Wests Tigers fans are no doubt very pleased the side is returning to Leichhardt Oval this Friday night as the team is desperate for a win after four straight disappointing losses.
For some reason the Wests Tigers’ boys lift to greater heights at the venue – and they’ll need to to arrest the worrying form slump that has them in severe danger of missing the finals for the fourth straight season.
They have now dropped to 13th place on the NRL ladder and must start winning or face oblivion.
Their performance against the Warriors last weekend, where they were shut out 14-0 by a side that had been struggling defensively, was simply not good enough – and now they come up against a Penrith side who may have lost last weekend, but who are in much better form.
The Penrith side has the wood on the Tigers, having won 75 per cent of all matches between the sides including a 42-22 win earlier this year.
The Panthers were thumped by the Dragons in Wollongong last Friday night; however it was the first time the club has had to deal with several Origin and injury casualties and they were playing at a venue they notoriously struggle at against a side leading the competition, albeit not at full strength.
The loss pushed the side down to eighth place on the ladder and the Panthers are well aware that if they are going to stay in the finals zone they need to win the games against teams below them.
Currently four competition points clear of the Tigers, the Panthers can not only keep their own chances of finals football in their favour but they can give a side trying to challenge them a significant body blow by inflicting a fifth-straight defeat.
However, a loss would bring the Tigers closer – and give the chasing pack a sniff – and turn pressure on the mountain men.
Tim Sheens has made minimal changes to the Wests Tigers’ side that lost in New Zealand. He is hoping for the return of Robbie Farah at hooker, provided the clever rake gets through Origin I unscathed, which will push John Morris back to five-eighth and Blake Asyford into the centres. Peni Tagive is out of the side due to a broken collar bone.
Rocky Trimarchi is also out, with Danny Galea returning, while Willie Mataka has been added as an 18th man.
Penrith is hoping to see Michael Jennings, Luke Lewis and Peter Civoniceva return from Origin duty and also Trent Waterhouse from injury. This means Geoff Daniela moves from centre to wing and Lachlan Coote, Tim Grant, Nathan Smith and Gavin Cooper also return to the bench; Sam McKendry misses out.
Brad Tighe has joined the side at centre, with Maurice Blair going to the bench, which at this stage has eight individuals.
Watch out Wests Tigers: The Panthers are the kings of long-range tries this season, with nine from their own side of halfway.
With speedsters like Michael Jennings in the mix the Panthers are able to spread the ball early and look to split a compressed defence. Winger Shane Elford has benefited greatly as a support player and the likes of Lachlan Coote and Jarrod Sammut are excitement machines in their own right who aren’t afraid to back themselves from anywhere on the field.
Watch out Panthers: The Wests Tigers are lethal out of dummy-half, obviously thanks mainly to New South Wales hooker Robbie Farah. The Tigers’ skipper has led his side towards nine dummy-half line breaks, the most in the NRL, and they have scored a league-leading six tries from dummy-half also.
The Panthers cannot afford to go to sleep on the Tigers’ dummy-half players or they will be in a world of pain.
Where it will be won: On the left side of the field, and in kick defence. Both teams have a heavy reliance towards the left when it comes to attack and both are also struggling to stop tries from kicks.
Both sides have scored 11 tries from kicks so far this season, to be equal third in the NRL, but it is their defence to the boot that is worrisome: Penrith have conceded 15 tries from kicks already this season to be the worst team in the competition at handling kicks, while the Tigers aren’t a whole lot better after conceding 13 tries from the boot to be ranked 13th. Expect the two teams to be quite kick-heavy in the attacking quarter.
The above will be even more prevalent if the two sides’ left-side attacks can’t bear fruit. The teams have scored 18 tries each on the left side, with the Tigers having more success on the wings (with big unit Taniela Tuiaki) and the Panthers concentrating more on the fringes (where Frank Pritchard prowls). Defensively in the same area the Wests Tigers have conceded 17 tries this year and the Panthers 19.
The side that can control the other’s strength the best will get the marbles.
The History: Played 16; Wests Tigers 4, Panthers 12. Penrith have it all over the Wests Tigers in the battle of the big cats. They have won the past three straight against the joint venture, including a 42-22 win in Round 4 this year. Their win percentage over the Tigers is 75 per cent and even at Leichhardt Oval the honours are shared 1-1.
Conclusion: The Penrith dominance against the Wests Tigers looks set to continue despite the Leichhardt phenomenon. But a lot will depend on the Penrith players backing up successfully.
For some reason the Panthers have always been able to roar against their fellow big cats – which is probably why the Tigers chose to play this match at Leichhardt – and the home side is in pretty awful form at the moment. But they are by no means out of this contest.
They should have Robbie Farah back and that will make a huge difference, as will the home fans. Lean towards the Panthers but don’t be afraid to go with the Tigers if your heart is tugging you that way.
Match officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Bernard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Chris James; Video Ref – Chris Ward.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (NSW), delayed 9.30pm (Qld); Fox Sports – Delayed – 1am Sat.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.