All eyes will be firmly fixed on 4:00pm Tuesday when the first Wests Tigers team list of the year is revealed tomorrow.
With plenty of excitement and optimism about the year ahead, Wests Tigers fans might have to wait until the final game of the round to see their team in action against the St. George-Illawarra Dragons but they won't have to wait long to start to see how their team is going to shape up for the season opener.
After a strong performance in the second trial match against the New Zealand Warriors, Coach Michael Maguire will have a number of big decisions to make with a slew of positions still up in the air with lots of players in contention.
Corey Thompson and Adam Doueihi both spent time at fullback against the Warriors and have played there previously at an NRL level, and which ever player is named in the number one jumper will have flow-on effects for the rest of the side.
If not named at fullback, Thompson would likely slot in on the wing while Doueihi offers far more versatility — able to play on the wing, centre of off the bench.
2020 Match Highlights: Trial, Warriors vs. Wests Tigers
The right edge combination of Joey Leilua and David Nofoaluma playing outside Benji Marshall looked dangerous against the Warriors and seems set to remain in tact, while Luciano Leilua will be gunning for the right second row spot — although there's certainly plenty of competition there with the likes of Michael Chee Kam, Chris McQueen and Sam McIntyre all featuring there in the trials.
Even more question marks exist on the left side with a mix of players available.
With co-captain Moses Mbye unlikely due to a knee injury, the centre-wing combination on that side will be a fascinating one to watch for with the likes of Paul Momirovski, Robert Jennings and Tommy Talau joining potentially Doueihi and/or Thompson in the battle for two spots on the left flank.
Luke Garner started the Warriors trial in the second row but suffered a head cut in the match which opened the door for Chris Lawrence and Michael Chee Kam to both feature out wide. Garner won the Round 1 starting spot last year with Lawrence unavailable to injury and finished 2019 in a rich vein of form that he'll be hoping continues through the 2020 season and beyond with Wests Tigers.
With Matt Eisenhuth back available from his minor injury, Maguire has some big decisions to make in terms of the forward pack too.
Alex Twal and Thomas Mikaele started against the Warriors with Josh Aloiai at lock, but it was the performances of Zane Musgrove (10 runs for 122 metres) and Elijah Taylor (nine runs for 100 metres) that will also lead to some key calls for the Coach.
Aloiai missed the back half of the season with injury and his return looked a key one for Wests Tigers in the battle for supremacy in the middle of the field.
Benji to let body decide if he plays on into 2021
But perhaps the biggest question is the number nine jersey — will it be Billy Walters or Josh Reynolds who wins the race to the hooking spot, and will the other find their way on to the bench as cover or out of the squad all together?
“It’s been a bit different with Josh and I fighting it out for the back end of this pre-season," Walters said when asked of the competition late last week.
“I’m sure whoever Madge picks at No.9 they’re going to do the job for the team.”
In terms of injuries, Jacob Liddle (knee) and Russell Packer (foot) remain the only long-term concerns for the club with Mbye hopeful he won't miss any substantial playing time after picking up a minor knee injury in the second trial.
For the Dragons, Coach Paul McGregor also has a number of big decisions to make with Cam McInnes (knee), Korbin Sims (arm) and Matt Dufty (cheekbone) all likely to be ruled out, although Dufty could make a return earlier than expected.
Josh Kerr (knee) was impressive for the Indigenous All Stars and is under some doubt, but both he and James Graham are expected to be right to play.
With Dufty unavailable, Zac Lomax will look to make the fullback spot his own while Isaac Luke will add some experience and guile from hooker in place of McInnes.
Match: Dragons v Wests Tigers
Round 1 -
Venue: WIN Stadium, Wollongong
Both Wests Tigers and St. George-Illawarra will name their 21-man squads for Sunday's game at 4:00pm on Tuesday, before naming a reduced 19-man squad 24 hours prior to kickoff (6:15pm, Saturday). Final teams for both sides will then be confirmed one hour prior to kickoff (5:15pm, Sunday).