Wests Tigers 2017 Season in Review
Ivan Cleary has begun to put his stamp on the roster out Concord way. Having lost three of the so-called 'big four' last year, Cleary had plenty of cap space with which to go to market and has bought up big in the shape of Josh Reynolds, Russell Packer, Chris McQueen, Ben Matulino, Taane Milne and of course favourite son Benji Marshall.
The mass changes seem certain to shift Tuimoala Lolohea to fullback while Jacob Liddle will press Matt McIlwrick for the No.9 jersey. The quantity of forwards inbound will mean a huge battle for the likes of 2017 debutants Alex Twal and Matt Eisenhuth and even more established players like Tim Grant and Sauaso Sue and off-season recruit Robbie Rochow.
Corey Thompson, Mahe Fonua, Malakai Watene-Zelezniak and Esan Marsters are among those jostling with established players for back-line positions.
NRL.com expert Jamie Soward says:
"I had them as my big movers but I just looked at their squad and now I'm not sure. They're still trying to find their identity which might take a bit of time. A fit Brooks with a guy like Josh Reynolds who provides the energy and enthusiasm, he's vitally important but it's also important he gets his own game right.
"At his best Reynolds is running, in-your-face, niggling, always in the game which is what made him successful at the Bulldogs and for NSW in 2014.
"The interesting one for me is Jacob Liddle and Matt McIlwrick. I think Liddle will get the start but that won't be certain all year. Reynolds could slot in at nine if Marshall needs to come into the side. If that happens that will take more time going forward to learn how each other plays.
"I think we could see the best of Brooks this year being able to kick and run and put plays on rather than having to try and do everything from two positions.
"The other change you could make is Naiqama, does he start at fullback, he was outstanding for Fiji in the World Cup.
"Their forward pack's OK. Packer and Matulino coming in could be one of the best front-row rotations in the competition."
NRL.com's predicted Round 1 team:
1 Corey Thompson 2 David Nofoaluma 3 Taane Milne 4 Kevin Naiqama 5 Mahe Fonua 6 Josh Reynolds 7 Luke Brooks 8 Russell Packer 9 Matt McIlwrick 10 Ben Matulino 11 Chris Lawrence 12 Chris McQueen 13 Elijah Taylor. Interchange: 14 Alex Twal 15 Sauaso Sue 16 Matt Eisenhuth 17 Jacob Liddle. Reserves: 18 Benji Marshall 19 Tim Grant 20 Josh Aloiai 21 Michael Chee Kam.