Ben Blaschke, NRL.com
Wests Tigers v Sea Eagles
Campbelltown Sports Stadium
The season has just about slipped away from the Wests Tigers but if they are to launch a late miracle run for the finals, they’ll need to start in style by causing a huge upset against in-form Manly this Monday night.
It’s not exactly the scenario coach Mick Potter would have envisaged when he took over the reins at the start of the year, but then very little has gone right for the Tigers in 2013. A crippling injury toll that has followed them almost from day one has seen them fighting a never-ending uphill battle and if they were hoping for some positives to finish the year they received the exact opposite when star five-eighth Benji Marshall announced last week that he would leave the Tigers (and the NRL) at the end of the year after failing to come to terms with the club on his contract extension.
And so the Tigers find themselves with little left to give in 2013, facing an uncertain on-field future and the prospect of pretty much starting from scratch once this nightmare year finally draws to a close.
But because of their predicament, the Tigers should start looking at their remaining games as an opportunity. Reaching the finals from where they currently sit in 15th is a tall order but already captain Robbie Farah has mooted the prospect of giving their considerable crop of up-and-coming talent a taste of the NRL this year, ready for 2014.
That has certainly worked wonders for the likes of young winger Tim Simona, who played a handful of games in 2011 and 2012 and has reaped the benefits since becoming a regular fixture in the top squad this season.
And who knows? With the confidence of youth, a few wins now could see anything happen.
Still, there are few tougher prospects in the game right now than facing this Manly outfit. Having endured a tough representative period in which the absence of their best players and some key injuries saw them struggle for consistency, they have hit top form over the past three weeks – having defeated Parramatta, North Queensland and the Gold Coast for a combined score of 122-44.
It’s no surprise that they have rediscovered their best form since the return from injury of Brett Stewart. Such an important part of the side’s attacking formation, Stewart has added an extra threat with the ball in hand while defensively he has also pulled off a series of telling plays (particularly against the Cowboys).
Manly won a premiership with the core of this squad just two years ago and they will no doubt have the Rabbitohs, Roosters and Storm looking over their shoulders as they mount their finals charge.
Tigers prop Aaron Woods has been ruled out with injury, allowing Jack Buchanan to come into the starting side and Shaun Spence to join the squad on the bench.
Manly has recalled prop George Rose on the bench after he recovered from an ankle injury in place of Nick Skinner with David Gower the 18th man.
Manly will be looking to record two wins in a season over the Tigers for just the second time ever (the first was in 2007) but won’t have it all their own way against a Tigers outfit that has won 11 of their past 14 games at Campbelltown.
The Sea Eagles will be looking to make it five wins from seven Monday night games in 2013.
It's a big night for Wests Tigers skipper Robbie Farah who suits up for his 200th NRL game and also teammate Liam Fulton who plays his 150th game in Tigers colours.
Watch Out Wests Tigers: For a long time Manly’s right edge was by far their most lethal but that has all changed this season with the two sides running neck and neck when it comes to tries scored. Much of that is thanks to Jorge Taufua. The giant left winger has been near impossible to stop this season – scoring 14 tries from 17 games, ranking third in the NRL for tackle-breaks with 73 and averaging 143 metres per game.
Watch Out Sea Eagles: Tigers winger Tim Simona has produced a series of stunning plays in recent weeks and will certainly pose a threat to the Manly defence if given room to move. Last week he scored a superb solo try against the Warriors when he pushed away from Konrad Hurrell to break clear then chipped over fullback Kevin Locke and regathered to score. Three weeks earlier against Melbourne he produced two dazzling plays – the first an 85-metre solo run to score from a loose ball and the second a 60-metre run from his own in-goal to set up a try for Blake Ayshford.
Plays To Watch: Manly’s left side is difficult to defend against this season because of the range of options Kieran Foran has to work with. One standard play they use is the second-man play with Brett Stewart sweeping around the back to create the overlap for his outside men Steve Matai and Jorge Taufua. However, Foran has had great success this season in changing up this play – ignoring Stewart’s calls and hitting lead-runner Justin Horo with a short, flat ball instead.
Key Match-Up: Benji Marshall v Kieran Foran. The Kiwi Test halves face off against one another this week with both hugely important to their respective team’s success. Their styles couldn’t be more different – Marshall is all speed and silky skill while Foran is a tough, grinding player. But without them, the two sides would lose plenty of impact.
Where It Will Be Won: Defence out wide will be crucial in this one given the penchant for both teams to throw the ball around. The Sea Eagles have scored 70 tries this season with 61 of them out wide while the Tigers also love to go to the edges. The wide men will have to be awake to the threat this week.
The History: Played 18; Sea Eagles 11, Tigers 7. Manly enjoy a better record at Campbelltown than at any other away venue, with an 80 per cent winning ratio. However they haven’t played there since 1998 when they beat Wests Magpies 45-30.
Match Officials: Referees – Adam Devcich & Gavin Reynolds; Sideline Officials – Luke Potter & Brenden Wood; Video Referees – Ashley Klein & Matt Rodwell.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week, including the Wests Tigers v Sea Eagles clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
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Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live, 7pm.
The Way We See It: The Tigers will be desperate to score a win here and keep their slim finals hopes alive, however they are facing a Manly side that is in fine form and looks to be building nicely for another premiership tilt. With fullback Brett Stewart back, it will be a tough ask for the Tigers to get the win here even if it is on home soil. The Eagles simply boast too much class. Sea Eagles by 12 points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats.