Preview: Wests Tigers vs. Cronulla Sharks Trial
Author Dan Talintyre Timestamp Fri 23 Feb 2018, 12:12 PM
Wests Tigers and Cronulla will square off in what’s becoming a regular trial match fixture at Campbelltown on Saturday as they put the final touches on season 2018.
Two years ago, the two sides met in a trial match at Campbelltown and produced a thrilling 30-30 draw — something perhaps both coaches are hoping to avoid as they get their last look at players in action before preparations really ramp up for their respective Round 1 matches in a fortnight.
For Wests Tigers, it was a successful start to the new year under Coach Ivan Cleary, with a dominant 30-16 victory over the North Queensland Cowboys in Cairns. From that match, Cleary’s side will welcome Kiwi international forwards Russell Packer and Ben Matulino in to the fold, with the pair set to play their first match together since 2013, while also welcoming back Chris McQueen from injury.
It was a near identical scoreline for the Sharks in their first trial game of the year, with new recruit Matt Moylan playing a starring role in a 30-14 win over the Sea Eagles. Youngsters Sione Katoa, Jesse Ramien, Briton Nikoria and Cruz Topai-Aveai all crossed for tries in the win at Southern Cross Group Stadium, with the likes of Josh Dugan, Wade Graham, Andrew Fifita and Luke Lewis all playing their first game.
With positions still up for grabs in both sides, it’s shaping as a fascinating affair for both sets of fans, with a free live stream of the match available on www.weststigers.com.au
from 6:50pm AEDT.
Date — Saturday, February 24, 2018
Time — 7:00pm AEDT (Gates open 10:30am)
Venue — Campbelltown Sports Stadium
KEY PLAYERS NOT PLAYING
For Wests Tigers, Alex Twal, Benji Marshall, Elijah Taylor, Sauaso Sue and Jacob Liddle all won’t feature as they rest for Round 1, while Tuimoala Lolohea will feature for the club’s Intrust Super Premiership side, Western Suburbs Magpies, earlier on the day. For Cronulla, the only key name is that of Paul Gallen who will be rested for the Round 1 fixture, while young playmaker Kyle Flanagan is sidelined with a broken finger.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Corey Thompson, Wests Tigers
While it might have been the absence of Tui Lolohea’s name that sparked the most discussion around this week’s team list, it’s worth noting how hard Corey Thompson has worked to earn his shot at the vacant No.1 jersey. The club’s best in last week’s win over the Cowboys — scoring two tries and having a hand in others — Thompson has impressed greatly over the pre-season since returning from England, and is definitely in the running for either the fullback or wing spot in Round 1. Cleary has given the former Bulldog the chance to shine in this week’s trial by naming him at the back and no other fullback on the bench; how will he respond to the opportunity in front of him?
Valentine Holmes, Cronulla Sharks
Valentine Holmes’ selection might not have been as controversial as that of Thompson for this game, but it’s important to remember that the Sharks fullback had a fight of his own for the No.1 jersey from new recruit Josh Dugan. Yet to wear the Sharks colours, it remains to be seen whether Dugan and Holmes split time at the back, but after a superb World Cup campaign, the Sharks flyer is definitely in pole position to feature at the back in Round 1. An underrated storyline too is that of the goal-kicking — could Holmes become an option for the Sharks to use following James Maloney’s off-season departure?
Ben Matulino, Wests Tigers
Once considered the best prop in the world, Ben Matulino had minor knee surgery in the off-season that kept him out of contention of the World Cup with New Zealand but put him in a great position to hit the ground running with his new club. Fit and agile while also not lacking in size and aggression, Matulino’s partnership with childhood friend Russell Packer will be a fascinating thing to watch for Wests Tigers fans in 2018, and he’ll have first chance to show what he can do against a strong Sharks pack this week.
Matt Moylan, Cronulla Sharks
He only played 40 minutes last week, but Matt Moylan did more than enough to convince Sharks fans that the ex-Panthers skipper was going to be a huge contributor to his new side in 2018. His combination with Chad Townsend is of particular importance given the success the latter and Maloney had in 2016, and that could lead to Flanagan giving Moylan a lot more time in the middle than he did last week. With quick feet and deceptive speed, Moylan is certainly one Wests Tigers will need to keep an eye on this weekend.