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The players set to headline the opening day of the Japan Rugby League One competition

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)

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Some of the world’s best rugby players are set to take the field today in the inaugural season of Japan’s Rugby League One competition.

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The competition was originally supposed to open with a match between Kubota Spears and the 2021 Top League champions, Saitama Wild Knights. But that fixture was cancelled due to an outbreak of Covid-19 within the Wild Knights squad, which saw Kubota awarded the five competition points as a result.

Rugby League One will instead kick-off with three matches today, before another two matches in the first division tomorrow.

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Pablo Matera and Scott Robertson
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Pablo Matera and Scott Robertson

With a number of both past and current international stars set to take the field today, below is a look at the matchups and the players you might want to keep your eye out for.

 

Kobelco Kobe Steelers vs Shining Arcs Tokyo-Bay Urayasu

Kicking off the competition is a match between the Kobelco Kobe Steelers and the Shining Arcs Tokyo-Bay Urayasu, which presents an exciting matchup at flyhalf which will no doubt pique the interest of rugby fans.

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2011 Rugby World Cup winning All Black Aaron Cruden is set to command the Steelers attack from flyhalf, while Maori All Black Otere Black will line up at pivot for the Shining Arcs. Black is of course coming off a successful season with the Blues in 2021, where he helped guide the Auckland franchise to a Super Rugby Trans-Tasman title.

But arguably the selection which is especially interesting is Israel Folau’s selection at fullback for the Shining Arcs. The former Wallaby is set to make his return to the 15-man code, more than 1000 days since his last professional game of rugby.

Also joining Black and Folau in the Shining Arcs line-up this week is former Wallaby Liam Gill, who will start at Number Eight this weekend.

Kobe Steelers: Ryohei Yamanaka, Fraser Anderson, Richard Buckman, Seungsin Lee, Ataata Moeakiola, Aaron Cruden, Atsushi Hiwasa, Brodi McCurran, Hikaru Hashimoto (c), Takara Imamura, JD Schickerling, Seokhwan Jang, Hiroshi Yamashita, Ryuhei Arita, Koki Yamamoto. Reserves: Kenta Matsuoka, Isileli Nakajima, Jiwon Gu, Naohiro Kotaki, Sosiceni Tokoqio, Daiki Nakajima, Kosuke Naka, Shinsuke Iseki.

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Shining Arcs: Israel Folau, Kai Ishii, Shane Gates (c), Tone Tukufuka, Kazushi Hano, Otere Black, Atsushi Yumoto, Liam Gill, Shokei Kin, James Moore, Jimmy Tupou, Shingo Nakajima, Shotaro Hirai, Miura Rin, Anoku Shota. Reserves: Ryushi Fujimura, Ken Saito, Shuhei Takeuchi, Sam Jeffries, Alex MacKenzie, Ryo Tsuruda, Taji Hongo, Brachin Henry.

 

Green Rockets Tokatsu vs Tokohama Canon Eagles

Less than a week before the new season was set to start, Green Rockets Tokatsu new signing Blake Ferguson was arrested and later sacked after he was caught allegedly in possession of cocaine. But the club will be looking to move on from this news when they face Tokohama Canon Eagles later today.

The Green Rockets will field a relatively new look line- with seven players in the starting XV set to make their first appearance for the club.

One of those players is Brave Blossoms scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka, who had a successful spell with the Highlanders in Super Rugby from 2013 to 2016.

As Super Rugby fans would no doubt remember, he’s quick both off the mark and with his passing, and his experience will no doubt bring a lot to this side as well. He’s also played for the Sunwolves, the Wild Knights, and their opponents this week, the Canon Eagles.

Tanaka could potentially play alongside former Highlanders captain Ash Dixon, who has been named as the replacement hooker for the side.

Former Crusader and Chiefs utility black Tom Marshall is set to run out at fullback, while Maori All Black Whetukamokamu Douglas lines up at blindside flanker.

