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The Dragons get their season underway against the Tigers today, in the last game of the first round. Join The Roar for live scores and the blog from 6:15pm (AEDT).
For St George Illawarra, this season is as much about the coach as it is the players. Paul McGregor needs to bounce back, and while most would expect the Dragons to improve on their 15th-placed finish last season, the lift on the ladder needs to be significant. A finals appearance is probably the benchmark. That’s long term.
Short term, he can buy himself time with some early wins, and he’ll get the perfect opportunity, with two winnable home games to kick off the year.
The Wests Tigers also wouldn’t mind cracking into the eight, having missed the playoffs the past eight seasons. It’s been in the cruellest manner of late, with the team coming ninth in three of the last four years.
The Dragons have lost a number of players in the off-season. They’ll need to get used to life without Gareth Widdop, while notably they lose Jeremy Latimore, Lachlan Maranta, and Patrick Kaufusi.
Longtime Dragon Trent Merrin returns: that’s a plus. Tyrell Fuimaono and Issac Luke slot in, adding experience to the roster.
The Tigers have recruited pretty well. They gain backs Adam Doueihi and Joey Leilua, however the loss of Ryan Matterson to Parramatta could hit them hard.
In team news, James Graham, after missing the trials, will play for the first time this year. He links up with Issac Luke in the Dragons’ front row. Merrin has been named on the bench in his return, although mail suggests he could start. Euan Aitken won’t make it into the starting team, Brayden Wiliame takes over from him at centre.
For Wests, Doueihi will run out at centre, with Luke Brooks and Benji Marshall in the halves. Corey Thompson will wear the number one, with Josh Reynolds starting the game on the pine. Moses Mbye’s knee injury rules him out of the opening round.
The Dragons were torched by the Tigers in their one meeting last season, 42-14. I don’t expect the same to happen this time round. St George Illawarra will start as narrow favourites, and they should kick things off with a settling win.
Dragons by eight.
Join The Roar for live scores and the blog from 6:15pm (AEDT).
Time: 6:15pm (AEDT)
Venue: WIN Stadium
Referees: Ashley Klein, Phil Henderson
Odds: Dragons $1.85, Wests Tigers $1.95
Last five meetings: Tigers 42-14, Dragons 20-10, Tigers 20-16, Dragons 16-12, Dragons 28-6.
1. Zac Lomax 2. Jordan Pereira 3. Brayden Wiliame 4. Tim Lafai 5. Mikaele Ravalawa 6. Corey Norman 7. Ben Hunt 8. James Graham 9. Issac Luke 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Tariq Sims 13. Blake Lawrie. Interchange: 14. Trent Merrin 15. Tyrell Fuimaono 16. Billy Brittain 17. Jacob Host. Reserves: 18. Jackson Ford 19. Adam Clune 20. Euan Aitken 21. Josh Kerr.
1. Corey Thompson 2. David Nofoaluma 3. Joseph Leilua 4. Adam Doueihi 5. Robert Jennings 6. Benji Marshall 7. Luke Brooks 8. Josh Aloiai 9. Billy Walters 10. Alex Twal 11. Luke Garner 12. Luciano Leilua 13. Elijah Taylor. Interchange: 14. Thomas Mikaele 15. Josh Reynolds 16. Zane Musgrove 17. Chris Lawrence. Reserves: 18. Michael Chee-Kam 19. Oliver Clark 20. Matt Eisenhuth 21. Paul Momirovski.