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Wests Tigers v Sea Eagles
The season’s opening Monday night fixture should be a beauty between two Sydney clubs desperate to get off to a flier.
The Wests Tigers camp has been brimming with confidence after way too many lean years in a row and with Lote Tuquri comes another strike weapon to add to their impressive attacking arsenal. They now boast a halves pairing with added potential – something missing since the departure of Scott Prince – plus Robbie Farah is an established superstar at hooker.
They also have some added aggression in the pack, thanks to Jason Cayless’ arrival, and as such another year without a finals appearance would be unacceptable.
Manly, on the other hand, finished 2009 in sad circumstances. A personal tragedy to a team-mate forced problems with their finals preparations and then upsets pushed them out the back door.
They have bubbled along nicely in the pre-season, back under the radar somewhat, where Des Hasler loves them to be. Most of the Sydney focus has been on the Eels, Rabbitohs, Dragons, Tigers and even Roosters.
The big question mark for the side comes at halfback… can Kieran Foran replace Matt Orford without too many hassles? Or will it take time for the Sea Eagles to take flight?
With one of the best back rows in the NRL they have plenty of talent to be successful. Tony Williams is going to play centre, while Brett Stewart is hoping to let football do the talking for a while.
The Wests Tigers started the trials with a 28-4 win over North Queensland, then they fell 28-10 to the Roosters in the Foundation Cup before touching up the Sharks 36-12 in Gosford.
Manly lost 42-12 to the Rabbitohs at Redfern before beating Cronulla and fighting out a 16-all draw against the Warriors.
Tim Sheens has Tuquri named on the wing, Tim Moltzen at fullback and Liam Fulton is back starting for the Tigers in the second row after some time in England.
Watch out Wests Tigers: The Stewart brothers are primed to shake off the uncertainty and annoyance of off-field distraction with great on-field play.
Brett at his best is one of the NRL’s best fullbacks with pace to burn and an uncanny knack of finding the try line.
Glenn has blossomed into one of the best workhorse second row forwards. He tackles himself to a standstill and still has time to chime in as an attacking ball runner.
You can be sure both men will be heavily involved in Manly’s game plan and the Tigers will have to contain them to survive.
Watch out Sea Eagles: Even if they try to downplay it, we all know the Wests Tigers are predominantly an attacking team. The Sea Eagles have to be aware the Tigers won’t discriminate when it comes to launching attacking plays. They will have set moves from penalties and scrums, they will get creative in their opponent’s quarter, but they will also have a crack from long range.
In 2009, the Wests Tigers led the NRL with 134 line-breaks over the regular season, with 14 of those coming from dummy-half and another nine from kick returns. Manly must kick-chase with purpose and they cannot for even a second take their eyes off Robbie Farah.
Where it will be won: Robert Lui and Kieran Foran are both young halfbacks with plenty to prove and the youngster who gets on top of the other in this battle could help propel his side to victory.
Foran played nine NRL games in 2009 and managed six line-breaks and six tries – pretty decent for a rookie. He showed off pace and tenacity, something the Manly faithful already love about him.
Lui played just three NRL games in 2009 but showed enough potential to have people excited for his and the Tigers’ future. He managed two line-breaks in his three games and threw in a try assist. While Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah will direct most of the play for the Tigers, Lui’s impact can’t be underestimated. He has the confidence to overcall his senior team-mates and has the football nous to know when to do so. So while the performances of Jamie Lyon and Marshall are pivotal, it is the two youngsters and their contributions that will be all-important.
The History: Played 13; Wests Tigers 5, Sea Eagles 8. Manly have won five of the past six games between the two clubs – although the last clash went the way of the Wests Tigers, 19-18. That is the only previous clash between the two clubs at the SFS, so the Tigers hold the advantage at the venue.
Conclusion: This really does shape up as a great finish to the opening round, as both teams have legitimate claims to favouritism.
The Wests Tigers have the attack to blow away Manly if they get a roll on but the Manly side has proven match-winners and premiership-winning footballers (yes, yes, the Tigers have a few of those also…) who aren’t poor in attack themselves.
One gets the feeling the tries scored in this match will be exciting. Don’t be afraid to tip either way on this one.
Match officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Gavin Badger; Sideline Officials – Gavin Reynolds & Paul Holland; Video Ref – Chris Ward.
Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 7pm.
Preview: Wests Tigers v Sea Eagles
VENUE & TIME: Sydney Football Stadium – Monday, March 15, 7.05pm.
COVERAGE: Fox Sports
HEAD TO HEAD: Played 13 – Sea Eagles 8, Tigers 5.
LAST TIME: Round 21, 2009 – Tigers 19-18.
MATCH ODDS Luxbet: Tigers $1.70, Sea Eagles $2.15
WALKING WOUNDED: Benji Marshall has overcome an ankle injury sustained in the Foundation Cup trial and will play, while Lote Tuqiri still has to convince Tim Sheens he has recovered from jetlag and is right – both mentally and physically – to play his first game in the NRL in eight years. The Sea Eagles are without centre Ben Farrar (thigh) but are otherwise at full strength.
FORM: The Tigers were ordinary in the Foundation Cup loss to the Roosters but spanked Cronulla 36-12 a week later. The Sharks are not a terrific benchmark but there was a lot to like about the Tigers, especially in defence. Manly also did it relatively easy against Cronulla before playing out a draw with the Warriors. Some of their training sessions at Narrabeen have look almost as intense as an NRL match so there is no risk Des Hasler’s men are going into the season on a soft preparation.
WHO’S HOT: The Roosters offered Kieran Foran everything bar Bondi Breach to lure him east but the kid wants to stay at Brookvale. There was a lot of speculation over summer about who would inherit the No.7 from Matt Orford but there was never any real doubt in Hasler’s mind. Foran is a real class act and tough to boot. He may be lacking in NRL experience but he plays like he has been there for years. Foran was just 12 the last time Lote Tuqiri played league. The dreadlocked winger will make his way out onto the SFS for his first game of 13-a-side since 2002 and is likely to be as rusty as some of those heaps sitting in car yards outside WT HQ at Concord. While we don’t think the ex-Wallaby will kick out on the full from his own quarter (as Hasler helpfully suggested), it will no doubt take some time for him to find his groove. At 30, has he still got the magic?
WE THINK: Manly has been quoted at around 15/1 to win the premiership. Good odds if you can get them. Yes, they have lost Orford but there are still nine internationals in their squad. They will surely be up there again when it counts. The Tigers haven’t made the finals since winning the '05 comp and it’s time to deliver. In Farah and Marshall they have two of the best attacking weapons in the NRL. Tuqiri may be talked of in the same breath if he can recapture his form of yesteryear. This match should be a beauty but Manly will get the cash. Sea Eagles by 8
Lozza’s NRL round one preview
Monday, March 15
Wests Tigers v Manly, Sydney Football Stadium (7pm EDT)
The inclusion of Lote Tuqiri has created plenty of excitement for Wests Tigers with a number of people predicting they will be thereabouts come September. Benji Marshall is fit and firing. Robbie Farah is ready for more big things. Wests Tigers just need to get their defence in order and they will be a force in 2010. The return of Brett Stewart is worth a try a game for Manly who boast one of the better packs in the competition. The pressure will be on new halfback Kieran Foran and what he brings to the table in the No.7 jumper. I’ve got a few too many question marks over the Sea Eagles at the moment and I think the Tigers will win.