A closer look at the Tigers' line-upWarriors v Wests Tigers
Mt Smart Stadium
Sunday 4pm (NZ time)
This clash in Auckland represents a real opportunity for two teams, in patchy form at best, who both need victory to stay in touch with the top eight.
It’s team 11 (Warriors) against team 10 (Wests Tigers) – the kind of game you need to win to give yourself the best chance at qualifying for the finals at year’s end.
The Warriors were humbled last weekend by the Raiders, leaving them with just one win from their past eight matches. They have been very disappointing after starting the year with some promising wins over Parramatta and Manly; since then though they have been well below average and coach Ivan Cleary is hinting at major changes should the poor form continue.
Cleary has dumped winger Denan Kemp and hooker Ian Henderson for this match – but they might not be the only casualties should their performances not improve.
His side is also without captain Steve Price, who is on Origin duty, which sees Jesse Royal start and Lewis Brown join the side.
Rookies Kevin Locke (wing) and Aaron Heremaia (hooker) come in for the dumped pair with plenty of enthusiasm.
For the travelling Tigers it has now been three losses on the trot and they must face the Warriors without linchpin Robbie Farah.
While Farah was also missing last weekend in the close loss to the Broncos, coach Tim Sheens has reshuffled his line-up this time around.
John Morris has moved to hooker with Dene Halatau going to centre and Blake Ayshford playing five-eighth. Danny Galea has been added as an 18th man.
Watch out Warriors: The Wests Tigers will have noticed the defensive deficiencies of the right-fringe Warriors defenders and will focus their attack on the left fringe of the field.
Opposition teams have scored a whopping 16 tries on the left fringe against the Warriors’ right-side defence, making them the second-worst side at conceding tries in the area. Only the hapless Roosters have been worse. Considering the Tigers love going left towards their blockbusting winger Taniela Tuiaki, the Warriors could be in major trouble here if they don’t stiffen up.
Watch out Wests Tigers: The absence of Steve Price is likely to fire up young forward Russell Packer, who has been a revelation in a poor season for the Warriors.
The 19-year-old prop is 111-kilogram wrecking ball with a great motor who is making life difficult for opposition defenders, stunning them with his ability to run without fatigue even late in halves.
He is averaging an impressive 112 metres a match, has two line breaks, three line-break assists, two tries, a try assist, 21 broken tackles and eight offloads plus he is adding 23.7 tackles despite playing second fiddle to other props in the team. He’ll have a chance to take a lead role without Price.
Where it will be won: Making the most of chances. Both teams have been breaking the line regularly enough, with the Wests Tigers having notched 46 for the year and Warriors not far behind with 43. But it will be the conversion of those breaks to tries which could be the key.
The Warriors have scored 17 of their tries off the back of their line breaks, while the Tigers have 15 tries. Both sides need to covert more of their breaks to tries to ensure better performance.
The Tigers also need to convert their half-breaks into busts; they have 27 half-breaks, more than any other side in the NRL, but if they can turn those into real chances their attack could be even more potent. The Warriors have just 12 half-breaks for the year.
The History: Played 15; Warriors 8, Wests Tigers 7. The Warriors have won five of the past six against the Wests Tigers but hold just a slender 4-3 advantage in matches played at Mt Smart Stadium. The Tigers in fact won the last match at the venue, a 30-26 win in 2007.
Conclusion: The Warriors have lost their way and finding confidence to tip them is becoming more and more difficult. But they are at home against a Farah-less Tigers, so they are in with a big chance to win this game.
In saying that, the Wests Tigers were pretty good against the Broncos last weekend and that was also without Farah. Also, Benji Marshall loves playing against his Kiwi buddies and will probably have a big impact on this game.
This is potentially the toughest game of the round to tip so don’t panic too much whichever way you lean.
Match officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood & Gerard Sutton; Video Ref – Chris Ward.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.