Wests Tigers v Dragons
Monday, 7:00pm (AEDT)
The Wests Tigers will be out to impress in their first home game after needing a clutch game-winner from winger Pat Richards to steal a 19-18 win against a depleted Titans side last week.
Richards was one of the Tigers best on the Gold Coast, scoring 15 of the side's 19 points via two tries, three goals and the one-pointer. And they needed every one of them too, after fighting back from a 12-6 deficit at halftime in a game they were expected to win comfortably.
Coach Jason Taylor has recalled centre Chris Lawrence after the veteran pulled out on match eve through a groin strain suffered in the captain's run. He'll replace impressive second-gamer Kyle Lovett, who was named on an extended bench. Prop Martin Taupau retains his spot at lock after making a surprise run-on start last week.
The Dragons, on the other hand, battled valiantly in their dour 12-4 defeat to the Storm. The joint venture side struggled badly for points and their fluidity in attack got worse as the game went on. In the second half they produced six errors and half a dozen more balls went to ground as the Storm piled on the pressure. The eight point defeat could've been a lot worse.
Coach Paul McGregor has named fullback Josh Dugan despite what appeared to be a serious ankle injury, and has added experienced rake Heath L'Estrange and forward Jake Marketo on an extended bench.
Watch Out Wests Tigers: Even after one game, McGregor's deployment of rookie Eto Nabuli has proven an inspired move, with the storied Fijian recruit one of the Dragons' best in a losing effort against the Storm last Monday night. Halfback Benji Marshall in particular seems to have grown fond of the towering 197-centimetre weapon on his left edge, finding him with a neat grubber for their only points in the season-opener. Look for that combination to be utilised more often as the season progresses.
Watch Out Dragons: Wests Tigers prop Aaron Woods was arguably the best prop last weekend, kicking the season off with a casual 206 metres, 31 tackles and two offloads. The NSW Origin prop graduated to Kangaroos honours last November and appears set to rise to another level in 2015. If his Round 1 stats are anything to go by, then it spells trouble for a Dragons side that weren't overly impressive against Melbourne.
Key Match-Up: Benji Marshall v Luke Brooks. It will be just the second instalment of the master versus the apprentice, the out of shape veteran who made way for the burgeoning youngster in what will be Marshall's first appearance at a Wests Tigers home ground since returning from rugby union exile last season. Marshall took first points in a 28-12 victory at ANZ Stadium in Round 20 last year that was over at halftime. But the comparison will continue to abound the further both advance through their careers.
The History: Played 29 – Wests Tigers 13, Dragons 16. It's been slim pickings for the Tigers in recent years, going down in three of the past four against their joint venture rival, including a home-and-away sweep last season. A second half fadeout was the reason for their 44-24 loss at ANZ Stadium in last year's season-opener, while a first half shutout later on that year meant they had no chance of coming back in a game they went down 28-12.
What Are The Odds: Wests Tigers $1.68, Dragons $2.20. Punters are divided on this one with an even split of money on both teams. Tigers are a standout for the line though of -3.5. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Lead Referee: Ashley Klein. Assistant Referee: Adam Gee. Touch Judges: Adam Reid and Peter Gough. Video Referees: Steve Chiddy and Luke Phillips.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 7pm (AEDT)
The Way We See It: When you factor in the fact that it's a home-opener at Campbelltown, and that Dugan – if fit – enters the game on a dodgy ankle, then you've got to go with the Tigers. NRL.com prediction: Tigers by eight.