The Contenders: Hooker

OPINION

The Contenders: Hooker

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 with a win at Leichhardt Oval.

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!

In the final installment of the series, we take a look at the players in the running to feature at hooker during 2018 — a fascinating battle that could go a number of ways!

  

JACOB LIDDLE

Age: 21

NRL Games: 14

At Wests Tigers since: 2016

Ever since his memorable debut back in 2016, Jacob Liddle has had Wests Tigers fans captivated about the next long-term hooker option for the club, but two shoulder injuries saw the 21-year-old struggle to completely show that in 2017. Liddle shared the workload at hooker with Matt McIlwrick and the combination worked nicely for the majority of the season before season-ending surgery, and it seems likely that (once healthy) that combination will feature again in 2018. When both healthy, there’s great debate as to who will win the starting hooker role, but having been named in the Emerging Blues squad for 2018 as a future Origin star, Liddle is certainly destined for big things in the big time. He’ll be touch and go for Round 1, but once back, there’s no doubting that the Wyong Roos junior will leave a great impression in 2018.

 

MATT MCILWRICK

Age: 26

NRL Games: 52

At Wests Tigers since: 2017

Viewed as the third-string hooker in the eyes of many last year, Matt McIlwrick was one of the great surprise success stories in 2017 — winning the starting role for Round 1 and keeping his spot in the side all the way through to Round 26, when he was unfortunately ruled out with suspension. The former Raider, Rooster and Shark has seemingly found his feet at Concord under Ivan Cleary and after signing a new deal with the club, will head in to the 2018 season looking to build on what he produced last year. McIlwrick will fancy his chances at nabbing the starting spot in Round 1 should Liddle’s shoulder keep him out, but even then, it’s likely that the two will rotate heavily throughout the year and do their best to keep opposition forward packs guessing.

 

BENJI MARSHALL

Age: 32

NRL Games: 269

At Wests Tigers since: 2003-13, 18

While there’s no doubting Benji Marshall’s best position is in the halves, don’t be surprised to see him feature off the bench at hooker throughout the year — a role which he handled with aplomb during his time at the Brisbane Broncos. He might not be the typical hooker that clubs have, but the 32-year-old’s great passing game and fleet-footed stepping makes for a nightmare out of dummy half against tired forwards in the middle. Having Marshall on the bench would allow Cleary to carry just one other hooker in the side and also more versatility in the game (which could be a real advantage), so it’ll be interesting to see if the Premiership winner is used in this capacity throughout 2018.

 

PITA GODINET

Age: 30

NRL Games: 61

At Wests Tigers since: 2018

The last player “on the bus” in 2018, Pita Godinet also offers great cover at hooker having spent time in the number nine jersey throughout his career in Australia and England, as well as on the international stage for Samoa. The experienced playmaker has a sharp passing game suited to the hooking role, and could come in to contention in any position of the spine throughout 2018 due to his versatility and on-field consistency.