Wests Tigers v Warriors
You can smell the aromas of suburban football whenever you go near Leichhardt Oval. And it brings a smile every time. There is something about 'boutique' stadiums that gives us all a warm, fuzzy feeling and helps us look past the accompanying inconveniences, including parking dramas.
You get to be right on top of the action and you can feel the history of the game oozing from every patch of grass or piece of cement – rugby league grew up here.
This match pits two first-round losers against one another and while it is obviously way too early to write off teams this year, no-one wants to start the season with back-to-back losses.
As such, both the Wests Tigers and the Warriors will be fired up to get the job done.
The Tigers fell 24-14 to the Bulldogs on Monday night, a result which has them a lowly 12th after one round. They have made a few minor adjustments to their team, with Bryce Gibbs returning at prop (sending Andrew Fifita to the bench), while Liam Fulton is out, replaced by Simon Dwyer in the second row.
The Warriors staged a fightback against Parramatta but still fell 24-18 at Eden Park last weekend, leaving them 10th. Krisnan Inu makes a belated Warriors debut replacing 'The Beast' Manu Vatuvei who will watch on from the sidelines for perhaps the next two months.
Isaac John gets another chance to impress in the top grade at five-eighth after James Maloney accepted a one-match ban for his off-the-ball bomb-chase challenge on Jarryd Hayne last week, while Sam Rapira has once again been named to start at prop, pushing Jacob Lillyman to the bench for his 100th first grade game.
Feleti Mateo has been named to start in the second row, which will see Lewis Brown start from the bench. Jeremy Latimore has been added to the extended bench.
Watch Out Wests Tigers: With James Maloney out of the side even more responsibility will fall on fullback Lance Hohaia to be part of the playmaking duties. In last week's loss to the Eels Hohaia showed glimpses of class, which resulted in three line-break assists and two try assists. You can be sure he'll be looking to get his hands on the ball often to take some pressure off Brett Seymour and new pivot Isaac John.
Danger Sign: When Hohaia come in as a dominant second receiver you can tell he means business and the Warriors will get some thrust.
Watch Out Warriors: The Wests Tigers did the simple metre-eating things much better than the Warriors in the opening round, despite both teams leaving their games without the competition points. Tim Sheens' men gained 1325 metres across the ground and 602 metres from the boot while the Warriors had just 1054 metres running and 508 metres kicking. This is a 365-metre overall difference and if this eventuates here the Warriors will be pushing the proverbial uphill – with a toothpick.
Five Wests Tigers players cracked the 100-metre barrier (Lote Tuqiri, Blake Ayshford, Gareth Ellis, Chris Lawrence and Wade McKinnon) compared to the Warriors' one (Jerome Ropati). With better field position comes greater chances to score, so the Warriors need to lift their game.
Danger Sign: Keep an eye on the Warriors' defenders – if they are moving up quickly off the line they are ready to combat the Tigers; if not, and the home side is rolling forward with ease, well it could be a long night.
Plays To Watch: Benji's twinkle toes and early kicks; Tuqiri's scorching left-side sprints; bombs heading inexperienced Warriors winger Fisiiahi's way (he dropped a clanger last week); Fisiiahi's blinding pace and dummy-half runs (he's keeping Kevin Locke out of the side, for goodness' sake); Gareth Ellis pounding the left edge; Mateo's offloads.
Where It Will Be Won: Execution. In reality both teams completed well enough in the opening week to win a game of football but the problem lied in simple errors and an inability to capitalise on all of their chances.
In the Warriors' case, one try eventuated from a spilt bomb when there was no impending pressure (granted, it was a Jarryd Hayne spiral bomb and they are damn hard to field cleanly). For the Wests Tigers, a simple try was conceded when Josh Morris ran over Liam Fulton and ran the length of the field to score.
In the end both lost close games, which magnifies the importance of these plays. More importantly when the sides have good field position they need to throw more questions at the defence. The Warriors are now without Vatuvei and one of their halves, which makes life difficult. Feleti Mateo will need to have an influence.
The Tigers have some of the best reactionary and off-the-cuff attackers in the business, so they should be able to take it up a notch or two.
The History: Played 17; Wests Tigers 8, Warriors 9. The Warriors have won six of the past eight between the two clubs but it was the Wests Tigers who won the only encounter last season when they punished the Warriors 50-6. There have been two matches played at Leichhardt Oval with the teams sharing a win each. Worryingly, the Wests Tigers have won only one Round 2 match since 2002 (in 2007).
Conclusion: Despite a loss to the Bulldogs in the opening round and a poor record against the Warriors in recent times, the Wests Tigers really should get the job done against a weakened Warriors unit. Granted, there are still some off-field distractions for the team, but the Leichhardt love affair should help get them over the line.
Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Gavin Morris; Video Ref – Chris Ward.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm (viewer's choice).
* Statistics: NRL Stats.