TONIGHT is the battle of the new blood against the old.
Tonight’s blockbuster clash at ANZ Stadium pits a classic club on the rebound against the title hotshots who are desperate to make the most of their premiership window.
Aside from Melbourne and their salary cap-inflicted woes, no club has undergone more roster changes this season than Canterbury.
The Dogs will trot out five new faces tonight in Trent Hodkinson, Kris Keating, Aiden Tolman, Sam Kasiano and Frank Pritchard.
Only hooker Michael Ennis remains from the the team’s “spine” as coach Kevin Moore unleashes a new halves pairing, a new fullback and a rookie front-rower.
The contrast with the Tigers could not be greater.
Coach Tim Sheens will have only one new face in a team whose core members have been together since 2005.
Ironically, the new player is a former Bulldog, veteran winger Matt Utai.
No wonder the Tigers will start the match as $1.80 favourites and why, with the likes of Benji Marshall, Robbie Farah, Chris Heighington leading the way, they have been talking up their title credentials.
Again, the contrast with the Bulldogs is great.
The talk from Belmore all summer - and heading into tonight’s game - has been of cautious optimism.
Not that the Tigers will underestimate their neighbours. Tuqiri is impressed by the sight of a trimmed down Jamal Idris and a pack that boasts Kiwi wrecking ball Frank Pritchard.
“They probably didn’t go as well as they thought they would last year and they’d want to rectify that and they’ve got a squad to do it,” Tuqiri said. “Looking at all the teams, they’ve bought really well and they’ll be well served.”
To underscore his point, Tuqiri points to the head-to-head match-ups.
The giant winger and his left-side centre partner Chris Lawrence will face off against Idris and Steve Turner.
On the right side of the field, Morris and Bryson Goodwin will battle with Blake Ayshford and Utai.
Then there’s the gilt-edged battle of the hookers, Farah and Michael Ennis.
Morris, who recently re-signed with the Dogs for three years, says confidence in the Bulldogs camp is sky high and they will be back in the mix. “There are a lot of new faces and I think that’s what makes this year really exciting,” Morris said. “We’ve had a good off-season together and the combinations are starting to come along.”
Bulldogs captain Andrew Ryan is also adamant the Dogs can be contenders this year.
Ryan believes the Dogs can repeat their 2009 season, when they bounced back from “winning” the wooden spoon the year before to finish second.
“For us as a team, it’s going to take a little while to jell,” Ryan said.
“But we’ve had a good pre-season. Our trial form’s been pretty good, so let’s hope we’re ready to go [tonight].”