Wests Tigers v Sea Eagles preview
3 hours ago | Tim Costello
2018 also-rans look to get off to a winning start
Surprising many during the early rounds of 2018, only to finish one position outside the top eight, the Wests Tigers will be hoping the arrival of premiership winning coach Michael Maguire provides some much-needed stability following a revolving door of coaches in recent times.
Becoming the fourth coach to lead the joint venture since the start of 2017, Maguire will be keen to make an early impression in his NRL coaching return, with defence set to be a focal point of taking the Tigers back to the finals for the first time in eight seasons.
Known for starting new campaigns on a positive note with opening round victories over the past four seasons, history holds the home side in good stead to continue that trend having won four of the past five matches against the Sea Eagles, along with a 75% success rate at Leichardt Oval in matches against the northern beaches club.
Hosting a Round 1 match at Balmain's spiritual home for only the second time since merging with Western Suburbs at the start of the millennium, the Tigers will hand a number of players club debuts on Saturday evening. Among the new faces, Roosters premiership winner Ryan Matterson will start in the second row, last-minute addition Robert Jennings will be hoping to continue his try-scoring feats on the wing, young prop Thomas Mikaele will make his first NRL appearance off the bench, while Paul Momirovski will be out to secure a permanent position in the centres after playing a vital role in getting the Roosters to the premiership decider.
The last time Des Hasler coached the Manly Sea Eagles, the side had just claimed their second premiership in four seasons under his watch. On Saturday evening, the 58-year-old will resume the same position under vastly different circumstances.
Returning to the NRL coaching ranks having been sacked by Canterbury for waning performances at the end of 2017, the side at Hasler's disposal rates as a far cry from premiership contenders, after finishing last season one win above the wooden spoon.
Stuck with a largely identical roster to the one that recorded the worst defence in the league last year, things haven't been made any easier with Tom Trbojevic sidelined with an ankle injury sustained in the trial loss to Cronulla, along with representative centre Dylan Walker falling victim to the NRL's new stance on player behaviour, resulting in an indefinite ban for assault charges.
Holding a dismal opening round record with just five wins since the demise of the Northern Eagles, Hasler will be banking on a new-look squad to bring about a return to the club's glory days. Naming journeyman Brendan Elliot in the number one jersey and debutant Reuben Garrick on the wing, Kane Elgey has been preferred ahead of former New South Wales Origin hero Trent Hodkinson at five-eighth, while Kelepi Tanginoa has been named on the bench after recovering from a knee injury sustained in the trials.
Last meeting: Round 24 2018 - Wests Tigers 22 Sea Eagles 20
Who to watch: Originally returning to the club that made him a superstar as a backup in case of injury, Benji Marshall will be out to repay the faith shown by his new coach, after claiming the hotly contested number six jersey. Afforded the responsibility of partnering Luke Brooks due to a strong combination developed throughout last season, the 34-year-old Kiwi playmaker will be aware of the pressure to perform following Josh Reynolds' unexpected relegation to the extended bench. Maturing his style of play in order to manage matches with his kicking game, rather than dazzling opponents with the footwork and flick passes that made him a household name, the 2005 premiership winner may be in the twilight years of his career, but despite his status as an NRL senior citizen, expect him to rise to the occasion as he enters his seventeenth NRL season.
Falling out of favour with the Tigers despite being heralded as a rising star whilst coming through the lower grades, Curtis Sironen will make his return to first grade rugby league on Saturday night, almost a year after suffering a torn ACL. Enduring every player's worst nightmare just four matches into 2018, the 25-year-old forward will be looking to make up for lost time on the right edge, while relishing the opportunity to face off against his former teammates. Among the legion of off-contract players eager to impress new coach Des Hasler, a fit-and-firing Sironen rates among the finest try-scoring forwards in the league, due to his imposing physique, along with possessing the playmaking skills from his younger days to keep opponents wary of the various ways he can make an impact with and without the ball.
The favourite: With the Tigers known for starting seasons in fine form as evidenced by wins in the opening round over the past four seasons, the home side is expected to continue that trend on Saturday night.
My tip: Much like the most famous meeting between the former South Sydney and Canterbury coaches, look for Michael Maguire to once again get one over Des Hasler in front of a vocal home crowd. Wests Tigers by 12.
1. Corey Thompson 2. Mahe Fonua 3. Paul Momirovski 4. Esan Marsters 5. Robert Jennings 6. Benji Marshall 7. Luke Brooks 8. Ben Matulino 9. Robbie Farah 10. Alex Twal 11. Ryan Matterson 12. Luke Garner 13. Elijah Taylor 14. Russell Packer 15. Thomas Mikaele 16. Josh Aloiai 17. Michael Chee-Kam
1. Brendan Elliott 2. Jorge Taufua 3. Moses Suli 4. Brad Parker 5. Reuben Garrick 6. Kane Elgey 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Addin Fonua-Blake 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. Martin Taupau 11. Joel Thompson 12. Curtis Sironen 13. Jake Trbojevic 14. Trent Hodkinson 15. Jack Gosiewski 16. Kelepi Tanginoa 17. Toafofoa Sipley
Referees: Adam Gee, Adam Cassidy; Sideline Officials: Liam Nicholls, Jeff Younis; Video Referees: Henry Perenara, Beau Scott;