Matt Ballin of the Tigers passes the ball on debut in round 11 last season.
Matt Ballin of the Tigers passes the ball on debut in round 11 last season. DAN HIMBRECHTS

Tigers facing early hooker crisis

LIFE after Robbie Farah is already shaping as a major headache for the Wests Tigers, with two of their specialist hookers unlikely to be fit for round one - against Robbie Farah.

Matt Ballin and Jacob Liddle are battling knee and shoulder injuries respectively to be right for the opener against South Sydney, which could pave the way for journeyman Matt McIlwrick to wear Farah's old No.9 jersey.

Ballin is returning from a second knee reconstruction and will not feature in Friday night's trial against North Queensland.

Even if he were to miss the club's season opener against Farah and Souths, Ballin said there was no use rushing back and breaking down again.

"The season is 26 rounds, or 24 games, so for me and the club, they want me there the whole year, not round one or two and then be gone again," Ballin told The Daily Telegraph.

"I'm pretty much doing everything full, including contact, running, tackling and passing.

"I want to play now, I'd love to play in Friday's trial, but common sense prevails, and they (the Tigers medical staff) say this is our protocol, and they know what they're doing."

The chance to go head to head with his Tigers predecessor Farah will not motivate Ballin to return any sooner.

Ballin arrived from Manly just over 12 months ago, but broke down in his second game with another serious knee injury.

Liddle, the 20-year-old seen as 33-year-old Ballin's understudy, fell awkwardly in a tackle during training earlier this month, and has not been able to complete contact work since.

He is unsure when he will return to full training, let alone play.

McIlwrick said he would be up for the challenge if given the starting gig against Farah.

He was one of the last hookers to play against Farah when he was punted to NSW Cup and featured in some emotional scenes at Leichhardt Oval.

Coach Jason Taylor also has the option of Jack Littlejohn at hooker, while Elijah Taylor also slotted into dummy-half last season.

McIlwrick will get more game time against the Cowboys on Friday.

"I've been fortunate to get through the whole pre-season, and that's all I can ask. If the opportunity comes my way, I'll take it with both hands," McIlwrick said.

"I played against Robbie when he came back to reserve grade. He'll be up for the challenge and will want to make a statement."

Farah played his first game for Souths at Campbelltown Sports Stadium last Saturday night, and will round out his pre-season in Sunday's Charity Shield.

News Corp Australia


New report reveals CQ's fastest growing rental market

premium_icon New report reveals CQ's fastest growing rental market

North Rockhampton is outperforming the southern side of the river

Train drivers blow the whistle CQ motorist near misses

premium_icon Train drivers blow the whistle CQ motorist near misses

Shocking accounts of poor driving endangering train driver's lives.

Former Mount Morgan swimmer becomes coaching immortal

premium_icon Former Mount Morgan swimmer becomes coaching immortal

Bill Sweetenham has come a long way from his humble beginnings in CQ

Local Partners