The time has finally arrived and the 2018 NRL Telstra Premiership gets underway this weekend. One of the most talked about games is the Wests Tigers facing the Sydney Roosters at ANZ Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Last season's opener for the Tigers saw the team come up against Robbie Farah but this season it is the grudge match against former star Fullback James Tedesco. After making a high-profile off-season move to the Tri-Colours, both sides will look to impress in the opening round but particularly Tedesco will have an extra incentive.
Both teams have done a varying level of re-set to their squad so it will be interesting to see how the squads gel after a full off-season under their belt.
Round 24, 2017: Sydney Roosters def. Wests Tigers 22-18.
Round 14, 2017: Sydney Roosters def. Wests Tigers 40-18.
Round 13, 2016: Sydney Roosters def. Wests Tigers 32-18.
Round 15, 2015: Sydney Roosters def. Wests Tigers 33-8.
Round 9, 2015: Sydney Roosters def. Wests Tigers 36-4.
It has not been a happy time to be a Wests Tigers fan when the draw reads Sydney Roosters. Probably the biggest bogey side for the joint-venture club, it rarely is a close encounter between the two sides.
While many teams have struggled against the Roosters in past years because of their dominance, the Tigers have only picked up 8 wins in the 30 fixtures between the two sides.
|Wests Tigers||Sydney Roosters|
|1||Tui Lolohea||James Tedesco|
|2||Corey Thompson||Daniel Tupou|
|3||Esan Marsters||Latrell Mitchell|
|4||Kevin Naiqama||Joseph Manu|
|5||Malakai Watene-Zelezniak||Blake Ferguson|
|6||Josh Reynolds||Mitchell Cornish|
|7||Luke Brooks||Cooper Cronk|
|8||Russell Packer||Jared Waerea-Hargreaves|
|9||Pita Godinet||Jake Friend|
|10||Ben Matulino||Sio Siua Taukeiaho|
|11||Chris Lawrence||Boyd Cordner|
|12||Robbie Rochow||Mitchell Aubusson |
|13||Elijah Taylor||Isaac Liu|
|14||Benji Marshall||Dylan Napa|
|15||Alex Twal||Zane Tetevano|
|16||Michael Chee Kam||Ryan Matterson|
|17||Matthew Eisenhuth||Victor Radley|
|18||Matt McIlwrick||Reece Robinson|
|19||David Nofoaluma||Luke Keary|
|20||Tim Grant||Nat Butcher|
|21||Taane Milne||Lindsay Collins|
The facts that matter
Ivan Cleary has done a complete overhaul of the squad after inheriting the team from Jason Taylor mid-season. Gone are three of the supposed 'Big Four' in James Tedesco, Aaron Woods and Mitchell Moses but one of the clubs favourite sons, Benji Marshall has returned.
The biggest talking point from the team named by Cleary for round one has been David Nofoaluma being dropped to reserve grade after the electric form of Corey Thompson in the trials. Pita Godinet has also snagged the starting number nine role over Matt McIlwrick further highlighting Ivan is not afraid to make the tough calls and no position is safe.
It will be hard to expect the Tigers to set the competition alight with such a change in the squad but with arguably the hardest first five rounds of any other team in the competition, it will be sink or swim from the opening whistle.
The Roosters will send out a star-studded lineup on Saturday afternoon and all the eyes will be on new recruits James Tedesco and Cooper Cronk. Cronk, in particular, will have the pressure on after being so successful in his time with the Melbourne Storm, Maroons and the Kangaroos for well over a decade.
The Tigers edge defence has always been a concern and with a backline that includes Daniel Tupou and Blake Ferguson, expect Trent Robinson to target the high ball play on the fifth tackle; especially with the expert kicking game of Cronk.
I think there might be a smokey change prior to kick-off with Luke Keary named on an extended bench but in saying that Mitchell Cornish would not look out-of-place if needed to fill in.
Even the most die-hard Tigers fan would struggle to be overly optimistic coming up against a team they struggle against at the best of times but this is also a quality side to face regardless of the prior form.
I think the Tigers will be a better outfit than the one they were in 2017 but will need time to gel and establish those combinations. Expect Tedesco to have a huge game with two tries and a comfortable win for the Tri-Colours on Saturday afternoon. Roosters by 12.