St George Illawarra have sprung a selection shock by leaving halfback favourite Sam Williams out of their side for the club's round one NRL clash against Wests Tigers.
Journeyman playmaker Michael Witt, who has played for the Warriors in the NRL and Otago in rugby's NPC, has instead been given the nod to wear the No 7 and partner Gareth Widdop in the Dragons' new-look halves pairing.
Former Canberra half Williams looked set to start the year in first grade after being picked for the Charity Shield, however coach Steve Price has changed his mind.
The Dragons struggled in attack in the pre-season clash with South Sydney and it seems Williams has paid the price.
Witt played 90 NRL matches between 2003 and 2009 before heading to the Super League for four seasons.
The 30-year-old sharp-shooting goalkicker now finds himself in charge of an NRL side under immense pressure to get their season off to a flying start.
St George Illawarra have recruits Dylan Farrell, Widdop, Joel Thompson and Englishman Mike Cooper all named in an 18-man squad.
Adam Quinlan will play fullback in place of injured star Josh Dugan.
Coach Price said Witt and all of his players have earned their selection.
"The players are excited that the new season is now only days away after a long, tough pre-season," said Price.
"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 pre-season, there has been great competition for spots and the players chosen have earned their place in the squad for Sunday."
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS: Adam Quinlan, Brett Morris, Dylan Farrell, Gerard Beale, Jason Nightingale, Gareth Widdop, Michael Witt, Jack de Belin, Mitch Rein, Dan Hunt, Leeson Ah Mau, Ben Creagh (capt), Trent Merrin. Interchange: Bronson Harrison, Kyle Stanley, Joel Thompson, Tyson Frizell, Mike Cooper
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