What a great way to round out the weekend and lead us into the selection of the Australian, City and Country Origin teams.
The resurgent and in-form Bulldogs taking on the entertaining Wests Tigers on a Sunday afternoon in Sydney, a match that could conceivably draw almost 30,000 fans… it certainly deserves at least that many.
And thanks to a rare not guilty verdict at the judiciary, the much-anticipated clash between New South Wales hopefuls Michael Ennis and Robbie Farah is on.
The Bulldogs continue winning – they have now won the past four straight – and sit in second place on the NRL ladder.
But thanks partially to the two points deducted from the ’Dogs, the seventh-placed Wests Tigers are just one win behind them.
For the Bulldogs, Gary Warburton has been named to start with Greg Eastwood reverting back the bench.
The Tigers welcome back Chris Heighington to their line-up, which pushes Danny Galea to the bench and sees Daine Laurie miss out. Rhys Hanbury is also out of the side, with Shannon Gallant replacing him on the bench.
Watch out Bulldogs: Robbie Farah is on a mission to prove once and for all he should be the man to replace Danny Buderus in the sky blue no.9 jersey. Farah is a scheming, elusive dummy-half with the ability to crack a game with his pure skill and he’ll be primed to have a major influence here.
The impressive part of Farah’s game is he picks and chooses his moments to run wisely, so invariably he gets results. In a recent game against Penrith he cracked the Panthers twice in quick time to set up tries and turn the match on its head. They may have still fallen that day at the death but without Farah they would’ve had no chance.
Then just a few weeks ago he totally outplayed Queensland no.9 Cameron Smith as the Tigers out-muscled the Storm. Farah has an elusive turn of speed and the Bulldogs need to watch him at all times. Look for the clever rake to set up several ruck plays, one of which is as simple as skipping out from dummy-half and hitting a wider forward with a face ball, who then in turn throws an inside pass to someone like Tim Moltzen who can burst through the middle as the defenders over-commit to the forward. Farah will then, as always be in support.
So far this season Farah is averaging 89 metres gained – impressive for a no.9 – is kicking an average of 219 metres, has four line breaks from dummy-half, has manufactured four line-break assists and seven try assists and has also scored twice himself. He also has 10 offloads and 25 tackle-breaks to his name.
Watch out Wests Tigers: Michael Ennis has other ideas when it comes to who should be wearing the New South Wales hooker jersey and, competitive little bugger that he is, he’ll hold nothing back in this match.
Ennis is tenacious and he’s a niggler… think Benny Elias. He taunts and grates players and then has the game to back it up, something that can seriously get under the skin of some. His interplay with the Bulldogs’ forwards this season has been brilliant and a major factor in their success.
Look for the former Knight, Dragon and Bronco to be directing much of the home side’s attack. Close to the line Ennis will skip out from dummy-half and have several options to choose from, making it hard for the defence to commit. He’ll have some flat-running forwards, his halfback out the back or the ability to run himself. One thing is certain: if the Tigers hold off him, he’ll make some right choices and they’ll be punished.
Ennis is averaging 56 metres gained a match, is kicking for 257 metres, has two line breaks, six line-break assists, eight try assists and one try plus 16 broken tackles and six offloads.
Where it will be won: Whichever side contains their opposition’s hooker the best will go a long way to clinching victory. But goal line defence will also be crucial in this match.
Both sides have been pretty awful at defending their line so far this season and as such it shapes as the factor that could decide this game. The Tigers have conceded 12 tries this year from 0-10 metres – while the Bulldogs have been worse, allowing 13 tries from close range.
On the flipside the Bulldogs have scored 13 tries from the same distance while the Tigers have crossed nine times from close range.
Farah and Ennis will come into their own at close range, even more reason to really muscle-up against them.
The History: Played 16; Bulldogs 9, Wests Tigers 7. These two sides are fairly evenly matched over time, with the Bulldogs managing just two wins more. The past eight clashes have been split four apiece, all played at this venue, although the Wests Tigers did win the most recent clash by a record-equalling 56-4.
Conclusion: The fact Michael Ennis has been cleared has swung this match back into the Bulldogs’ favour. He is the linchpin of their attack and without him the Bulldogs may have struggled.
But with him they have no reason to be anything but confident of continuing their winning ways against a Wests Tigers outfit who are still trying to get their defence right.
In fact, this game pits the NRL’s current best attack (Bulldogs) against the worst defence (Tigers) so you’d be brave to go against the ’Dogs. However, the Tigers have the skill to blow apart any side in the competition and with rep jerseys on the line there would be no better time to produce a big display.
Match officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Gerard Sutton; Video Ref – Paul Simpkins.
Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.