The Contenders: Prop

OPINION

The Contenders: Prop

The battle for spots will be at an all-time high at Wests Tigers in 2018, with Coach Ivan Cleary putting together an extremely strong squad for the season ahead. 

With over 10 brand new faces “on the bus” for the year ahead and a great mixture of youthful talent and experience in the midst, the team that takes to the field in Round 1 against the Roosters will be vastly different from the one that ended the 2017 season.

In the “Contenders” series, we take a look at those who will battle it out for spots in 2018, and not envy the decisions ahead for Coach Cleary in selecting a team for Round 1!

Next up, we look at the players in the running to feature in the front row in 2018!

 

 

ALEX TWAL

Age: 21

NRL Games: 9

At Wests Tigers since: 2017

After moving over to Wests Tigers midway through the 2017 season, Alex Twal showed his potential with a superb debut season — featuring in nine out of nine games for Wests Tigers with impressive numbers to match. From there, the Parramatta City Titans junior made Lebanon’s World Cup squad where he thrived again — starting up front alongside Tim Mannah and playing big minutes as the Cedars stunned their way to the quarterfinals. In fact, no player made more tackles through the opening four games of the tournament than Twal, who stands to figure as a big part of Wests Tigers’ forward pack in 2018; whether it’s starting at prop, on the edge or lock or coming off the bench. Signed through until the end of the 2020, Twal is definitely one to watch in the year ahead and will only benefit from having an improved pack around him.

 

BEN MATULINO

Age: 29

NRL Games: 212

At Wests Tigers since: 2018 

One of the first high-profile players to join “the bus” in 2018, Ben Matulino will reunite with former Coach Ivan Cleary and teammates Elijah Taylor and Russell Packer (who we’ll get to later) in 2018 as he looks to re-establish himself as one of the top props in rugby league. The 29-year-old has been a stalwart of the Warriors and Kiwi forward pack over the past decade and will certainly provide plenty of experience, muscle and consistency in Wests Tigers’ pack in 2018. With a niggling knee injury behind him and a fresh change across the Tasman, look for Matulino to return to his career best in 2018.

 

JJ FELISE

Age: 21

NRL Games: 13

At Wests Tigers since: 2016 

A promising junior forward, JJ Felise again featured in a handful of games for Wests Tigers in 2017 after laying a good platform in his debut season the year prior. One of the best one-on-one tacklers in the team, Felise will be looking to improve his consistency in the coming season and will only improve with senior players around him, but could still play a key role for Cleary’s men going forward given his NRL experience.

 

RUSSELL PACKER

Age: 28

NRL Games: 151

At Wests Tigers since: 2018 

With a dominant 2017 season behind him at the Dragons, Russell Packer will look to continue his resurgence as one of the top props in the game in 2018 alongside former teammates Matulino and Taylor, who all made a Grand Final together back in 2011. A powerful prop who will look to lead the line for Wests Tigers in 2018, Packer has tremendous leadership qualities and will take a senior role in the side as he lifts those around him. Fresh off a return to the Kiwi national side at the World Cup, Packer will be determined to produce his best at Wests Tigers having signed through until the end of the 2021 season.

SAUASO SUE

Age: 25

NRL Games: 100

At Wests Tigers since: 2013

A victim of his versatility in the forward pack at times over the past few years, Sauaso Sue will certainly feature for Wests Tigers in 2018 — the only question is where. Many list Sue’s best position as a prop forward (either starting or coming off the bench), and with increased depth across every position in the pack, it’ll be fascinating to see where he fits in Cleary’s team going forward. A regular in the Samaon international side, Sue has played the second most games for Wests Tigers of any forward at the Club and will look to dominate again in 2018 with his bruising defence and tough carries of the ball.

 

TIM GRANT

Age: 29

NRL Games: 183

At Wests Tigers since: 2016

An experienced and relentless campaigner, Tim Grant enjoyed another strong season at Wests Tigers in 2017 — ending the year as one of the two starting props with an increased leadership role in Ivan Cleary’s side. The former State of Origin forward will likely reach the 200-game milestone in 2018 after previous stints at Penrith and South Sydney, and it’ll be fascinating to see how big of a role Grant carries in 2018 with better depth around him. Capable of playing big minutes, Grant’s experience and composure is a big plus for any side and there’s no doubt he will more than hold his own this year.