St George Illawarra Dragons winger Jason Nightingale is thrilled to be part of the season opener against Wests Tigers at ANZ Stadium, Sydney Olympic Park on Sunday.
The 27-year-old is keen to link-up with the team's several new signings including new halves-pairing Gareth Widdop and Michael Witt who have both been included in Head Coach Steve Price's line-up.
The New Zealand Test representative is additionally studying a Bachelor of Commerce with the University of Wollongong as part of the Graduates of League program and is looking forward to returning to study during the first semester.
“I’m very excited for Round 1, I can’t wait to play for the two points and get our club off to a good start," said Nightingale.
“It’s important for us to start well; obviously every game is important but we’re all determined to start this season off with a good win against the Tigers at ANZ Stadium.
“The halfback role has been shared evenly over the past few weeks at training, so we didn’t really have an idea of who would be filling that position until this week.
“Michael Witt has been named as halfback for Round 1 and I think his experience will be very valuable to our team.
“Adam Quinlan at fullback will be great; I think he’ll play a very different role to what Dugan usually does being a devastating ball runner and there’s no questioning his ability at attack but Quinlan is the best support player.
“He’s speedy off the mark and the way he follows people around is pretty special; he has a bit more ball play in him too, so hopefully that will open up the game for players like myself and our centres.
“I think the Tigers will be very aggressive, especially in defence; from what we’ve seen they get up in your face quickly and they won’t change that plan for us, it’s what’s been thrown at us for the past few years.
“It will be a great battle; two teams who really want to improve their positions from last year.
“The Graduates of League program is a great institute established by Dr Sam Jebiele and the NRL where they try to promote and encourage players to take on studies throughout their career in 20s and first-grade.
“The Dragons have been involved with it for a while and have a great relationship with the University of Wollongong.
“The program really helps us put our best foot forward and look to life after footy or even during footy.
“I’m in my second year of a Commerce Degree, it’s been slow and steady but I’m going to pick it up this semester and do twice the amount of subjects and see how I handle that workload along with footy.
“A lot of the Under 20s players may not make it into Rugby League; it’s an unfortunate reality, but it’s good for them to be involved in this program.
“Graduates of League is giving them a head start when it comes to education so if a career in Rugby League doesn’t work out for them it will make the transition a lot easier."