St George Illawarra coach Steve Price has given the nod to Michael Witt over Sam Williams to wear the No 7 in the Dragons season opener against Wests Tigers at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.
Summer signing Witt, an NRL journeyman with previous stints at Manly, Parramatta and the Warriors, only joined the Red V in the summer from English Super League strugglers London Broncos.
And after impressing in the Auckland Nines and a brief cameo in the Charity Shield, Price has opted for experience in the halves to partner marquee man Gareth Widdop.
Adam Quinlan will warm the seat at fullback for the injured Josh Dugan while Price’s experiment with Ben Creagh in the front row has been shelved, at least temporarily, as the skipper reverts to back row.
‘‘The players are excited that the new season is now only days away after a long, tough preseason,’’ Price said. ‘‘It is a new season, a new squad and a new challenge for us all.
‘‘The players have all pushed each other every single day of the preseason, there has been great competition for spots and the players chosen have earned their place in the squad for Sunday.’’
Widdop, Witt, Dylan Farrell and Joel Thompson will make their Dragons debuts, while English recruit Mike Cooper was named on an extended five-man bench.
Jack Stockwell is expected to miss the first two games of the season while Dugan won’t be back until round five.
Dragons squad: 1 Adam Quinlan, 2 Brett Morris, 3 Dylan Farrell, 4 Gerard Beale, 5 Jason Nightingale, 6 Gareth Widdop, 7 Michael Witt, 8 Jack de Belin, 9 Mitch Rein, 10 Dan Hunt, 11 Leeson Ah Mau, 12 Ben Creagh (c), 13 Trent Merrin. Interchange (one to be omitted): 14 Bronson Harrison, 15 Kyle Stanley, 16 Joel Thompson, 17 Tyson Frizell, 20 Mike Cooper.