Sydney Football Stadium
Comedy radio duo Roy and HG declare Monday night football to be the game of the week every round; and this week they would be 100 per cent correct.
The Wests Tigers taking on Manly promises to be an absolute cracker, so look forward to the end of work on Monday and get out to the game.
Wests Tigers come into the clash off the back of three straight wins, but it can’t stop at that for them. To stay in the race for the top eight they must knock off the defending premiers.
For the majority of the year the Tigers have played without consistency, but the past three weeks they have tightened up their defence and have played with greater discipline.
While Manly look to have pretty much sewn up a top-eight position, they now have a top-four finish on their minds. They have some work to do, with the Titans and Storm looking well entrenched; however as Des Hasler says: “The key is to keep winning.”
Hasler will be excited by the fact he will field arguably his strongest 17 for the year this week. He’s named Jamie Lyon at five eighth – the position where he led Manly to a grand final win last year. Steve Matai is back in the centres and Chris Bailey provides some nice utility value coming off the bench.
The good thing for the Sea Eagles, of course, is that Brett Stewart is due back in a couple of weeks. If his team-mates can keep the momentum going until then, his side can expect to peak at just the right time of year.
Watch out Wests Tigers: Jamie Lyon back in the no.6 jersey spells trouble for Tim Sheens. The NSW representative’s form at five-eighth at the back end of last year was the best football he’s played since coming back to Australia at the end of 2007.
Lyon is the most dangerous attacking player in the Manly side at the moment and the more times he gets the ball in his hands the better. He has five try assists and eight tries to his name playing in the centres, and his average should only increase with the move to pivot.
The Sea Eagles haven’t lost anything out wide with him moving in closer. Mid-season recruit Ben Farrar (four tries) has held his own and, particularly in attack, he looks dangerous.
Watch out Sea Eagles: The Wests Tigers trail only competition leaders the Bulldogs and St George Illawarra for most line breaks as a team. And with 53 clean breaks they have made more genuine busts than any other outfit in the NRL.
With the likes of Benji Marshall (seven line breaks) and Chris Lawrence (nine line breaks) on the edges, Robbie Farah (seven line breaks, most of any hooker), Tim Moltzen (five line breaks) and Shannon Gallant around the middle and Taniela Tuiaki out wide, the Tigers have strike-power right across the park.
Tuiaki leads the entire league for line breaks, with 20 made this year by the man they call ‘TNT’. Watch for the Tigers to work for good field position and give it Tuiaki one-on-one with his winger. You can almost guarantee him a genuine chance of a try every time.
Where it will be won: The Sea Eagles have shown in recent weeks a weakness in giving up early leads. They trailed the Sharks and found themselves 14-0 down against the Knights last week after only a matter of minutes.
Although on both occasions Manly proved good enough to come back, it’s obvious that if the Tigers start well, they can set a great platform. The hard part then will be holding on to that lead – something Wests Tigers have struggled to achieve this year. However, last week against Canberra, the orange, black and whites didn’t take the foot off the pedal all the match and only conceded one late try.
Stats show the Tigers are more than capable of making line breaks, and Benji Marshall is still third of all halves in the game in try assists with 19. Also, Robbie Farah has made 15, making him the most dangerous attacking no.9 in the NRL.
However, to utilise their offensive strength, the quick men need some room to move.
With Keith Galloway still out injured for the Tigers a lot of pressure has fallen on remaining props Todd Payten, John Skandalis and Bryce Gibbs. Skandalis averages a respectable 122 metres per match, and last week Payten put in a giant 145-metre performance against the Raiders.
The Wests Tigers need more of this, as they are going up against arguably the best front-row rotation in rugby league. Jason King (87 metres), Josh Perry (79 metres), Brent Kite (108 metres) and George Rose (91 metres) are far from the biggest metre-eaters in the competition – but as a foursome, they are awesome.
If these Sea Eagles big boys continue to roll forward, the likes of Anthony Watmough (127 metres and 10 line breaks) and Glenn Stewart (84 metres) at the back of the scrum will make life very difficult for the Tigers.
The History: Played 12; Wests Tigers 4, Sea Eagles 8. The visitors have defeated the Wests Tigers in their past five meetings.
Conclusion: With both sides possessing some serious attacking weapons this game promises to be highly entertaining. If Tim Sheens’ men can hold up their end of the bargain in defence, they will be more than competitive.
The best thing about this match for Wests Tigers’ fans is that at the end of 80 minutes they will know whether the side deserves to be a top-eight team. If they win it, well, remember what happened in 2005?
Match Officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Gavin Reynolds; Video Ref – Paul Simpkins.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.