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Neds Match Preview: Round 1

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.

MATCH DETAILS

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.)

Team Lists

Backs

  • Fullback for Dragons is number 1 Zac Lomax
    Fullback for Wests Tigers is number 1 Corey Thompson
  • Winger for Dragons is number 2 Jordan Pereira
    Winger for Wests Tigers is number 2 David Nofoaluma
  • Centre for Dragons is number 3 Brayden Wiliame
    Centre for Wests Tigers is number 3 Joseph Leilua
  • Centre for Dragons is number 4 Tim Lafai
    Centre for Wests Tigers is number 4 Adam Doueihi
  • Winger for Dragons is number 5 Mikaele Ravalawa
    Winger for Wests Tigers is number 5 Robert Jennings
  • Five-Eighth for Dragons is number 6 Corey Norman
    Five-Eighth for Wests Tigers is number 6 Benji Marshall
  • Halfback for Dragons is number 7 Ben Hunt
    Halfback for Wests Tigers is number 15 Josh Reynolds

Forwards

  • Prop for Dragons is number 8 James Graham
    Prop for Wests Tigers is number 8 Josh Aloiai
  • Hooker for Dragons is number 9 Issac Luke
    Hooker for Wests Tigers is number 9 Billy Walters
  • Prop for Dragons is number 10 Paul Vaughan
    Prop for Wests Tigers is number 10 Alex Twal
  • 2nd Row for Dragons is number 11 Tyson Frizell
    2nd Row for Wests Tigers is number 11 Luke Garner
  • 2nd Row for Dragons is number 12 Tariq Sims
    2nd Row for Wests Tigers is number 12 Luciano Leilua
  • Lock for Dragons is number 13 Blake Lawrie
    Lock for Wests Tigers is number 13 Elijah Taylor

Interchange

  • Interchange for Dragons is number 14 Trent Merrin
    Interchange for Wests Tigers is number 14 Thomas Mikaele
  • Interchange for Dragons is number 15 Tyrell Fuimaono
    Interchange for Wests Tigers is number 16 Zane Musgrove
  • Interchange for Dragons is number 16 Billy Brittain
    Interchange for Wests Tigers is number 17 Chris Lawrence
  • Interchange for Dragons is number 21 Josh Kerr
    Interchange 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

HEAD-TO-HEAD

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.