WA Smarter than Smoking Premiership Rd 1 Preview
By the BELL RINGER
The League season is back! Who’s excited? I know I am! And what a way to start the year! Is there any local competition anywhere in Australia with a more exciting way to open the season than what NRL WA serve up? We are blessed to start our year with a first grade triple header. Every team at one venue on the same day! This is a chance to see how hard every team has worked during the off season. This is a chance to see the new recruits in action, the kids with another pre-season under their belt, the established stars of our game all on the hunt for the prize on offer at the end of the season. The day kicks off at Dorrien Gardens at 11am with our West Coast Pirates SG Ball side playing their last game of the season against the Canterbury Bulldogs. The Pirates are hoping to welcome back a few players from injury including firebrand Jackson Bond who missed the Magpies clash after suffering a concussion against the St George Dragons. The Bulldogs will also have some Western Australian flavour with Jackson Topine in the back row. The Bulldogs have secured a top 8 berth with a few results going their way last weekend, so they should win reasonably easily, but the Pirates will be desperate to finish the year with a competitive performance in what has been another difficult season for our under 18’s.
The first of the top grade games sees last years reserve grade premiers make the step up to the top grade in the Willagee Bears and they will take on the North Beach Sea Eagles. North Beach had a forgettable 2017, however their trial form has been very impressive and they will start this game as heavy favourites. The Bears are expected to be more competitive than the Kalamunda Bulldogs were last year, however they will likely find the step from reserve grade to first grade insurmountable. Haven’t got anything from either club in terms of gains and losses from last season, so there is a bit of unknown about this clash. Kick off for this one is at 1pm.
The second first grade game is a replay of the elimination final last year between South Perth and Joondalup. You can expect this to be a very different clash compared to last season, with both teams set to line up almost unrecognisable from that game. The Lions had a host of injuries throughout 2017 and will welcome back Eddie Proudler as well as Daniel Green amongst others. The other significant change for the Lions is new coach Hayden Fisher replacing Justin Nixon and it will be interesting to see if Fisher can breathe some new life into the Dad’s army team of South. For the Giants they have lost a heap of talent with halfback Christian Smith, powerful front rowers Zan Pomare, Gillespie Fai and Josh and Logan Houghton all leaving the club. The Giants have not impressed during the pre-season while there have been some good signs for the Lions. Tough to judge based on pre-season, but the smart money for this one would be on the Lions to reverse the result of last years elimination final. Kick off for this clash is 2:40pm
Finally the match of the day will see a grand final rematch between the Fremantle Roosters and the Rockingham Sharks. Amazingly despite the fact this is round 1, much of the talk around this game centres around injuries as well as gains and losses. For the Sharks they’ve lost their captain Reece Potter for the season, as well as halfback Tyler Hunt and back rower Brandon Wright for the early part of the season. Add to that the loss of Hayden Dangen Toby, Geordie Connelly, Josh Bransby, Peter Worth, Benton Leme Pyako, Steven Widders and Craig Madden and you can expect this to be a vastly different team than the team that won the 2017 minor premiership. Luckily for the Sharks they do have a strong junior base from which to draw replacements as well as exciting new recruits in Jack Wray and Joe Martin expected to fill the key positions alongside newly appointed captain Andrew Jeffery and Anthony Bowman. Also added to the Sharks stocks is Tevita Pomale from the Werribee Bears in Victoria and Jabe Dennis from Siddal in Halifax as they enhance their English connection. For the Roosters they will be without the likes of Te Puna Sellers, Duane Butler and new recruit Manihera Eden as well as losing James Aspden to the Altona Roosters in Victoria and Jarrod Thompson to Collegians in the Illawarra competition. Not too many other changes are expected to their line up though, however the return of Jordan Stringer will be a welcome one, as will Kerrod Hignet who has come across from Kalamunda rugby union. Both teams look fairly unsettled, but the greater stability belongs to the Roosters so you’d back them to repeat their grand final triumph. This game will be live streamed, with kick off at 4:10pm.
The dominance of South Perth and North Beach in the Western Australian competition was turned on its head in 2017 with both clubs struggling, but it looks like these two proud organisations have the squads to cycle back towards the top of rugby league in this state. The Roosters will once again be extremely competitive however the loss of a few key players could see them come back to the field. Teams like the Sharks and the Giants could slide in 2018 as both look to have entered a re-building phase after losing a lot of players during the off season. The Bears will look to be a thorn in the side of teams and will be hoping that they can compete at this level. Not a lot of expectations externally on Willagee, but internally they will be setting their sights on winning a few games throughout the year.