kick-off).
An added wrinkle this year, however, will be the looming presence of the Rugby League World Cup this autumn with squad places to be earned before the big October kick-off in New Zealand, Australia and Papa New Guinea.
The Elks have been boosted by the return to fitness of co-player coaches Kenny Calladine and Wayne Kelly, two men who have experience of playing semi-professionally in England.
While Matthew Cahoon will be absent after breaking his leg turning out for Ireland Students in Australia, the captain of that trip, Connor Kelly, is back to lead the Elks alongside Gareth Gill, one player who will certainly be looking to impress watching international coaches.
Drawing heavily from County Meath's All-Ireland winning Longhorns and the Galway Tribesmen, the Eagles side will have a slightly less settled look about it when they journey up the M1.
Regular feature Casey Dunne is struggling with a calf injury while, since last season's series, halfbacks James Kelly and Mickey Russell have turned pro with the Sheffield Eagles and Coventry Bears respectively.
Saturday's slate of action will also see two further games with exhibitions between the two under-19 representative sides beginning at 1pm, followed by an under-14 tussle between the Belfast Eagles and Lisburn Little Ducks at 3pm.
The return match beween the Elks and the Egales is set for next weekend at Ashbourne RFC.