Wests Tigers will take another big step towards the start of the 2020 NRL season when they face the Penrith Panthers this Saturday in the first of two pre-season trial matches.
After a disappointing NRL Nines campaign in Perth last weekend, Michael Maguire's side will head to the foot of the mountains determined to deliver a much-improved performance with a number of must-watch NRL players set to feature.
New recruits Adam Doueihi, Billy Walters, Zane Musgrove and Luciano Leilua will all feature in their first proper fixture for the club while experienced first-graders Chris McQueen, Josh Reynolds, Elijah Taylor and Michael Chee Kam will also take part.
In total, 17 members of the extended NRL squad will feature on the night — the first chance for many to stake their claims for a potential spot in the Round 1 team.
Perhaps the biggest question to be answered centres around the number nine jersey and the possible ramifications for several players as a result of who plays hooker in Round 1.
The retirement of Robbie Farah and a long-term injury to Jacob Liddle has opened the door for the hooking role to start 2020 with several players in the mix.
Leilua x Leilua: Double Trouble
Both Reynolds and Walters are expected spend time in the number nine jersey on Saturday and, along with co-captain Moses Mbye, are certainly in the running to start the year at hooker. Reynolds played the final month of the 2019 season there with Farah and Liddle out injured and has shown he can certainly do a job in the middle of the field with his energetic running out of dummy half.
Conversely, Walters is also capable of filling across the halves and hooking roles and comes in to this trial off the back of a strong individual NRL Nines campaign.
Young gun Jake Simpkin has also been named as part of an extended squad by Coach Maguire for Saturday's game and is certainly one to watch for the future.
The Queensland junior representative hooker is signed on a Development contract with the club through 2020 — meaning he can't play first-grade until after Round 16, but is definitely one to keep an eye on going forward with a chance to impress.
The arrival of Joseph Leilua and Doueihi seemingly locks down two spots in the backline for Maguire's side to take on the Dragons in Round 1 but the options around centre, wing and fullback spots are still wide open heading into the trials.
A player with a big future at Wests Tigers, Tommy Talau got a taste of first-grade late last year and will no doubt look to use Saturday's trial as a chance to push his claims for a Round 1 spot. The likes of Robert Jennings, Corey Thompson, David Nofoaluma — along with Doueihi and Joey Leilua — all won't feature in the club's first trial, which opens the door for Talau to show what he can do off the back of his second full pre-season with the first-grade squad.
Maguire speaks ahead of 2020 season
It's not just the outside backs where competition for spots will be tight, however, with a number of forwards determined to get the inside running for Round 1 with a plethora of potential options for Maguire to utilise throughout the year.
While Alex Twal, Thomas Mikaele, Josh Aloiai, Chris Lawrence, Luke Garner and Russell Packer (injured) won't play this week, Maguire has named a number of key forwards for this game against the Panthers. New recruits Zane Musgrove and Luciano Leilua will both feature, while experienced heads in Chris McQueen, Elijah Taylor, Matt Eisenhuth and Michael Chee Kam will also see time on the field.
How those players mix in with the players who will likely feature against the New Zealand Warriors in Rotorua the following week will be fascinating to see, and certainly worth watching out for when Wests Tigers take to the field this Saturday.
The NRL trial match will be live streamed on www.weststigers.com.au.
WESTS TIGERS v PENRITH
Saturday, February 22, 7:00pm at Panthers Stadium
Adam Doueihi, Alex Seyfarth, Austin Dias, Billy Walters, Brendan O'Hagan, Chris McQueen, Elijah Taylor, Etuale Lui, Jake Simpkin, Jock Madden, Joe Taipari, Jordin Leiu, Josh Reynolds, Logen Dillon, Luciano Leilua, Matheson Johns, Matt Eisenhuth, Michael Chee Kam, Oliver Clark, Reece Hoffman, Sam McIntyre, Terrell May, Tommy Talau, Vea Tapaatoutai, William Kei, Zac Cini, Zane Musgrove