Heat on Warriors from opening round
FEW teams and coaches go into a season under as much pressure and expectation as the New Zealand Warriors and Andrew McFadden.
After adding big names Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke to their arsenal, the Warriors need to come out firing this afternoon against a Wests Tigers side missing key players Robbie Farah (injured) and Luke Brooks (suspended).
An opening-round loss at Campbelltown Stadium would see the Kiwis head to Brisbane needing to beat the early NRL title favourites, who kicked off the 2016 season with a 17-4 win over an injury-weakened Parramatta, to get on the board.
McFadden has no doubt heard the constant talk he would be dumped as coach if the Warriors didn't perform early in 2016, and a 46-10 loss to St George Illawarra in their final trial game would not have silenced it.
But with Shaun Johnson back from an ankle injury that saw him miss the last eight games of 2015, and the additions of game-changer Tuivasa-Sheck and Luke, Kiwi fans have huge expectations of a first grand final appearance since 2011.
The Tigers, who will be captained by prop Aaron Woods, will suffer from not having a specialist dummy half with both Farah and his back-up, Matt Ballin, nursing knee injuries. The late mail is coach Jason Taylor could push utility Jack Littlejohn into the dummy half role ahead of Manaia Cherrington, and move Chris Lawrence to five-eighth.
All eyes though will be on fullback James Tedesco, who is tipped to play Origin for New South Wales this year.