Named up at Number Eight for the Canon Eagles is former Melbourne Rebels backrower Amanaki Mafi, who is also a capped international with the Brave Blossoms. He’ll be another exciting player to watch both today, and for the remainder of this season.

Japan flyhalf Yu Tamura will feature for the Canon Eagles this season, named to start this match at flyhalf.

Green Rockets: Tom Marshall, Teruya Goto, Tim Bennetts, Gehamat Shibasaki, Hiroyuki Miyajima, Lemeki Lomano Lava, Fumiaki Tanaka, Aseri Masivou, Rikiya Oishi, Whetukamokamu Douglas, Jake Ball, Yoshiya Hosoda, Takahiro Doi, Yo Sato, Sunao, Takizawa. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Gakuto Ishida, Keisuke Kikuta, Kavaia Tagivetaua, Miya Arai, Keisuke Yamada, Kentaro Kodama, George Risale.

Canon Eagles: Jumpei Ogura, Chihito Matsui, Naoya Minamihashi, Yusuke Kajimura, Masayoshi Takezawa, Yu Tamura, Toshiki Amano, Amanaki Mafi, Naoto Shimada, Jacobus van Dyk, Cory Hill, Amanaki Saumaki, Rento Tsukayama, Tusuke Niwai, Takato Okabe. Reserves: Shinobu Takashima, Suguru Igarashi, Masahiro Matsuoka, Samuela Anise, Ryota Sunginaga, Koki Arai, Viliame Takayawa, Seiya Yamada.

 

Tokyo Sungoliath vs Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo

New Zealand rugby fans will no doubt be excited to see how All Black Damian McKenzie performs with Tokyo Sungoliath this season, having signed for the club in August. It’s arguably the most exciting signing for the Rugby League One competition this year, with McKenzie being a genuine world class talent.

He’ll join a star studded Sungoliath line-up which includes former Reds lock Harry Hockings, two Australian internationals, Japan international Ryoto Nakamura, and former New Zealand under-20s representative Tevita Li.

The two Wallabies in this line-up are Number Eight Sean McMahon, and 2021 World Rugby Men’s 15s Player of the Year nominee Samu Kerevi. Any plays involving Kerevi and McKenzie are sure to create headlines, so it’s definitely a partnership to watch out for as the season progresses.

Captaining the side is the aforementioned Ryoto Nakamura, who started all five games for the Brave Blossoms at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. His partnership with Kerevi in the centre will no doubt be key, with the two making up arguably the best centre pairing of the competition.

As for the Brave Lupus, they have a number of former Crusaders players set to take the field later today. Matt Todd is set to line-up on one flank while the experienced Michael Leitch occupies the other.

Former All Black Tom Taylor is also set to run out in the 10 jersey, while another former New Zealand international, Seta Tamanivalu is set to play in the centres.

Sungoliath: Damian McKenzie, Seiya Ozaki, Samu Kerevi, Ryoto Nakamura (c), Shogo Nakano, Hikaru Tamura, Yutaka Nagare, Sean McMahon, Naoki Ozawa, Kanji Shimokawa, Harry Hockings, Hendrik Tui, Kan Nakano, Kosuke Horikoshi, Shintaro Ishihara. Reserves: Shunta Nakamura, Yukio Morikawa, Shinnosuke Kakinaga, Takayasu Tsuji, Tevita Tatafu, Naoto Saito, Hideto Naguma.

Brave Lupus: Takuro Matsunaga, Jone Naikabula, Seta Tamanivalu, Hayata Nakao, Taiki Matsunobu, Tom Taylor, Takahiro, Yoshitaka Tokunaga, Matt Todd, Michael Leitch, Jacob Pierce, Warner Dearns, Yuta Kokaji, Daigo Hashimoto, Yuma Fujino. Reserves: Futoshi Mori, Teruo Makabe, Yu Chinen, Kyosuke Kajikawa, Kiroki Yamamoto, Jack Stratton, Johnny Faauli, Toshiki Kuwayama.

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