Pool: Rangitoto Pool (Storm, Tigers, Knights, Broncos)
Squad: Elijah Taylor (c), Josh Aloiai, Luke Brooks, Michael Chee Kam, Joel Edwards, Matt Eisenhuth, JJ Felise, Watson Heleta, Justin Hunt, Jack Littlejohn, Moses Suli, Esan Marsters, Matt McIlwrick, Kevin Naiqama, Jordan Rankin, Ava Seumanufagai, Tim Simona, Sauaso Sue
vs Newcastle Knights (11:50am Feb 4 AEDT)
vs Melbourne Storm (4:10pm Feb 4 AEDT)
vs Brisbane Broncos (10:15am Feb 5 AEDT)
Jason Taylor said himself at the start of February that “we don’t put a lot of emphasis on the Nines”. That hasn’t stopped Taylor from naming a few of his stars ahead of the two-day tournament.
Luke Brooks headlines the players named, with first-grade regulars Kevin Naiqama, Tim Simona, Jordan Rankin and Sauaso Sue featuring in the squad, while 2016 recruit Elijah Taylor will lead the side as captain. Young forwards JJ Felise and Esan Marsters have big wraps on them heading into the 2017 season, with Marsters playing rep football for the Cook Islands despite not featuring in the NRL yet.
Matt McIlwrick will look to push his claims for a first-grade spot at the Nines, with the rake in a three-way battle with Matt Ballin and Jacob Liddle for a spot in the NRL side following former captain Robbie Farah’s departure to Redfern. McIlwrick could use the tournament to form a combination with Luke Brooks and springboard past Ballin and Liddle, with the hooker at his fourth club in four years.
Who To Watch: Tim Simona. The Samoan international was a late inclusion to the Tiger’s squad, but he’s sure to have a big impact on the side. While Brooks will handle the majority of the playmaking, Simona will be busy scoring tries. But that won’t stop Simona from chiming in on the playmaking, with the centre having dabbled at fullback at stages of his career. With speed to burn and surprising power, Simona will be one to watch for sure.
Why They Can Win: Competition. After Wests missed out on the finals for the fifth consecutive year in 2016, the pressure will be on for the youngsters to step and lead the club into a new era this year. Hence forth, the competition for spots is well and truly alive, with multiple spots up for grabs. The left wing spot, hooker and the bench are all yet to be decided, with this tournament to drive the squad to another level as they look to secure a Round 1 berth.
Why They Can’t Win: Grit. Nines isn’t just about scoring tries, it’s about defending them. All the Nines winners of previous years have based their title charge around stopping points, and naturally points would flow. But the Tigers haven’t followed the same approach, naming a squad full of speed, but lacking any oomph. The Wests Tigers will have no problem scoring points this weekend, but they’ll be hard pressed trying to stop them.
Prediction: Luke Brooks adds a spark to the side that can’t be doubted, with the halfback under pressure heading into 2017. The youngster will either fire or flop this year, and this tournament could be a big early indication. Elijah Taylor will be integral in the middle third, and with the classy finishers they possess in the backline, back the Tigers to just beat Newcastle for a Finals spot.