Wests Tigers' run through the finals
With finals footy just a few sleeps away, we've taken out the form guide and analysed the big factors contributing to the Tigers' quest for September success.
Which players need to fire? Who is your finals X-factor? What is the team's big issue and who should you look forward to playing?
The Tigers are well and truly in the mix for premiership success in 2011, riding high on the back of an astonishing seven-match winning streak. While the side was inconsistent during the middle part of the season with losses to the Rabbitohs, Storm, Bulldogs and Eels, they’ve since turned it around and are now in the box seat to host a final in week one.
Best possible position: 4th
Worst possible position: 7th
Who you want to play (Bunnies): Newcastle Knights – The Tigers have a good record over the Knights, with Newcastle not recording a victory over the joint venture club since Round 25, 2007. The Knights have limped towards the finals, with injuries hurting their chances of a tilt at the title. Newcastle would be a great first-up game for the Tigers.
Who you want to avoid (Bogeys): Brisbane Broncos – The Tigers will want to avoid the Broncos at all costs. The two sides have lined up on 19 occasions, with Brisbane winning 14 times.
While the Tigers did score a 16-14 win in Brisbane in 2010, history shows they would have a tough time if they were to face a Broncos side determined to send Darren Lockyer out a winner.
Finals X Factor: Chris Lawrence has had a bad run with injury in 2011. After dislocating his hip in Round 3, the damaging centre worked his way back into the side in round 18. However injury struck again in round 22, this time a hamstring strain.
Currently scheduled to return in the first week of the finals, Lawrence would settle the Tigers’ backline and allow Matt Utai to move back to the wing. He could certainly be the X Factor the Tigers require to get them over the line in September.
The Big Issue: The Tigers have won seven in a row - but can they keep winning?
Some subscribe to the theory that a loss is necessary in order to go onto further success. Others feel a large winning streak creates an unstoppable force. It will be hard to maintain such a high standard of play to keep the streak alive, but if any side can do it, it is the Tigers.
Injured brigade: Chris Lawrence (hamstring, finals week one), Geoff Daniela (torn pectoral, season), Simon Dwyer (shoulder/neck, 2013 season)
Potential path to the grand final: The Tigers have a home final beckoning if they can beat the Sharks in round 26, leaving the Dragons as their likely opponents in week one. A win there will see them play the Warriors in week two, before a preliminary final match up with the Storm and a grand final against either Manly or the Broncos.
Should they begin the finals with a loss then they face the unlikely chance of being bundled out of the competition, but more likely is a semi-final against the Broncos before facing Manly in the preliminary final, which could lead to a grand final against the Storm or Dragons.
See how you think the finals will pan out with the NRL Ladder Predictor.