Five stories to follow in 2017

That off-season seemed to drag on forever but here we are all of a sudden on the eve of Round 1 of the 2017 Intrust Super Cup season and plenty of exciting storylines to track throughout the course of the season.

Here are five that will attract plenty of attention as the 2017 season unfolds:

Former NRL stars get their second chance

There is no lack of former NRL stars lining up in the Intrust Super Cup this season, but for a handful of players it represents their best available avenue back to the big time.
Redcliffe have signed Matthew Lodge after the former Junior Kangaroo and Wests Tiger was involved in a string of off-field incidents and there are already NRL clubs circling should he make a positive contribution to the game both on and off the field.
Although not named this week, former Rabbitoh and Eel Chris Sandow has signed a one-year deal with Norths Devils and has been impressing at training while former Kiwi Test star Kevin Locke will start at fullback for Sunshine Coast this weekend after trialling with Manly in the off-season.
If all three are in the correct headspace, they will deliver plenty of highlights this year.

Launch of the FOGS Under 20s Cup

There is a major change coming to the pathway through to the NRL in 2018, but the QRL have taken the pre-emptive step of holding a statewide Under 20s competition in 2017 called the FOGS Under 20s Cup.
To be played in conjunction with Intrust Super Cup games where possible, the competition features 15 teams including a team representing Victoria and also the Western Mustangs out of Toowoomba.
The only Intrust Super Cup club not participating in the seven-week competition are the PNG Hunters.

Capras enter new phase

There have been some significant changes in the governance of the Central Queensland Capras over the off-season and the expectations are that in Kim Williams' second year in charge the Rockhampton-based club will make up further ground on the competition in 2017.
Having won just the solitary game in 2015, the Capras won six games in 2016 and finished the year ahead of both Tweed Heads and Mackay on the ladder.
Once again, there has been a high turnover of players with the most significant addition being that of former Wests Tigers prop Matthew Groat who played 17 NRL games before spending the past two seasons playing in England.

Can the Blackhawks break their duck?

Two years is hardly a drought, but ever since their inception in 2015 – the Blackhawks have been viewed as one of the Intrust Super Cup's true powerhouses. However, they have been unable so far to turn promise into a premiership.
Defeated by Ipswich in the grand final in their inaugural season, the Blackhawks were hit hard by injuries last season and after finishing third, were knocked out in Week 1 of the finals by the Falcons.
The retirement of Glenn Hall has been offset somewhat by the return of Blake Leary and after 50 NRL games for the Warriors, giant forward Sione Lousi has also joined the club.
Add in Carlin Anderson, Kierran Moseley and Paul Byrnes and the Blackhawks again shape as one of the teams to beat.

Young guns taking the next step

It's the breeding ground for the next generation of NRL stars and again in 2017 we will get to monitor the development of players who have caught our eye in the junior ranks.
The Northern Pride have picked up a pair of try-scoring freaks in Gideon Gela-Mosby and Marcus Jensen from their Cowboys allocation, Storm pair Jake Turpin and Joe Stimson will continue their progress at the Falcons, Mackay have an exciting halves pairing in Nicho Hynes and Cooper Bambling while George Fai will push for a Broncos' call-up from the Souths Logan front row.
Norths have picked up some young front-rowers worth keeping an eye on, while James Taylor arrives at the club after stints at the Warriors and Knights, and Mattais Heimuli has also come via the Warriors.

A former editor of Big League, Tony Webeck is the Chief Queensland Correspondent for NRL.com.