Brendan Wood previews the final game of round one between the St George-Illawarra Dragons and the Wests Tigers.
After a disappointing 2019 which saw them miss the finals again, the Dragons will be looking to start their season off on the right foot with a win at home.
They turned out a dominant performance in their first trial of the year, beating Newcastle 38-12. However, they were outclassed in the annual Charity Shield clash against the Rabbitohs, going down 26-12 after leading in the first half.
With Gareth Widdop departing the club, the Dragons will be hoping to wipe the slate clean and start fresh in 2020. They’ll have to do it without influential hooker Cameron McInnes and prop Korbin Sims early on, who are out with injuries they sustained in the pre-season. This will be a test for the new look spine of Zac Lomax, Corey Norman, Ben Hunt and Isaac Luke against the Tigers.
Last year the Tigers fell just short of a finals birth again, finishing 9th for the second year straight. The plan for this season is simple, break the streak and play finals footy.
Their trial form was inconsistent at best. First they were hammered 32-4 by the Panthers in Penrith with several of their stars rested. They put in a better performance against the Warriors a week later, finishing 20-6 winners in the first outing of the Leilua brothers combination.
If the Tigers are going to get a win on the road in round one, they will looking to the fresh talent of Adam Doueihi, Billy Walters and the Leilua brothers to create some spark and angles in attack they have needed for years.
1. Zac Lomax 2. Jordan Pereira 3. Brayden Wiliame 4. Tim Lafai 5. Mikaele Ravalawa 6. Corey Norman 7. Ben Hunt 8. James Graham 9. Isaac Luke 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Tariq Sims 13. Blake Lawrie Bench: 14. Trent Merrin 15. Tyrell Fuimaono 16. Billy Brittain 17. Jacob Host Reserves: 18. Jackson Ford 19. Adam Clune 20. Euan Aitken 21. Josh Kerr.
1. Corey Thompson 2. David Nofoaluma 3. Joseph Leilua 4. Adam Doueihi 5. Robert Jennings 6. Benji Marshall 7. Luke Brooks 8. Josh Aloiai 9. Billy Walters 10. Alex Twal 11. Luke Garner 12. Luciano Leilua 13. Elijah Taylor Bench: 14. Thomas Mikaele 15. Josh Reynolds 16. Zane Musgrove 17. Chris Lawrence Reserves: 18. Michael Chee-Kam 19. Oliver Clark 20. Matt Eisenhuth 21. Paul Momirovski.
Over the last 20 seasons, these two teams have met on 37 occasions, with the Dragons holding a slight advantage 20 wins to 17. The Tigers have had the wood over the Dragons in recent times however, belting them 42-14 when they played late last year.
They’ll feel confident heading back to WIN Stadium too. In their history as a joint venture, the Tigers have only lost one game at the venue from the three they have played there in total.
BATTLE TO WATCH
Isaac Luke vs Billy Walters
The battle of the two hookers is the most intriguing matchup in this game. Isaac Luke signed with the Dragons from the Warriors initially thinking he would be playing a bench role behind Cameron McInnes. After McInnes went down in the pre-season with injury, he now finds himself starting. He has a chance to prove to the Dragons he still has what it takes to be a top quality dummy-half in this league.
Billy Walters has a similar story, although he doesn’t quite have the first-grade accolades Luke does. Signing with the Tigers hopeful he would get a game in first grade at some point this year, he has impressed coach Michael Maguire enough to win the starting hooker role from round one. This goes to show how much faith the Tigers have in Walters’ ability.
Both players will have plenty to prove at their new clubs, and it’s going to be great to watch how they go about it. Another element to this hooking battle is the inclusions of Billy Brittain and Josh Reynolds on the bench for the respective sides. How each of these players will be used is a bit of mystery, but it only adds further intrigue into how the hooking battle will decide the outcome of the game.
Date: Sunday 15 March
Venue: WIN Stadium, Wollongong
Kick-off: 5:15pm AEST (6:15pm AEDT)