Sydney Football Stadium
Most would not have expected both of these teams to enter this contest with winning form but it is indeed how this match shapes up – and consequently we can expect a rip-roaring, ‘old school’ Sunday afternoon bell-ringer.
The Roosters drove up the F3 last weekend and took care of the Knights to give themselves a real chance of offloading the wooden spoon. They are acutely aware it will take at least another victory to maybe do so and with matches against top-eight sides Manly, the Bulldogs, Melbourne and North Queensland to come, this shapes as their best opportunity.
The stakes are much higher for the Wests Tigers who stretched their winning run to four games by disposing of the Sea Eagles last Monday night.
The joint-venture unit has pushed up into ninth place on the NRL ladder, just a win behind the eighth-placed Knights, but they must keep winning to have a hope of pushing up and into the finals zone.
Quite simply, with matches against the Roosters here and then the Sharks, the Tigers have to be eyeing off six in a row, something they’ll need to do to be a finals factor.
They then finish with matches against the Eels, Titans and Bulldogs.
It is possible they could make the semis with three wins from the last five, probable they’d make it with four of five, and almost certain with five from five.
It’s no shock to learn coach Tim Sheens has kept the same 17-man squad who beat the Sea Eagles, adding just Dean Collis as an 18th man.
For the Roosters, coach Brad Fittler has pulled a selection shock by naming Anthony Minichiello at five-eighth after he missed last week’s match through injury.
Ben Jones has been pushed to the bench to make way for Minichiello to play in a position he has not yet seen at the elite level.
Watch out Roosters: The attacking tag team of Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah is back in full swing and they might just go on a ‘mini’ rampage… pun intended. With Anthony Minichiello set to be defending in the front line you can bet Farah and Marshall will look to go straight at the former Golden Boot winner.
Marshall has a whopping 19 line-break assists this season, Farah has 15 and when it comes to try assists they are both also right up amongst the best. Marshall has 19 for the year, Farah 17.
But these two aren’t the only weapons in the Tigers’ arsenal… winger Taniela Tuiaki has been the winger of the season by far with his constant busts and tries. He is now averaging 129 metres a match, has 17 tries in 19 games and 21 line breaks to go with 102 tackle breaks.
Watch out Wests Tigers: Big Willie Mason was back to his running best against the Knights last weekend and just might be enjoying his football again. Mason is still a big kid at heart and is by nature a ‘button pusher’, or someone who likes to do things because they annoy others.
Consequently he’d love nothing more than to ruin the Wests Tigers’ momentum towards the finals with a big performance. Mason ran for 136 metres last week and scored a try, which was a boost to his averages. He now is making 96 metres a game but has the ability to push it into triple figures with another big performance.
Watch the big man closely… if he gets involved heavily early you can tell he is primed for a big one. If he stays out of the way, it won’t be his night.
Where it will be won: Tries from kicks. These two sides have massive reliance on, and an inability to stop, tries from kicks which makes this the crucial aspect of this game.
It is likely to be a bit of a shoot-out, assuming the Roosters can stay focussed in defence, and as such the boot will come into play often.
The Wests Tigers have scored 17 tries from kicks this year, which is second in the NRL, and while the Roosters have just 12 it is still a move they look to often. They should look harder than usual this week as the Wests Tigers have conceded 17 tries to the boot, which makes them fourth worst in the NRL. But they can also expect to be bombarded considering the 22 tries they have leaked to kicks makes them the worst in the league.
When a kick goes up or through the line both teams need to put more effort into getting back and helping out instead of expecting miracles from team-mates isolated at the back.
The History: Played 14; Roosters 8, Wests Tigers 6. The Wests Tigers punished the Roosters at this venue earlier this season to the tune of 40-24, their biggest ever win over the tri-colours. But the past eight games are split four apiece. There have been six games between the two sides played at the SFS, with the Roosters winning four and the Tigers two.
Conclusion: The run of four wins should be extended to five for the Wests Tigers, given the importance of this game. There are plenty of holes in the Roosters’ defence to exploit and with so much to play for there are simply no excuses.
But the past three seasons have thrown up some awful late-season games by the joint venture, particularly in games they should have won, so don’t get over-confident in their ability to get the job done. Tip them by all means… but sweat on it like the rest of us!
Match officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & Mohamad Fajajo; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.