Wests Tigers v Roosters Preview

Wests Tigers v Roosters
Sydney Football Stadium
Saturday 6.30pm

With newly crowned Dally M Medal winner Todd Carney up against the ‘king of flair’ Benji Marshall, expect this second qualifying final pitting Team Three versus Team Six, to explode into points.

It’s a particularly vital game for the Roosters, who with a loss would be exposed to the finals axe should either the Raiders or Sea Eagles manage upset wins against the Panthers and Dragons respectively.  
 
Clearly, intensity will not be an issue.

The Tigers hit the field after a three-point loss to the Titans on the Gold Coast, their first defeat in a month of football. The frustration of that defeat was evident after the siren, when normally tame Tiger Benji Marshall lashed out with a flurry of punches after being shunted into touch. Most unlike him.

But their stocks rise with the return of a trio of key players from injury – fullback Wade McKinnon, second-rower Liam Fulton and bench forward Bryce Gibbs, as well as backline utility Geoff Daniela who joins the bench.

The Roosters struggled to overcome the lowly Cowboys in the heat in Townsville last week, and only scraped through courtesy of a try double to Shaun Kenny-Dowall. But they were a little disjointed, missing the impact of fullback Anthony Minichiello who returns from injury here. This sees Sam Perrett slot back to the wing, with Kane Linnett shifting one man in to join Kenny-Dowall at centre, shunting Joseph Leilua.

Also, the Roosters missed the structured play of late withdrawal Jake Friend, who has been named to start this week although James Aubusson has been listed as part of a seven-man bench that also includes hard man Mose Masoe.

The Roosters will be battling a bogey this year – no team has won the premiership from outside the top four. As for this week, teams with the home ground advantage (like the Tigers) have a 64 per cent success rate in Week One.

Of some concern must be that the tri-colours have lost their past four finals matches at night.

But balancing all of that, they have knocked over the Tigers twice already this year – they get their chance to become the first NRL team ever to achieve a hat-trick over the Tigers in the same year – plus they hold a 5-3 advantage over the Tigers in games played at the SFS.

Watch out Wests Tigers:
The key is to shut down halfback Mitchell Pearce, five-eighth Todd Carney and centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall.

The Roosters’ halves pairing have a wonderful understanding and have been responsible for setting up or scoring 49 of the Roosters’ 98 tries for the season. Add Kenny-Dowall’s 20 tries (many of them solo efforts) and sole try assist and it tallies 71 per cent of their strike-power right there!

Pearce has seven tries, 14 try assists, eight line-breaks and 15 line-break assists, while Carney has 15 tries, 13 try assists, 17 line-breaks and 17 line-break assists.

Tigers centres Blake Ayshford and Mitch Brown’s task won’t be to stop Shaun Kenny-Dowall as much as just limit his impact. The blockbusting Kiwi has scored 12 tries in his past seven games, through speed, power and skill. He ranks third for line-breaks (19) and has a deadly one-handed offload (35 for the year).  It would be a huge surprise if he wasn’t responsible for points in this game. And if he’s not, then chances are the Tigers win.

Watch out Roosters: Robbie Farah will put the disappointment of narrowly losing the Dally M Medal to Carney behind him and pull out a big one. He likes nothing better than targeting tired forwards around the ruck and should they get on a roll at dummy-half, watch for Farah to break loose.

He has 135 dummy-half runs for the year (fourth in the NRL) for seven ruck line-breaks (third most). He showed how devastating he can be when engineering a soft long-range try for Lote Tuqiri last week.

Farah is also superb at setting up plays close to the opposition line, as his 25 try assists (second in NRL) show. Whether it’s a dab through the line, a cross-field kick or a wonderful selective pass that puts an edge runner through a hole, Farah has the right play for the right moment.

The Roosters need to watch Farah’s combination with back-rowers Liam Fulton and Gareth Ellis, who love to run inside angles from close range – Farah and Ellis combined this way last week for a four-pointer.

Discipline could hurt the Roosters – they have conceded 145 penalties in defence, the most by any side. By comparison the Tigers are well behaved, giving away 120 (sixth fewest).

Where it will be won: The team that is allowed to play to their strengths will win. For the Tigers, that means the likes of Farah and Marshall sucking the Roosters’ defence in with dummies (they’ve exploited this ploy the most in the comp) and continuing their excellent rate of line-break assists (79 for the year, third in the comp) and try assists (85, ranked second).

The Tigers will also rely on hurting their opponents from long range – they have made the most line-breaks on kick returns (nine) and scored the most tries from 51-plus metres (21).

The Roosters are proving the exception to the rule for offloads amongst the leading NRL teams in 2010. Their 313 offloads rank them fourth in the comp – but they’re the leading exponent in the top eight, with only the lowly Sharks and Eels plus seventh-placed Raiders promoting more second-phase play. Meanwhile, the Wests Tigers’ 240 offloads are the fewest by any team in 2010.

What can we make of this? The Tigers use guile more than anything else to get in to open space. And it’s mostly due to Farah and Benji Marshall.

Marshall has nine line-breaks, 20 line-break assists (all by passes, ranking second in the comp), 12 tries and 21 try assists.

A fortnight ago against the Storm he scored three tries and broke the line once. But he was unable to make an impact against the Titans last week, with no line-breaks, try assists, or line-break assists. It’s unlikely he’ll allow an opposition to keep him quiet two games in a row.

The history:
Played 17; Roosters 10, Wests Tigers 7. The honours are shared four games apiece over the past eight clashes, although the Roosters won both games played in 2010 to date.

Conclusion: This is too hard to pick, but we’re prepared to say it will have a combined points total of more than 40. (The Tigers average more points at the SFS, 21.9, than their other home venues.)

We doubt it will be close though – history shows that only six of the past 36 finals matches have been decided by less than 10 points.

It could boil down to which side is hungrier – with the Tigers likely to get a second bite at the premiership even if they lose, and the Roosters a chance of bowing out with a loss, that could be enough to see the Roosters wrestle this contest.

Regardless, it will be the most entertaining game of the weekend.

Match officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Steve Chiddy; Video Ref – Steve Clark.

Televised: Channel Nine – Live 6.30pm.