Penrith great Mark Geyer has voiced his surprise to a couple of shock announcements as NRL clubs named their teams ahead of Round 1 this weekend.
Rugby league’s off-season of shame will finally be put on the backburner as the on-field action kicks off on Thursday night and the ins and outs of each team’s final 17 caused plenty of debate when they were revealed on Tuesday.
Heading the list of Geyer’s concerns was Josh Reynolds being left out of the Wests Tigers team to face Manly at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday. Reynolds — who missed much of last year with injury in his first season with the Tigers after making the move from Canterbury — was overlooked at five-eighth in favour of Benji Marshall.
New coach Michael Maguire didn’t even give Reynolds a gig on the bench as a utility, instead going with four forwards, meaning the former NSW Origin pivot will start the season in reserve grade.
Geyer said “I can’t believe that” when Reynolds’ snub was brought up on his Triple M radio show The Rush Hour with MG, saying he can’t fathom how the energetic livewire missed out on a first grade berth when you consider the senior players the Tigers are already missing because of injury.
“For me this makes no sense. Given the fact that there’s no Moses Mbye, no David Nofoaluma, no Chris Lawrence — three of your senior players you would say — Josh Reynolds for mine is in my (starting) 13, or in my 17 every day of the week,” Geyer said.
“We had him on the show. He sounded up, he sounded good, he sounded ready to roll. The fact he’s playing reserve grade, I’ve got to scratch my head.
“If they go on and beat Manly by 30 points then Madge Maguire’s a genius but if it’s a tough game and Manly eek out a bit of a victory, well questions are going to be asked early on of Madge.
“Josh Reynolds … should be in the top 17.”
Marshall and Reynolds were locked in a duel for the No. 6 jersey and the former New Zealand skipper won out, but admitted he felt sorry for his teammate and knew he was on notice to perform or else the former Bulldog would take his place.
“He’s handled it really well,” Marshall told NRL 360 on Fox League.
“I actually feel sorry for him because we both knew we were vying for the same position and this time last year we were vying for the same position but it was the other way around.
“He’s actually had a really big injury-free pre-season and looking really good.
“This week might be different to next week. We need four forwards on the bench this week because we’re playing a big team and I think our forwards need to get their match fitness into gear.
“Next week he might change and Madge has made it pretty clear that it’s performance based and if I don’t perform this week, next week it could be Josh Reynolds in the No. 6.”
Another surprise omission for the opening round of the NRL was Zac Lomax, who failed to crack the starting 17 for the Dragons.
The 19-year-old showed plenty of signs in his four games last year he’s going to be a superstar of the future, but he’ll have to bide his time to break into the St George backline.
A centre, Lomax didn’t look as comfortable when he appeared on the wing during trial matches and coach Paul McGregor instead opted for Euan Aitken and Tim Lafai in the centres, with Fijian flyer Mikaele Ravalawa and Jordan Pereira on the flanks.
Geyer was surprised Lomax didn’t make the cut but said he has time on his side, and expects the teenager to be a future Origin star for NSW.
“Obviously at the moment Mary (McGregor) doesn’t think he’s up to speed in the top 17 and again, a bit like Madge Maguire, if the Dragons do get beaten and there are some gaping holes out wide I think there’ll be questions asked about the backline,” Geyer said.
“But he’s still got plenty of time, he’s only a young kid, he’s got plenty of time to come good. I think he’s good enough, so he’s old enough.”
Elsewhere, Penrith star Dallin Watene-Zelezniak officially lost his battle for the fullback spot for the club’s NRL opener, with Dylan Edwards named No. 1. Watene-Zelezniak had declared his desire to remain in the role after performing well last year, resulting in his ascension to the New Zealand captaincy.
However, he returns to the wing for the Round 1 clash with Parramatta following Edwards’ long-term injury comeback.
Incumbent Kangaroos lock Josh Maguire was surprisingly overlooked for a starting spot as coach Paul Green relegated the representative star to the bench for the Cowboys’ clash against the Dragons.
Green kept the faith with former Dally M Medallist Jason Taumalolo at lock, ensuring McGuire will start an NRL game on the interchange for the first time in almost six years.