Matt Encarnacion, Western Sydney Correspondent, NRL.com
Bulldogs v Wests Tigers
So it's been about seven weeks since we walked away from ANZ Stadium after watching the Wests Tigers pull the Bulldogs' proverbial pants down, and presumed the following:
One, that this current school of Tigers kids are in that special kind of class that not even the biggest kids in the NRL schoolyard could hold a candle to;
And two, that Bulldogs coach Des Hasler was going to reach a whole new level of madness that would ensure his side would never plummet to the same lows again this season.
As it turns out – and this is why they don't pay us rugby league hacks the big bucks – neither of those came true.
Since that fateful Sunday, when we all predicted the Tigers' band of youngsters would catapult the under-achieving club into September, they were actually the ones that crashed and burned. A run of four straight flops on the trot – including the past three by a combined 124 points – has them just about off the invite list in September.
Their messy off-field woes – they're still without a full board yet – has them teetering on the edge of irrelevancy as far as the business end of 2014 is concerned.
The Bulldogs? Well, the embarrassment hurt them deeper than we thought. Hasler's men fumbled their way to another three losses before escaping away with a win over the Eels last Friday night on a technicality.
But they did it without suspended Origin five-eighth Josh Reynolds, which counts for something. Impressive young Bulldogs prop Lloyd Perrett is out with an ankle issue, meaning either Pat O'Hanlon or Harlan Alaalatoa will instead take over his handful of minutes off the bench.
It does need to be mentioned that the Tigers have suffered through all of this with a rehab group longer than the ten metres of tape Aaron Woods uses to keep his hair off his face. The list only lengthened this week, with luckless veteran Dene Halatau succumbing to a hamstring. Bodene Thompson returns from suspension in a straight swap, and Cory Paterson remains the biggest winger on the planet.
Watch Out Bulldogs: Not much to see here folks, given the only time the Tigers drew an applause from their Leichhardt faithful last week was when they ran out before each half. But under the circumstances, one of the kids that gave the Bulldogs nightmares in Round 19, Mitchell Moses, didn't actually do too badly in his first stint in the frontline. He only ran the ball twice, but he set up two line breaks too. There's no doubting the young fella's got game, and the Bulldogs know it all too well.
Watch Out Wests Tigers: Every time Tony Williams doesn't leave an opponent eating grass for breakfast, lunch and dinner, he's had a bad game. But last week he didn't have a bad game. In fact, he hasn't had a bad game in about a month. Last week's nine tackle busts was a season-high, and took him to 16 in the past fortnight. He's also topped at least 115m in his past four games too – that's a lot of grass being consumed.
Plays To Watch: Not that we would ever accuse Des Hasler of not doing his homework, but assuming he did, then he certainly would've noticed how the Roosters exposed the Tigers' paper-thin midfield last week, particularly in the second half when Anthony Minichiello picked up back-to-back tries in three minutes.
But his team's own video review would've only made slightly better viewing. Twice his right-side defence were caught outnumbered on attacking shifts against the Eels, with winger Mitch Brown guilty of wandering into no man's land.
Where It Will Be Won: No marks for guessing this one. With the Tigers missing a staggering 695 tackles this year – second only to the Titans – it will be open slather for the Bulldogs' pack of hard-running forwards. If they don't make a contest of the ruck, it certainly won't be a contest on the scoreboard.
The History: Played 27; Canterbury-Bankstown 16, Wests Tigers 11. The Bulldogs' run of five straight wins came to an abrupt end with that loss seven weeks ago. Before that, the Tigers' hadn't pulled off a victory against their cross-town rivals since 2010.
What Are The Odds:
All of the big bets are being placed on the Bulldogs with Sportsbet, however a sprinkling of punters must have memories of the Tigers recent thrashing of the Dogs, with some support for the injury-riddled Tigers. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Adam Gee; Touch Judges – Dave Munro & Rickey MacFarlane; Video Referees – Bernard Sutton & Luke Phillips.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm.
The Way We See It: Any time now we expect to see some backbone from these Tigers kids – as much as we've alluded to their infancy, they weren't actually born yesterday. But with the stakes getting higher and the finals getting closer, we can't see the Bulldogs getting their pants pulled down again. Bulldogs by 18.