After a big pre-season, Wests Tigers will be looking to kick off their 2020 season with a victory on Sunday night as they take on the St. George-Illawarra Dragons in Wollongong.
Travelling to the South Coast for the first time in more than a decade, both sides will likely field vastly different sides from when they last met in the penultimate round of the 2019 season with a number of club debutants set to line up.
After closing out their trial matches with a strong win over the New Zealand Warriors, Coach Michael Maguire will have been pleased with the way his new combinations gelled and will head in to this week's game full of optimism.
Five new faces will make their club debuts for Wests Tigers after being selected in the Round 1 side — Adam Doueihi, Joey and Luciano Leilua, Zane Musgrove and Billy Walters all set to make their first appearance for the club.
NRL.com preview Dragons clash
Meanwhile the Dragons will head in to the contest without Korbin Sims (arm), Cameron McInness (knee) and Matt Dufty (cheekbone), but could welcome back Josh Kerr (knee) after he picked up a knock in the NRL All Stars clash.
Notoriously strong in season openers, Wests Tigers have not lost a Round 1 fixture since 2014 — coincidentally against the Dragons at ANZ Stadium.
Date — Sunday, March 15, 2020
Time — 6:15pm AEDT
Venue — WIN Stadium, Wollongong
TV, RADIO AND LIVE STREAM INFORMATION
TV — Live via FOX League (Ch.502)
Radio — AM 702 ABC Grandstand and AM 873 2GB
Live Stream — Foxtel Go, KAYO, NRL Digital Pass and Watch NRL (int.)
Fullback for Dragons is number 1 Zac LomaxFullback for Wests Tigers is number 1 Corey Thompson
Winger for Dragons is number 2 Jordan PereiraWinger for Wests Tigers is number 2 David Nofoaluma
Centre for Dragons is number 3 Brayden WiliameCentre for Wests Tigers is number 3 Joseph Leilua
Centre for Dragons is number 4 Tim LafaiCentre for Wests Tigers is number 4 Adam Doueihi
Winger for Dragons is number 5 Mikaele RavalawaWinger for Wests Tigers is number 5 Robert Jennings
Five-Eighth for Dragons is number 6 Corey NormanFive-Eighth for Wests Tigers is number 6 Benji Marshall
Halfback for Dragons is number 7 Ben HuntHalfback for Wests Tigers is number 15 Josh Reynolds
Prop for Dragons is number 8 James GrahamProp for Wests Tigers is number 8 Josh Aloiai
Hooker for Dragons is number 9 Issac LukeHooker for Wests Tigers is number 9 Billy Walters
Prop for Dragons is number 10 Paul VaughanProp for Wests Tigers is number 10 Alex Twal
2nd Row for Dragons is number 11 Tyson Frizell2nd Row for Wests Tigers is number 11 Luke Garner
2nd Row for Dragons is number 12 Tariq Sims2nd Row for Wests Tigers is number 12 Luciano Leilua
Lock for Dragons is number 13 Blake LawrieLock for Wests Tigers is number 13 Elijah Taylor
Interchange for Dragons is number 14 Trent MerrinInterchange for Wests Tigers is number 14 Thomas Mikaele
Interchange for Dragons is number 15 Tyrell FuimaonoInterchange for Wests Tigers is number 16 Zane Musgrove
Interchange for Dragons is number 16 Billy BrittainInterchange for Wests Tigers is number 17 Chris Lawrence
Interchange for Dragons is number 21 Josh KerrInterchange for Wests Tigers is number 18 Michael Chee-Kam
LATEST TEAM NEWS
Wests Tigers — Luke Brooks' calf injury sees a late reshuffle for Michael Maguire's side with Josh Reynolds to start alongside captain Benji Marshall in the halves. Michael Chee Kam joins the bench after being named in jersey 18.
Dragons — James Graham suits up for the first time in 2020 after missing the trials. He will be joined in the front row by Paul Vaughan and Warriors recruit Issac Luke. Trent Merrin has been named on the bench in his return to the club while former Rabbitoh Billy Brittain is the back-up hooker. Brayden Wiliame has beaten Euan Aitken for a starting centre spot. Josh Kerr (knee) is on the extended reserves list while captain Cameron McInnes (knee) and Korbin Sims (arm) are unavailable.
LATEST NEDS ODDS
H2H — St George Illawarra Dragons ($1.80), Wests Tigers ($2.00),
Line — St George Illawarra Dragons -1.5 ($1.90), Wests Tigers +1.5 ($1.90)
Odds correct on Tuesday, March 10 — 18+ only and gamble responsibly
Overall — Played 37, Dragons 20, Wests Tigers 17
At WIN Stadium — Played 3, Wests Tigers 2, Dragons 1
Last Time They Met — Wests Tigers 42 def. Dragons 14 (Rd.24, 2019)
THE BIG STORYLINE TO FOLLOW
Few would have predicted that come March 15, Billy Walters and Isaac Luke would be starting in the number nine jumpers for Wests Tigers and St. George-Illawarra, but here we are. Walters has won the jersey after an impressive pre-season — beating out the likes of Josh Reynolds and Moses Mbye (prior to the latter being ruled out with injury) while Luke has proven to be a savvy signing with the injury to regular rake to Cameron McInnes. That is now all behind us, however, with the pair undoubtedly set play a key role on Sunday night for their respective sides with different skills to come to the fore in their respective games.
Farah backs Walters to slot in at hooker
Walters' biggest strength will be his running game and ability as a ball-player; Luke's experience and guile in the hooking position will help bring the Dragons big forwards on to the ball. As we saw in the Warriors trial, Walters will no doubt see plenty of traffic come his way throughout the night in an attempt to dampen that attacking flair, but the versatile playmaker's big engine will keep him in the contest.