Schick Preview: Wests Tigers v Warriors
A new year brings new hope to two sides aiming to play finals football for the time since 2011.
New skippers Aaron Woods and Ryan Hoffman have been charged with the responsibility of leading their sides in 2016, and the NSW State of Origin teammates will want to start their tenure with a first-up win.
The Tigers are seen as a youthful side with the potential to put on points in a hurry. The Warriors, meanwhile, are the sleeping giants of the NRL and could soon become competition heavyweights after some terrific off-season recruiting.
The Tigers will begin the new season without their two best dummy-halves, with both Robbie Farah and Matt Ballin out with knee injuries. Dene Halatau and halfback Luke Brooks will also miss the Round 1 clash through suspension.
Manaia Cherrington will deputise at No.9, while Jack Littlejohn will make his club debut in place of Brooks. Jordan Rankin has edged Justin Hunt for the left wing spot and former Eel Josh Aloiai looks set to make his NRL debut off the bench.
The Warriors will unleash a revamped spine, with New Zealand internationals Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke partnering Shaun Johnson and former Shark Jeff Robson. Blake Ayshford is another new recruit set to run out for the visitors in Round 1, while Ben Henry makes his long-awaited return from a serious knee injury in the run-on side. Highly touted Nathaniel Roache will make his NRL debut off the bench in the utility role.
Watch out Tigers: Shaun Johnson is back from injury, and if his Auckland Nines form is anything to go by he means business. Johnson has been named at five-eighth with Jeff Robson to play halfback, but it's hard to imagine his role changing too much. The Kiwis No.7 had another stellar 2015, scoring eight tries, setting up 11 more and breaking the line on 13 occasions. There was no surprise to see a correlation between his absence and the Warriors' poor finish to the year. If his big forwards can give him the time and space he craves, the Tigers could be in trouble. The fact he now has Issac Luke and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to help him can only be a good thing.
Watch out Warriors: They'd love to get their 2016 campaign off to a flying start, but the Warriors will have to overcome a terrible Round 1 record that has seen them winless in opening fixtures since 2009. With games against 2015 top-four sides the Broncos and Storm in the next two weeks, Saturday evening's match shapes as a crunch game for Andrew McFadden's men.
Key match-up: James Tedesco v Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. The two highest scoring NRL Fantasy fullbacks in 2015 go head-to-head in what should be a free-flowing affair. Tedesco scored more tries and had more tackle breaks than his Warriors counterpart last season, but RTS made more metres, had more try assists and broke the line more often. With temperatures set to reach the mid 30s on Saturday, expect these two attacking weapons to wreak havoc in the reduced interchange era.
The History: Played 25; Wests Tigers 12, Warriors 13. The sides split their two encounters last season, with the home side getting up on both occasions. Campbelltown Stadium hasn't been a happy hunting ground for the visitors, who have conceded 50 points on their last two visits to the venue. The Warriors will be looking for their first win at the ground since 2008.
What are the odds: There was a little bit of money around for a Tigers upset with Sportsbet until the injury to Robbie Farah. Since then, the Warriors have come in from $1.60 and all of the late money has been with the visitors to prevail by 13 points or more in margin betting. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Ashley Klein. Assistant Referee: Chris Sutton. Sideline Officials: Ricky McFarlane and Russel Turner. Review Officials: Bryan Norrie and Steve Chiddy.
Televised: Fox Sports 1, Live, 5:30pm AEDT.
The way we see it: No Farah, Ballin, Brooks or Halatau gives the Warriors a great chance to end their Round 1 hoodoo. The Tigers will be keen to get their season going with four of their first five games at home, but against a side littered with international talent, they might have to wait a while. Warriors by 10.