The Wests Tigers will be looking to start the Michael Maguire era with a win as they take on the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles in their season opener at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday afternoon.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
The Tigers have undergone a transitional period in the off season, and new coach Michael Maguire has put the team through a grueling pre-season in the hopes of getting the season off to a winning start. They lost their final trial hit out against the Warriors in Whangerai 26-16, so there is still plenty of room for improvement in this young Tigers team heading into round 1.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
The Sea Eagles have had their own coaching issues in the off season, with Des Hasler returning to take over from Trent Barrett after a disappointing season, in the hopes of replicating the success he had at the club earlier in his career. Manly have had a less than ideal pre-season, going down to the Sharks in their first trial game 28-22 in a dour affair, a game in which they lost star fullback Tom Trbojevic to injury.
Corey Thompson starts at fullback in place of injured captain Moses Mbye, which brings Mahe Fonua onto the wing and Paul Momirovski makes his Tigers debut in the centres. Luke Garner starts in the back row in place of an injured Chris Lawrence.
Star off season recruits Ryan Matterson and Robert Jennings make their club debuts in the back row and on the wing respectively, while Josh Reynolds has been overlooked for a bench spot in favor of young gun forward Thomas Mikaele, who also makes his club debut.
Wests Tigers 21-man squad: 1. Corey Thompson, 2. Mahe Fonua, 3. Paul Momirovski, 4. Esan Marsters, 5. Robert Jennings, 6. Benji Marshall (c), 7. Luke Brooks, 8. Ben Matulino, 9. Robbie Farah, 10. Alex Twal, 11. Ryan Matterson, 12. Luke Garner, 13. Elijah Taylor Interchange: 14. Russell Packer, 15. Thomas Mikaele, 16. Josh Aloiai, 17. Michael Chee-Kam. Reserves: 18. Josh Reynolds, 19. Matthew Eisenhuth, 20. Jacob Liddle, 21. Chris McQueen
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
Tom Trbojevic is the big name missing in round 1, sidelined nursing a hamstring injury. His absence sees Brendan Elliot starting at fullback, and youngster Reuben Garrick making his debut on the wing. Kane Elgey has won a starting position and will make his club debut at five-eighth, with Trent Hodkinson returning to the bench.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles 21-man squad: 1. Brendan Elliot, 2. Jorge Taufua, 3. Moses Suli, 4. Brad Parker, 5. Reuben Garrick, 6. Kane Elgey, 7. Daly Cherry-Evans (c), 8. Addin Fonua-Blake, 9. Apisai Koroisau, 10. Martin Taupau, 11. Joel Thompson, 12. Curtis Sironen, 13. Jake Trbojevic Interchange: 14. Trent Hodkinson, 15. Jack Gosiewski, 16. Kelepi Tanginoa, 17. Toafofoa Sipley Reserves: 18. Tevita Funa, 19. Cade Cust, 20. Lloyd Perrett, 21. Lachlan Croker
HEAD TO HEAD
These two sides played twice last season, with the Tigers managing to win both encounters. In their first meeting in round 6, the Tigers racked up a huge lead in the first half, eventually winning a 38-10 demolition at Brookvale Oval, embarrassing Manly in front of their home fans. In their second meeting in round 24, the score line was much more competitive as the Tigers fought hard to hold off a late surge from the Sea Eagles to win 22-20 in front of their home crowd in Campbelltown.
Since 1998, Manly hold the slight advantage over the Tigers recording 15 wins out of 27 total meetings between the two sides. However, they have only managed to win at Leichhardt Oval on two occasions out of the ten games they have played there.
There are several interesting matchups to keep an eye on in this one, including the coaching matchup of Maguire vs Hasler, but the key battle on the field will be between the two halfbacks, Luke Brooks and Daly Cherry-Evans. Both these players are responsible for leading their teams around the field, and both have the kicking game and running game to be able to trouble any defense in the competition. The matchup in the forwards seems to be pretty even on paper, so it’s possible the game may be decided by one play from one of these halves at a pivotal moment. Cherry-Evans will be without one of his biggest attacking weapons in Tom Trbojevic, so he will be under pressure to deliver and provide some much needed direction in attack. Brooks is coming off a stellar season, and has improved his combination with halves partner Benji Marshall to finally find some consistency, which saw him win 2018 Halfback of the Year honors at the Dally M’s last year.
Regardless of the players who are missing around them, there is no doubt these two players are going to have a big impact on the result of this game, especially if it comes down to the wire. Whether that is kicking a game winning field goal or playing a hand in a crucial try, expect to see some classy play across the field from both halfbacks.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Saturday 16th of March
Venue: Leichhardt Oval
Referees: Adam Gee, Adam Cassidy
WHO WILL WIN?
Both teams have suffered some injuries in the pre-season, but none bigger than the injury to Tom Trbojevic. He is a huge loss for the Sea Eagles, and his absence will surely hurt in both attack and defense. The Tigers have the edge in the backs, so look for them to exploit the young Manly backline with Kiwi star centre Esan Marsters and new recruit Robert Jennings. The Tigers are traditionally harder to beat at Leichhardt Oval, so Manly may be in for a tough day. Tigers by 8.