Several positions will be up for grabs in today's NRL trial match against the New Zealand Warriors in Whangarei, with Wests Tigers players determined to impress Coach Michael Maguire.
While every player of the 21-man side will no doubt be looking to show what they can do ahead of the NRL season opener on March 16, there's a number of positions that will attract more interest than others with no real idea of who's position it is.
Here's four position battles to keep an eye on in today's trial match, which begins at 3:00pm AEDT with a live stream available on www.weststigers.com.au.
LEFT BACK ROW
With the devastating injury news to Chris Lawrence on the eve of today's trial, suddenly a position is available in the back row for Wests Tigers heading in to Round 1. New recruit Ryan Matterson looks to have the right edge locked down, but the question remains as to who will partner him on the left. Luke Garner — who made his NRL debut less than 12 months ago — has a slight edge with his promotion to the run-on side today, but there's still plenty of competition for the spot with Chris McQueen and Michael Chee Kam on the bench and Sam McIntyre, Robbie Rochow and Josh Aloiai listed in the Intrust Super Premiership side. There's also the chance that Elijah Taylor could move out to the edge too, so it'll be interesting to see if any of those players can put their hand up today with a dominant performance to stake the position as their own heading in to Round 1.
Prior to the news of Chris Lawrence's injury, this was certainly the biggest position to watch heading in to Round 1 and there's still plenty of intrigue as to who will partner Luke Brooks in the halves to start the season. Benji Marshall and Josh Reynolds have both been splitting time in the number six jersey throughout pre-season and will again share time on the field today as Maguire looks to try and settle on an option for the start of the year. Marshall has been named in the run-on side for today's game so there might be some sort of a clue there, but it seems too easy to be counting out Reynolds from impressing and reversing that for the start of the year. Either way, Wests Tigers will head in to the 2019 season with the best back-up five-eighth in the entire competition, so it's not the worst problem to have!
An interesting one to watch throughout the game will be in the backline as Wests Tigers look to settle on an option to feature opposite Esan Marsters in the centres. The Kiwi international looks to have the right edge locked down in partnership with David Nofoaluma, and with Corey Thompson named on the left wing, his centre partner on that edge is perhaps the final piece of the backline jigsaw to figure out. New recruit Robert Jennings looks to have first crack at the spot after being named to start despite a limited pre-season with the side, while Mahe Fonua has been named in the reserves and will likely spend time there in the second half. It's also worth noting too that Paul Momirovski has featured regularly in the position throughout pre-season but won't play in Saturday's trial due to a niggle in his quad. It's unlikely that the former Roosters centre will miss the season opener with the knock, so he might come back in to contention for the spot following today's game.
Obviously a more complicated one given the number of positions up for grabs, but the final make-up of the bench could get a little bit clearer on Saturday following the trial match. With either Benji Marshall or Josh Reynolds likely to take one spot (depending on which one claims the five-eighth spot), it'll be interesting whether that means Jacob Liddle can also find his way to the interchange list — will Maguire want two "smaller" bodies on the bench or will he want another big frame? The likes of Alex Twal, Matt Eisenhuth and Michael Chee Kam featured regularly for Wests Tigers off the bench in 2018 and look to have a chance to claim those spots again today after being named there once more, but who else will step up? Thomas Mikaele looks one to watch after the young gun was named in the 21-man squad, while Aloiai, Rochow, and Oliver Clark will all be looking to deliver their best for the Intrust Super Premiership side in the game prior to show what they can do.