Aaron Woods’ move to St George Illawarra is complete after the Dragons continued their end-of-season NRL acquisition spree with three more signatures.
Although this is only the first round, the coaches of both sides have their jobs on the line and are desperately looking for success in Round 1 this season.
The Dragons have had a poor preseason, sending a strong side to the Nines which went nowhere and finishing up the last trial outing at the Charity Shield with a big loss 36-20 against Souths.
A serious ankle injury to Wests Tigers utility Dene Halatau soured an impressive first up 32-8 trial victory over Penrith in their first trial of the year at Kirkham Oval, Camden.
The Tigers then, despite injuries, showed good form against an injury-depleted Sharks at their last outing defeating Cronulla 28-22.
The Dragons side is full of good players on paper but is yet to combine as a team and selections for this game have been another pressure-point for coach Steve Price.
In the halves, English international Gareth Widdop was a secure pick at five-eighth for the beginning of the season but his half partner was uncertain.
Steve Price has previously favoured ex-Canberra half Sam Williams, but 30-year-old Michael Witt who has been impressive in his limited time on-field to date has been selected and will give the team added experience.
Kyle Stanley a utility player named on the bench can also play half if need be.
In the centres, Price has favoured ex-Brisbane fullback Gerard Beale and ex-Souths centre Dylan Farrell, with among others, St George junior Charly Runciman and Peter Mata’utai, with two tries against Souths in the Charity Shield, unlucky not to be included.
The Dragons are without their number one player Josh Dugan at fullback because of an injury in the Charity Shield. His place is taken by promising Dragons junior Adam Quinlan, despite options to put Beale or either winger at fullback.
Quinlan scored one try against Souths in the Charity Shield and may have to fill in for five games before Dugan returns.
Mick Potter’s Tigers team is full of young players keen to make a good start to the NRL season and there are no real selection surprises.
Luke Brooks, Mitchell Moses, Tim Simona, James Tedesco, David Nofoaluma, Kyle Lovett and Nathan Brown are not household names but they have promise.
Young star Luke Brooks’ torched St George Illawarra in their last match and now he’ll be facing the same opponents it will be interesting to see how he goes against the new Widdop/Witt combination for the Dragons. I am sure that Mick Potter will also look to put new fullback Quinlan under pressure early to see how he goes.
But the Tigers face a generally much more experienced, if untested team, in the Dragons which includes many of the Dragons off-season acquisitions. Coming up against more experienced sides is something the Tigers will be doing all year.
The Dragons forwards, who have not performed well in trials to date seem to have the edge on the Tigers forward pack, so in a close one and with no real conviction I favour the Dragons to win, although it will probably depend on which coach ensures his team shows up with their mind in gear on the day.
Sun 9 March Dragons v Wests Tigers ANZ Stadium Nine 3:00PM
1 Adam Quinlan 2 Brett Morris 3 Dylan Farrell 4 Gerard Beale 5 Jason Nightingale 6 Gareth Widdop 7 Michael Witt 8 Jack de Belin 9 Mitch Rein 10 Dan Hunt 11 Leeson Ah Mau 12 Ben Creagh (c) 13 Trent Merrin Interchange 14 Bronson Harrison 15 Kyle Stanley 16 Joel Thompson 17 Tyson Frizell 20 Mike Cooper
1 James Tedesco 2 Marika Koroibete 3 Keith Lulia 4 Chris Lawrence 5 Pat Richards 6 Braith Anasta 7 Luke Brooks 8 Aaron Woods 9 Robbie Farah (c) 10 Martin Taupau 11 Liam Fulton 12 Bodene Thompson 13 Adam Blair Interchange 14 Cory Paterson 15 Ava Seumanufagai 16 Sauaso Sue 17 James Gavet