Wests Tigers v Cowboys Preview

Wests Tigers v Cowboys
Leichhardt Oval
Monday 7pm

This certainly has turned into one of the modern day rivalries, and now that the Cowboys are in sudden death mode it shapes as an entertaining end to the games in Rivalry Round.

Since being combatants in the 2005 Grand Final, won by the Wests Tigers, the two teams have lifted when playing each other. Plus there is also the extra spice of Tim Sheens having coached both clubs for long periods.

If one was to glance at the NRL ladder and see the Wests Tigers flying along in third and the Cowboys languishing in 15th, they might be tempted to call this a foregone conclusion… not so.

You see, the Cowboys are now at true desperation levels, needing to win all eight of their remaining fixtures, while the Wests Tigers have played some brutal slogs of late in losing to the Dragons before getting home in close ones against the Broncos and Titans.

The home side might have the benefit of two extra days’ rest before this game, but they also have been stretched much further than the Cowboys and might be due for a slightly weaker effort. It doesn’t take much of a shift in intensity to get blown away in the NRL, so don’t write off the Cowboys yet.

For the home side, Robert Lui is due back at halfback, which allows Benji Marshall to push back to five-eighth, Chris Lawrence shifts wider to centre and Geoff Daniela goes to the wing with Mitch Brown moving to the bench.

Andrew Fifita is out of the side, with Junior Moors and veteran prop John Skandalis added to a six-man bench.

The Cowboys, who fell short against a Jarryd Hayne-inspired Eels last Monday night, are happy to have enforcer Luke O’Donnell back from his Origin II suspension. He pushes Dane Hogan from lock to the bench.
 
Ben Harris was originally left out of the same side but he will be recalled for Anthony Watts who was named before taking an early guilty plea and a week’s suspension at the judiciary.

Watch out Wests Tigers:
Former Tiger now Cowboy enforcer Luke O’Donnell returns to the side after cooling his heels from an Origin suspension. With his worth being assessed on the open market as we speak, O’Donnell is primed for a mammoth performance of destruction and chaos – measured and legal though, of course. So far this season he is averaging 115 metres a game.

Also watch out for Willie Mason, another with his future in the air and another with a barnstorming running game of late. He is up at 114 metres a game.

Furthermore watch for Johnathan Thurston to produce a few chip-and-chase kicks in this game as with just 43 per cent of chip kicks successfully defused, the home-side Tigers are the worst in the NRL.

Worrying stat: the Tigers haven’t won consecutive games at Leichhardt Oval since 2006.

Watch out Cowboys:
One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity, as Liam Fulton can attest.

With Gareth Ellis on a small injury hiatus, Fulton has returned to the starting side without skipping a beat. With some impressive pre-line passing skills and footwork, Fulton is a vital link in the Wests Tigers’ attacking arsenal, even if conventional stats don’t highlight it.

Defensively he has been a gem this season, making more than 39 tackles every week. The Cowboys have to find the balance when committing to Fulton as if they leave him be, he can break the line, but if they send numbers at him he can shift the ball both before and after contact.

Where it will be won: The little men on big men. With fatigue likely to play a major role in this match the result will come down to just how contained the likes of Wests Tigers Benji Marshall and Robert Lui, and Cowboys Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen are.

Both hookers in Aaron Payne (Cowboys) and Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers) are adept at spotting tired ruck defenders and they will direct traffic to the weakness before you can blink.

It will be a miracle if this match ends without at least four of the six above-mentioned players breaking the line, or assisting someone else through. The big props in this match are in for a torrid affair and could end the night with serious egg on their faces.

The history:
Played 22; Wests Tigers 11, Cowboys 11. Barring a draw, someone will come out ahead in the head-to-head stakes and if recent momentum is anything to go by it will be the Wests Tigers who have won six of the past eight, including a 23-16 win earlier this season.

The Tigers also hold a 3-1 advantage over the Cowboys at Leichhardt Oval.
 
Conclusion: Basically, you have to tip the Wests Tigers due to their form. But if you are in need of an upset as the scheduled rounds close out, this could be the place to find one.

The Tigers are due for a flat performance and coming up against a struggling team at home might lend itself to a little complacency.

Thurston and co. would love nothing more than to keep their slim season hopes alive – and dent their 2005 tormentors in the process.

Match officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & David Munro; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.