Wests Tigers v Titans preview

Embed from Getty Images
Wests Tigers v Gold Coast Titans Sunday 6:15pm at Leichhardt Oval, Lilyfield / Wanngal

Sheens yearns for a time before the Titans

The opening round of the 2023 NRL season concludes with two of last season's biggest underperformers, the Wests Tigers and Gold Coast Titans, facing off in a Sunday evening contest at Leichhardt Oval.

Coming off a calamitous season yielding a paltry four wins and a wooden spoon finish, the Wests Tigers have responded with a move reeking of desperation to recapture former glory by appointing Tim Sheens as coach.

Producing inconclusive trial form off the back of a dismal performance with a second-string line-up against the Warriors (12-48), the joint venture demonstrated attacking flair with a stronger side in their final pre-season hit-out against the Raiders (36-4).

Naming four new signings - Charlie Staines, Apisai Koroisau, David Klemmer and Isaiah Papalii - young guns Tommy Talau and Shawn Blore will return after missing the entirety of 2022 through injury.

The Tigers hold an above average record in opening round fixtures with 14 wins and a draw from 23 previous campaigns, along with a perfect record in Round 1 matches at Leichhardt Oval after previously prevailing over the Sharks (2012) and Sea Eagles (2019).

Aiming to bounce back after managing six wins and a mediocre 13th placed finish in 2022, the Gold Coast Titans will be looking to continue a strong record at Leichhardt Oval following three wins from four prior visits.

Showing promising signs during the pre-season after rallying from a halftime deficit to walk away with a draw against the Broncos (24-24) and demolishing the Dolphins (40-16) in an attacking blitz, the Titans have never lost against the Tigers during Justin Holbrook's coaching tenure. 

Handing Kieran Foran, Sam Verrills, Aaron Schoupp and Joe Stimson club debuts, young winger Alofiana Khan-Pereira will make his first appearance in the NRL after demanding selection off the strength of his performances during the trials.

Struggling historically with seven wins from 16 Round 1 fixtures - the most recent of which came in 2018 - the Titans have only won away from home in the opening round twice in history (2012, 2014).

The two sides have met once before in an opening round encounter back in 2015 when a last-gasp drop goal from Pat Richards gave the Tigers a 19-18 win on the Gold Coast.

Last meeting: Round 4 2022 - Titans 8 Wests Tigers 6

Who to watch: Ranking among the biggest transfers in the player market over the off-season, newly appointed captain Apisai Koroisau will be determined to make an impression in his club debut. Joining a club that has qualified for the finals only three times in history, the three-time premiership winning hooker will bring a wealth of experience and professionalism to the joint venture following a hugely successful stint at the Panthers over the past three seasons. Coming into the new year without featuring in either of the side's trial matches, the 30-year-old Fijian and New South Wales representative will be hoping to buck a trend having lost in his debut matches with South Sydney, Penrith and Manly previously.

Securing a first grade debut following an eye-catching haul of four tries in the side's final trial win, little-known winger Alofiana Khan-Pereira will be out to make a big name for himself. Touted as an emerging talent after crossing for 25 tries in 19 matches with Burleigh last season, the 21-year-old winger demanded inclusion in the NRL side with six tries in two appearances during the pre-season, including a hat-trick in the space of 11 minutes against the Dolphins. Currently able to negotiate with rival clubs for next season, Khan-Pereira will be out to hold his place on the left wing with more experienced outside backs Brian Kelly and Patrick Herbert set to return imminently.

The favourite: Installed as favourites off the strength of an impressive attacking display during their final trial performance, the Tigers are expected to claim their first opening round victory since 2020. 

My tip: Having strengthened their roster and performed admirably during the pre-season, the Gold Coast Titans will fancy their chances of an upset and recording a Round 1 victory away from home for only the third time in history. Titans by 10.

1. Daine Laurie 2. David Nofoaluma 3. Brent Naden 4. Tommy Talau 5. Charlie Staines 6. Adam Doueihi 7. Luke Brooks 8. Stefano Utoikamanu 14. Jake Simpkin 10. David Klemmer 11. Isaiah Papali'i 12. Shawn Blore 15. Alex Twal 9. Apisai Koroisau 13. Joe Ofahengaue 16. Fonua Pole 17. Asu Kepaoa 18. Alex Seyfarth

1. AJ Brimson 2. Alofiana Khan-Pereira 3. Aaron Schoupp 4. Phillip Sami 5. Jojo Fifita 6. Kieran Foran 7. Tanah Boyd 8. Jaimin Jolliffe 9. Sam Verrills 10. Tino Fa'asuamaleaui 11. David Fifita 17. Joe Stimson 13. Isaac Liu 14. Jayden Campbell 15. Erin Clark 16. Moeaki Fotuaika 18. Sam McIntyre 20. Chris Randall

Referees: Peter Gough; Sideline Officials: Kasey Badger, Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski; Video Referees: Matt Noyen;

Follow all the action LIVE in our Match Centre