Wests Tigers will look to start the season with three straight wins for the first time in club history when they take on the Brisbane Broncos this Friday night.
When the 2018 NRL draw was released late last year, few gave Ivan Cleary’s side any hope of starting the year off on a positive note with matchups against the short-priced competition favourites in the Sydney Roosters and the defending premiers Melbourne Storm (at AAMI Park no less) to start.
Throw in the loss of Josh Reynolds to injury less than 48 hours before Round 1 and Wests Tigers certainly had their backs up against the wall. However, what soon followed was tremendous team resilience in both weeks — fighting back from narrow deficits with gritty defence to emerge with consecutive 10-8 victories.
Scoring just one try per game isn’t going to be sustainable for Wests Tigers and they’ll know their attack needs to improve against a Brisbane side that always seems likely for points with the strike-power they have. Yet for Cleary, the most pleasing aspect will simply be the way in which his side has rallied when the going got tough, and if they show again on Friday, they’ll certainly go a long way to making it three in a row.
Brisbane were written off by many after their Round 1 struggles against the Dragons, but bounced back with a gutsy effort against the North Queensland Cowboys at Suncorp Stadium last week — even if they did need some help from the goal post last on to secure their first win of the season.
They’ll head down to Sydney now full of confidence, and with attacking potential right across the park, Wests Tigers’ defensive resolve will need to be at its best once again.
Cleary’s side will be without inspirational forward Elijah Taylor after he picked up a hamstring injury in the win over Melbourne, but do have a handy replacement in Matt Eisenhuth.
Sauaso Sue could also be set for his first game of the year after being named amongst the reserves, having come back from injury via Intrust Super Premiership.
For Brisbane, the only change from last week’s team is that of Jordan Kahu, whose broken jaw sees Tom Opacic move in to the centres. However, don’t be surprised if Jack Bird comes in from the reserves for his first game in Broncos colours — the talented utility had been penciled in to make his return from off-season surgery around this time as his team seek a replacement for the Kiwi international Kahu.
With both teams coming off last start wins and a hostile crowd expected at Campbelltown Sports Stadium on Friday night, this is shaping as a fascinating encounter between two sides desperate to prove that they are indeed the real deal in season 2018.
Date — Friday, March 23, 2018
Time — 7:50pm AEDT
Venue — Campbelltown Sports Stadium
GAME DAY INFORMATION
TV, RADIO AND LIVE STREAM INFORMATION
TV — Live via Channel 9 and Fox League
Radio — AM 702 ABC Grandstand, AM 2GB 873, FM 104.9 Triple M Brisbane
Live Stream — Foxtel Go, NRL Digital Pass, Watch NRL Streaming (exc. Australia)
LATEST CROWNBET ODDS
Head to Head — Wests Tigers ($2.25), Brisbane ($1.65)
Line — Wests Tigers +3.5 ($1.92), Brisbane -3.5 ($1.92)
Wests Tigers — 1. Corey Thompson 2. David Nofoaluma 3. Esan Marsters 4. Kevin Naiqama 5. Malakai Watene-Zelezniak 6. Benji Marshall 7. Luke Brooks 8. Russell Packer 9. Pita Godinet 10. Ben Matulino 11. Chris Lawrence 12. Robbie Rochow 13. Matt Eisenhuth (Interchange: 14. Matt McIlwrick 15. Alex Twal 16. Michael Chee Kam 17. Josh Aloiai 18. Tyson Gamble 19. Sauaso Sue 20. Tim Grant 21. Taane Milne)
Brisbane Broncos — 1. Darius Boyd 2. Corey Oates 3. James Roberts 4. Tom Opacic 5. Jamayne Isaako 6. Anthony Milford 7. Kodi Nikorima 8. Matthew Lodge 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Tevita Pangai Jnr. 11. Alex Glenn 12. Matt Gillett 13. Josh McGuire (Interchange: 14. Sam Thaiday 15. Joe Ofahengaue 16. Korbin Sims 17. Jaydn Su’a 18. Sam Tagataese 19. Jack Bird 20. Jonus Pearson 21. Todd Murphy)
** Latest ** — Brisbane have confirmed that Jack Bird will make his return from injury in tomorrow's game, with the centre to replace Tom Opacic in rhe run-on side. As he was last week, Opacic moves back to the bench with Jaydn Su'a dropping out of the side and instead travels to Sydney as 18th man. Wests Tigers completed their final training run today with no hiccups and are expected to remain as named.
Round 1 — Wests Tigers 10 def. Sydney Roosters 8
Round 2 — Wests Tigers 10 def. Melbourne Storm 8
Round 1 — St. George-Illawarra Dragons 32 def. Brisbane Broncos 12
Round 2 — Brisbane Broncos 24 def. North Queensland Cowboys 20
KEY MATCHUP — Benji Marshall vs. Anthony Milford
Teammates less than 12 months ago, Benji Marshall and Anthony Milford will square off this Friday night as the Kiwi international again starts alongside Luke Brooks in the halves. Marshall’s experience and composure in the middle has been key in Wests Tigers’ strong start to 2018, and he’ll certainly be looking to deliver another good performance this weekend as he takes on his old side. In that side is Milford, one of the most talented playmakers in the NRL and a player capable of breaking any game open — even one with a new-look resolute Wests Tigers defence. His combination with Kodi Nikorima improved out of sight last week as they snuck home against the Cowboys, and there’s no doubting they will continue to improve as the season continues, but will that improvement continue this Friday night?
Referees — Ashley Klein and Matt Noyen
Touch Judges — Tim Roby and Jeff Younis
Review Officials — Ben Galea and Jared Maxwell