Two of the most notorious characters in last year's Super League make debuts in direct opposition to each other this afternoon in the biggest game of the Northern Ford Premiership campaign so far.
Vila Matautia, who claimed that he was being hounded out of the game by officials' bias against him during his last season at St Helens, was talked out of retirement by Leigh, who unleash him today for the first time.
There to welcome him will be one of the very few players with a worse disciplinary record – Paul Davidson, who will make his first appearance for Rochdale Hornets after completing his latest suspension, imposed while he was still with Halifax. It is a confrontation with explosive potential, but Leigh's coach, Paul Terzis, believes that those expecting mayhem will be disappointed.
"They are two good rugby players, with a lot of recent Super League experience," says Terzis. "If they lock horns, I think they will know how far they can go. It's a new beginning for Vila and I think he will make the most of it." Davidson's career has taken him around a series of clubs – Widnes, Oldham, St Helens, London and Halifax – most of which have eventually lost patience with the number of games he has missed through suspensions, effective though he can be when he controls his aggression.
Like Matautia, he has seen himself as a marked man in Super League and his new coach, Martin Hall, believes this is a perfect chance to put his reputation behind him.
"The way he has settled in here has been first class," Hall says. "Obviously his reputation precedes him, but this is a new club and a fresh start in a new competition. I just hope he gets a fair crack, because he has been on the wrong end of a few decisions in the past." Neither coach would want his new enforcer to sacrifice the fire and aggression that makes them such an intimidating presence on the pitch; there is an invisible line they must play up to, but not beyond. Either player's next suspension will be a long one.
Both sides come intotoday's match with a perfect record this season. Which record survives the collision could depend to a large extent on which of the two notorious newcomers makes the bigger impact – and stays on the pitch. Despite the coaches trying to play down the confrontational element in the two debuts, the match within the match could be compelling viewing.Reuse content