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The cobwebs have been cleaned from the flags and banners and the Dragon Army rolls on for another year in its first premiership hitout against the defending premiers this Friday night.
This Friday night represents 165 days since the fairytale bandwagon rolled on and Saints departed the 2005 Premiership race. In those 165 days, I have never met so many Wests fans... it?s funny how those people that you never knew followed rugby league have been following the Tigers in secret for all these years!! It?s little wonder The Mighty Ducks was a box-office hit now.
Historically (NRL Speaking), Wests have been fast starters while Saints have been slow starters, winning just one opening round encounter (2001) in joint venture history. In the corresponding game in 2003, Wests overcame Saints late on to record an opening round victory while in round 2, 2001, Wests came from behind to get the points late on.
This game, however, takes on a different complexion.
While both sides had successful 2005s, the off-season build-ups for both clubs have been less than ideal. While Saints have been embroiled in the Lance Thompson fiasco and lost ?homesick? Novocastrian Michael Ennis to Brisbane due to salary cap pressures, the Tigers pre-season has been overshadowed by the will he stay-will he go Scott Prince saga. Meanwhile on-field both sides are winless in their trials of NRL standard. In both trials, Saints coach Nathan Brown has been keen to use bigger squads and give younger players opportunities to impress which may mean these results are misleading.
Similarly, Wests have been without livewire five-eighth Benji Marshall who underwent a shoulder reconstruction during the off-season and is expected to make a shock return this Friday night. As well as this, Wests have had new players such as Keith Galloway, Sam Harris and Jamaal Lolesi trying to fit into the side with combinations taking time to prosper.
For Saints, it is imperative that they begin this season with more gusto than 2005. The poor start cost Saints their first minor premiership last year and the club have spoken publicly about starting the premiership proper with more intensity than in recent years. The absence of Mathew Head leaves the fans asking many questions of Nathan Brown?s intentions. Will he use the ever-professional Ben Hornby in the half back role with former Magpie Clint Greenshields at fullback or will he use Chris Sheppard or Willie Peters in the 7 jersey? Whoever the coach decides to use in the 17 on Friday night it is important that you wear your red and white proud, fire up your voices and get right behind the boys this Friday night.
GETTING THERE & AWAY: Your best bet on getting to the game is via public transport. There are limited car spaces but with a train station opposite the stadium, train is the way to go. For detailed timetable information, go to: www.131500.com.au
TICKET PRICES: Tickets in the cheapest category are available from the ground for $8 with a Dragons season ticket. Alternatively, you can buy them during the lead-up to the match from Ticketek for $20. Gates open at 5.15pm with a premier league match between Western Suburbs and St George Illawarra starting at 5.20pm.
WHERE ARE THE ARMY SITTING?: St George Illawarra supporters have been allocated Aisles 111-114 (North Eastern corner) by Ticketek for this Wests Tigers home match. If you trying to visualise this vantage point, this is where the Army sat last year at the Wests away game. However, with ?Tiger-mania? at fever pitch and a crowd of 40,000 expected, it is likely the Army will sit in Aisles 119-121 behind the Northern goalposts to cause the least disruption possible with flags and banners. (For a map - click here - and then click on ?See a map of Telstra Stadium?)
BEST PUBS: To be honest, there isn?t much in the way of decent watering Holes in the Olympic Park precinct. If you are desperate for a beer, the Novotel across from the stadium is probably your only option in this area other than grabbing a beer at the game.