RUGBY LEAGUE: A new-look South Grafton Rebels are ready to host cross-town rivals Grafton Ghosts in a Battle of the River local derby to open the Group 2 season on Sunday.

It will be all hands on deck when the two sides go to war, with people on either side of the Clarence River on the edge of their seats ahead of the clash.

In Behind the Sports Desk this week, Moose and Northy analyse the mouthwatering clash and predict who will win on Sunday.

MOOSE: Battle of fresh-faced fullbacks will be key to derby

IT'S time. The moment most people in the Clarence Valley have been waiting more than half a year for.

The rugby league season has returned to the Clarence.

And what a way to kick things off in 2018, with the Battle of the River local derby between the South Grafton Rebels and Grafton Ghosts.

This grand final replay will have people on the edge of their seats, with plenty of unknowns across both sides.

The biggest problem for both teams will be the injuries they have this year. Grant Stevens is a major loss for the Rebels, the same goes for Khan Williams at the Ghosts.

Both players have undergone knee reconstructions in the off-season and are unlikely to feature in any games before the mid-season break in June.

With both players out it opens the door for the next crop of rising talent to get an opportunity in the top grades.

The most exciting battle will be between the two fresh-faced custodians.

Former Under 18s star Cooper Woods will take control of the number one jersey for the Ghosts, while a relatively unknown Woolgoolga import Izack Smidt is the front-runner for the Rebels role.

The two young fliers have proven they are full of talent and full of speed, but it is their ability to shout out defensive orders that will be under the microscope this weekend.

Whichever fullback can fit into the role fastest will prove a real difference in the game. But with the experience up front, I'm going Ghosts by six.

NORTHY: Local derby clash proves a scheduling masterstroke by Group 2

WHAT a scheduling masterstroke by Group 2 Rugby League - a mouth-watering grand final replay local derby to kick things off in round one.

But there are so many changes to both teams it's next to impossible to predict how it will pan out. A lot will come down to how the respective new-look spines handle the big game pressure.

The departure of Mitch Lollback and Clint Greenshields - two of the best players to put on a blue and white jersey in the modern era - leaves a cavernous void of experience impossible to ignore for the Ghosts. Cooper Woods was a revelation in Under-18s last year and Blake Winmill was named Reserve Grade Player of the Year, but can they fill the big shoes in the top grade?

The Rebels are also largely untried and untested in key positions, with youngsters Nick McGrady and Keiron Johnson-Heron slotting into the halves for Hugh Stanley and Kayan Davis.

This will be McGrady's biggest opportunity to take on a lead role at senior level for the red and whites. If he can have the same impact on a match as the days he weaved magic for club and school as a junior, watch out.

One thing in Rebels' favour is a comprehensive pre-season compared to the Ghosts, who have not played a trial. But it is hard to imagine a Danny Wicks-led side going into a season opener unprepared.

But the clincher for me is the fortress. Beaten just once at McKittrick Park in three years, Rebels to win by 8.

Who will win the 2018 Group 2 Rugby League title?

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