Wests Tigers v Roosters
The Tigers slipped out of town but not out of the spotlight, belted firmly back under the microscope by the Cowboys, while the Roosters narrowly avoided their own slip-up in the wet against the Titans, leaving plenty to play for as the second fixture of the Foundation Cup lands upon us.
One month out from the finals and after such a promising start to the Tigers are all but stuffed and mounted on the wall like some decrepit hunting lodge trophy, with even a four-game winning run to round out the year no guarantee of a finals appearance due to an ugly points differential of -148.
And the club really only has itself to blame for the position its players find themselves in, with the Mexican stand-off between CEO Grant Mayer, captain Robbie Farah and former club legend and assistant coach Steve Roach worthy of a start for all three in a daytime soap opera.
The backstabbing and blame-shifting off the pitch all came to a head on it last Saturday in their utterly abysmal twelve tries to one, 64-6 thrashing in Townsville, where the opening kickoff was allowed to go dead and things just went downhill from there.
Compounding the result is a casualty ward fit to burst, which has added Tim Simona (knee) and Luke Brooks (shoulder) in recent weeks, meaning Cory Paterson shifts out into the centres for the first time in his 8-year NRL career, Blake Austin and Curtis Sironen partner at the scrumbase and Sitaleki Akauola comes back onto the bench.
The Tigers will be wearing a special edition jersey hand painted by renowned indigenous artist Daren Dunn to mark the NRL's Close the Gap round.
If the black-and-golds are to avoid shelving the abacus and keep their dwindling finals chances alive for one more week, they'll also have to fly in the face of an ugly recent run against the Chooks, who they've claimed just one win off of in nine clashes since 2009, with a nine tries to three, 56-14 drubbing in the corresponding fixture last year the worst of a sorry lot.
For the Roosters, who have named the same 17 from Monday night's eyesore, this week's video session will make for rough viewing, with 16 errors in admittedly trying conditions, and their inability to put the Titans away despite enjoying 55 per cent of possession nothing to write home about.
But as skipper Anthony Minichiello rightly pointed out, "two points are two points," and the Chooks got them, locking them into fourth spot for another week ahead of five teams hot on their heels on 26 points.
Given the Tigers' on-field and off-field woes, this is another clash the Roosters will head into as strong favourites, a position that has brought them undone previously against the lowly Sharks and Knights, but anything less than a win will throw them right back into the dogfight for the bottom rungs of the top eight.
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Watch Out Tigers: With three tries in his last two outings, Chooks speedster Michael Jennings has been making up for lost time since returning from a back injury sustained in Origin II, and also has a habit of filling his boots against the Tigers.
The NSW flyer has bagged nine tries in his last eight games against the joint venture club, including a double and 158 metres from seven runs in their Round 9, 30-6 win at Allianz Stadium. The Roosters cut the Tigers’ right-edge defence to pieces that night, running in four tries down Chris Lawrence's corridor, and with James Maloney again back to his scheming best, Lawrence can expect plenty of traffic directed his way by two of the Roosters’ most potent attacking weapons.
Watch Out Roosters: No two ways about it, 64-6 is an embarrassment. So for that reason alone the alarm bells should be ringing at Moore Park, because no side in 2014 has bounced back in as devastating fashion as the Tigers.
After the Dragons dusted them 44-24 in the opening week, Brooks and James Tedesco cut the Titans to pieces in 40-degree heat on the Gold Coast. When the Warriors put them away 42-18 in Round 4, they turned the tables on Manly the following Sunday with one of the best displays of wet weather footy in years and a 34-18 score line that flattered the visitors. And when Manly squared up with a 40-8 flogging in Round 18, the Tigers came out and routed the Bulldogs 46-18. Fired by the second worst defeat in their 15-year history, and under the pump like nothing else, the Tigers could well fall in a heap against the premiers, or just as easily run the cleaners through them.
Plays To Watch: Death, taxes and Robbie Farah making metres out of dummy-half could well be the only three certainties left in the topsy-turvy world of rugby league these days. The Tigers rake averages a whopping 87 metres a game from acting half, matched only by South Sydney’s Issac Luke (83 metres a game)with the best in the business, Cam Smith, trailing far behind with 51.
Given the Roosters are missing their own hooking extraordinaire Jake Friend, and his replacement Heath L'Estrange has run from dummy-half just four times in four games, look for the Roosters to place a big emphasis on slowing down the ruck and their marker defence in order to nullify the clear advantage Farah gives the home side.
Where It Will Be Won: Between the ears. The Tigers simply have to find a way to put the off-field distractions and in-club feuding that has coincided with a three-game losing streak; starting with the ball boys and that bloke that sells the hot dogs out the front of Leichhardt right through to the club's skipper and CEO. For their part the Roosters have been guilty of slip-ups against clubs in crisis of late, so the head spaces both sides occupy in the lead-up to this one will go a long way to determining who walks away two points richer.
The History: Played 24; Tigers 8, Roosters 16. There's been little for the Tigers to write home about in recent times against the Roosters, particularly in their last four clashes, where the Chooks have run in an average of 43 points a game. Even their record at their suburban fortress of is not looking so healthy of late, with just one win from their last four games at Leichhardt.
What Are The Odds:
All of the money invested by Sportsbet punters has been on the Roosters ($1.28) at the line, conceding 10.5 points, and there’s also been an avalanche of support for the defending premiers to win 13+. Not even the Leichhardt Oval factor is influencing anyone to back the troubled Tigers ($3.75). Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Reynolds & Chris Butler; Touch Judges – Dan Eastwood & Dave Ryan; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Luke Patten.
Televised: Live Fox Sports – Live, 7.30pm.
How We See It: The Tigers can't get any worse than last week, and the Roosters have plenty of improving to do themselves, and with a healthier roster and more confidence to draw on, it should be the premiers coming up trumps. The Tigers will get a lift out of returning to Leichhardt, but the Tricolours look to have too much class and too much to play for. Roosters by 10.