Pre-Game Warmup: All guns ready for season opener
Dan Talintyre (Twitter: @dantalintyre)
Fri 3rd March, 11:30AM
Ever since the 2017 NRL Draw was released back in December last year, all eyes have seemingly been fixed on Wests Tigers’ season opener against the South Sydney Rabbitohs as both teams look to put disappointing years behind them.
For Wests Tigers fans, memories of that fated Round 26 defeat to the Canberra Raiders — which could have seen the team play finals football for the first time since 2011 — still carries a sore taste in the mouth over what could have been. Overall, Jason Taylor’s squad is not too dissimilar from that Sunday afternoon, with more than half the team that featured that day expected to take the field tonight against the 2014 NRL Premiers.
The changes that have been made, however, have been noticeable.
Only David Nofoaluma and Kevin Naiqama remain from the back five that took the field against the Raiders (with James Tedesco out due to injury), with a brand new left-edge partnership between giants Jamal Idris and Moses Suli giving Wests Tigers fans plenty to be excited about.
Up front, Matt McIlwrick will don the No.9 jersey with Matt Ballin making his return in reserve grade and Jacob Liddle still not fully recovered from a shoulder injury.
How he fares in his Club debut will be no doubt a talking point for many, especially up against former Wests Tigers player Robbie Farah and his hooking partner Damien Cook.
Michael Maguire’s men were impressive in their recent trial match — a 32-14 victory over the St. George-Illawarra Dragons that won the Rabbitohs the 2017 Charity Shield.
However, it’s worth noting the inclusion of Adam Reynolds in that game (who won’t play Friday due to appendicitis) and the exclusion of Greg Inglis (who will play tonight).
How the change of those two players affects the Rabbitohs will be worth keeping an eye on.
In recent times, it’s been Wests Tigers who have held the advantage over the Rabbitohs — winning the past three matches between the two by a combined scoreline of 94-42.
Nine different Wests Tigers players scored tries against South Sydney in 2016.
Key Times to Note
5:45pm — Gates Open at ANZ Stadium
5:50pm — Holden Cup, Rabbitohs vs. Wests Tigers
7:05pm — Finals team confirmed
8:05pm — NRL, Rabbitohs vs. Wests Tigers
Early Matchup — While the two sides have never met before in Round 1, Wests Tigers and South Sydney are certainly accustomed to facing each other early in the season. Since the Rabbitohs’ return to the competition in 2001, the two teams have played each other inside the opening five rounds of the competition on six occasions. Over the last four years in particular, the two teams have met inside the opening three rounds on three occasions — Round 3 in 2014, Round 3 in 2015 and Round 1 in 2017.
Weather Update — With rain on-and-off in Sydney this week, it’s expected to be a wet and cool night at ANZ Stadium, with a high chance of rain during the game. Wests Tigers only played one game in the rain in 2016 (which ended in a Golden Point defeat) was played in the rain, so it’ll be interesting to see how both teams adapt to the conditions and try to limit errors with the ball despite a lack of match fitness.
Goalkicking — Wests Tigers finished the 2016 season with a 65% conversion rate, one of the lowest in the competitions and a definite area to improve on. South Sydney ended the year with a 75% conversion rate, but importantly, their regular goal-kicker in Reynolds won’t be available for Friday’s game due to injury. The responsibility will then likely fall to Bryson Goodwin or Cody Walker, who both kicked at times in 2016. As highlighted in our Phil Gilbert Key Matchup this week, James Tedesco did slot a handy sideline conversion against the Cowboys in the Club’s final trial match and could be a surprise inclusion at goal-kicker if required. Five-eighth Mitchell Moses (who wasn’t on the field at the time of Tedesco’s goal) is expected to kick.
Potential Debuts — Both teams could have a number of new faces in the mix for tonight’s game, as well as potential NRL debutants. Jamal Idris (Wests Tigers Player #199)and Matt McIlwrick (Player #200) could make their Club debuts for Wests Tigers, while Luke Kelly, Robbie Rochow and Robbie Farah could all make their Club debuts for South Sydney. Young guns Moses Suli (Wests Tigers) and Braidon Burns (South Sydney) have also been included in the respective 19-man squads and could make their first-grade debuts.
TV — Live via Channel 9 and Fox Sports from 7:30pm (NSW), 6:30pm (QLD)
Radio — Live via AM 702 ABC Grandstand and AM 873 2GB (check local guides)