Greg Prichard, NRL.com
Wests Tigers know they can’t afford to sustain many more losses if they hope to play finals football this season.
The team’s situation looks very difficult after 15 rounds, but at least it looks a lot better than it did after the first 10 rounds, when they were on a seven-game losing streak and had an overall win-loss record of 2-8.
Since then, they have beaten North Queensland 22-10, had a bye, beaten Penrith 20-18, lost 32-12 to Brisbane and beaten Canberra 17-12.
They are still back in 15th place on the competition table, with five wins and nine losses, but it could be worse – they could be Parramatta, who are a further four points back in last place.
The Tigers play Melbourne at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday night. It is the ground the Tigers like playing at the most, and they have won six of their nine clashes with the Storm there and 12 of their past 15 games against all teams at the famous old ground.
But it must be pointed out that the Storm have won the past two clashes at Leichhardt – 26-6 last year and 12-4 in 2011.
The Tigers know it’s going to be tough, but from the way they are talking it is clear they have identified the result of this game as critical.
“It’s getting close to the point where we have to win every game,” centre Chris Lawrence told NRL.com. “The old cliché is one game at a time, but we have to win just about every game that comes our way.
“So we’re treating this game as if it’s our last one. There are not going to be too many opportunities for us if we lose a couple more games.”
Lawrence’s centre partner Blake Ayshford added: “If we’re going to make the top eight we can’t afford too many more setbacks. We won over the Raiders last week, and now we’ve got to make it back-to-back wins.”
A check of the past five seasons in the NRL shows that 28 points has been enough to clinch eighth place three times during that period, while it took 29 on one occasion and 30 on the other.
But when Manly finished eighth on 28 points in 2010, that was the year the Storm had all of their competition points stripped from them for cheating the salary cap. Had the Storm been playing for points, they would have finished safely in the top eight on 32 points, and Canberra would have finished eighth on 30.
In 2008, the Warriors were eighth on 30 points, and in 2009 it was Parramatta, on 29. In 2011 Newcastle finished eighth on 28, and last season it was Brisbane in eighth place, also on 28.
The Tigers have 10 games and one bye left, for a maximum possible total of 34 points.
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The Storm have lost hooker and captain Cameron Smith as a result of an eye injury sustained playing for Queensland in State of Origin II on Wednesday, but their other three Origin players – fullback Billy Slater, halfback Cooper Cronk and second-rower Ryan Hoffman – are all expected to play.
The Tigers expect to have hooker and captain Robbie Farah and prop Aaron Woods backing up from Origin.
“It’s going to be tough for us, because the Storm are in third place on the ladder and there’s a good reason for that,” Lawrence said. “It’s going to be a big challenge and we’re going to have to play at our best to have a chance of winning.
“We’re going to have to improve on what we did to beat Canberra.”
Ayshford added: “Both teams have got good players coming back from State of Origin, so there are no excuses for either side, really.
“The Raiders were flying high coming into their game against us, so we got some confidence out of that win.”
Tigers halfback Curtis Sironen believes a win over the Storm could put the Tigers on the road to a place in the finals.
“Every week we’re getting a few players back from injury and that only adds to the confidence we’ve picked up from a few wins,” he said.
“The young blokes have been getting a go and playing well, and with the experience that has come back into the team we’ve sort of steadied the ship again.
“Hopefully we can make a run and try to get into the top eight. That’s our goal for the end of the season, anyway.”