Sunday’s NRL action in Sydney sees three sides looking to improve on disappointing seasons in 2013. St George Illawarra Dragons and Wests Tigers clash at ANZ Stadium, while later in the evening Parramatta Eels run out at Pirtek Stadium for the first time under new coach Brad Arthur.
St George Illawarra Dragons v Wests Tigers
Sunday 9th March, ANZ Stadium Homebush 15:00
Amazingly this round 1 fixture is already being billed as a battle for survival for the two coaches. Steve Price is under pressure after the Dragons missed the finals in 2013 for the second successive season. Uninspired displays in the Auckland Nines and the Charity Shield have done little to raise expectations for his side going into the 2014 season.
Wests Tigers have stuck by Mick Potter despite speculation that he would be cut at the end of 2013. Now is the time for Potter to stamp is mark on this squad after the departure of Benji Marshall. There are concerns for a number of players in his squad suffering from an infection. Even if they recover in time for Sunday’s game they will have had minimal preparation for what will be a tense encounter.
Parramatta Eels v New Zealand Warriors
Sunday 9th March, Pirtek Stadium Parramatta 18:30
Sunday Evening brings the first game for new Parramatta Eels coach Brad Arthur. He has a massive task on his hands to turnaround the fortunes of a club that have finished in the bottom two for four consecutive seasons. Having barely averaged two tries a game in 2013, the talk coming out of the club is of a more adventurous brand of football.
Will Hopoate is set to debut in the centres, and it will be interesting to see if he can carry on in the NRL from where he left off prior to his two year Mormon mission. Others making their debut in a new look Eels side include Corey Norman and Nathan Peats. Despite working hard on fitness and off field issues, Chris Sandow still cannot force his way into the line-up, with Luke Kelly currently favoured.
The Warriors were spectacular at times in the Auckland Nines, but the 13 man game will be a different matter. They have an awful record in round 1 fixtures having registered only two wins in 10 years – both against the Eels incidentally. Sam Tomkins and Shaun Johnson showed in Auckland that they are ready to make an impact in the competition as the Warriors aim to return to the finals for the first time since their 2011 Grand Final loss.