Wests Tigers v Raiders preview

Wests Tigers v Canberra Raiders
Campbelltown Stadium
Monday 7pm (AEDT)

Tim Sheens will be thankful his side has drawn the long straw this week following their thumping at the hands of the Dragons and the two-week suspension incurred by skipper Robbie Farah – lucky for them they meet a down-on-luck Green Machine reeling from the losses of strike weapon Josh Dugan and defensive dynamo Shaun Fensom to injuries.

The starch that second-rower Gareth Ellis brings to Concord was plain to see at Kogarah last week, with Ellis a late withdrawal before the visitors defended like a poor Oz-tag team in the first 40 minutes, allowing the Dragons in for four commanding tries around the goal posts for a 24-6 halftime lead.

Although the Tigers got on the scoreboard first in the second half they were completely outclassed by the Red V – although their discipline (9-3 against on penalties) and handling (just 50 per cent completions) were also contributing factors.

The Tigers have just the one golden-point victory over the Sharks to show for their efforts in 2012, with the side anointed by many as favourites to take out the Telstra Premiership quickly losing their gloss. 

Meanwhile the Raiders will be looking to rebound from their gutsy loss to the Roosters. The side lost Dugan (shoulder) in the fifth minute and Trevor Thurling (knee) and Fensom (torn biceps) each in the 19th minute but led the tricolours 8-nil until Braith Anasta scored shortly before halftime. They battled through the second half with just one able bench player before a Daniel Mortimer try with 20 minutes to go sealed their defeat.

The positives for coach David Furner are the spirited displays from Blake Ferguson who moved to custodian to cover for Dugan, and the drive provided by prop David Shillington. That, and the fact his side meets an opponent that must be questioning their credentials given their lacklustre form.

With Farah out suspended for his spear tackle on Dragons skipper Ben Hornby, Tigers coach Tim Sheens has opted to shift Liam Fulton from second row to hooker, with Gareth Ellis back from injury to partner Adam Blair in the back row.

Meanwhile Blake Ferguson retains the No.1 for the Raiders, with Dimitri Pelo to make his debut on the right wing. Glenn Buttriss starts at hooker with Travis Waddell benched, while Joel Thompson starts in the second row and Josh Papalii shifts to lock to cover for the injured Fensom. Sam Mataora, Joe Picker and Jarrad Kennedy are the new faces on the bench.

It’s a big week for Terry Campese who plays his 100th NRL game for the Raiders, while team-mate Brett White is poised to record his 100th career win.

Watch Out Wests Tigers: Canberra captain Campese will be primed for a huge match in his 100th outing in the lime green. The five-eighth has been ticking over nicely in his three games back from a lengthy injury and clearly hasn’t lost any of his playmaking skills. Campo ranks second for try assists among five-eighths with three, one behind Benji Marshall, while he leads the line-break assists category (also three). But he needs to start running the ball more if the Raiders are to trouble the better sides. Back in 2010, before his year off the scene, Campese led all five-eighths for line-breaks (12) and made the third-most tackle busts. He’s yet to make a line-break in 2012 but we’re certain plenty are on the way… and soon. 

The onus falls on Blake Ferguson to step up his running game in Dugan’s absence. He fulfilled the brief last week, making 17 runs for 153 metres with seven tackle busts. Although he’s yet to register a victory against the Tigers in three career games he did cause them a mountain of headaches the last time the sides met at Campbelltown, crossing for three tries in just his third game for the Raiders.

Danger Sign: Although Canberra score plenty of points sending the ball through the hands attacking the left side of the field, don’t be surprised if Campese has a dig himself taking the ball at first or second receiver on the right fringe where Adam Blair defends (Tigers’ left side). The Raiders have scored three of their nine tries 10 metres to the right of the goalposts; Blair defends that area and already he’s missed 13 tackles (plus four ineffective attempts last week) – that’s the sixth most in the comp. Even if he isn’t able to make a clean break we can picture Campo getting a late offload for a try assist.  

Watch Out Raiders:
Tim Moltzen enjoys suiting up against Canberra more than any other team – he has had huge success with five wins from six matches, plus a personal tally of  five line-break assists and three line-breaks, tries and try assists. Given he has yet to open his account in any of those categories in 2012, this could be his week. 

Benji Marshall remains the Tigers’ go-to man – Benji leads all-comers for try assists with four so far. If he sends a team-mate across early he may be heading for a man-of-the-match performance.

Winger Joel Reddy will target newbie Dimitri Pelo down the left edge; the former Eel has two tries and four offloads from his first two games. He’s looking right at home in the gold and black.

Danger Sign: Beau Ryan has been in remarkable try-scoring form, adding four in his three games to rank second in the NRL behind Billy Slater and first among all wingers. Ryan is an excellent finisher, as illustrated by his dive to score following through a grubber last week, but he is also not afraid of making his own luck. He’ll test out rookie Jack Wighton, just three games into his NRL career.

Tigers props v  David Shillington: Aaron Woods and Matt Groat made just a combined 91 metres against the Dragons last week; admittedly they didn’t have a heap of possession but, with mainstay Keith Galloway still out injured, they need to lift their numbers dramatically here. Currently Woods is averaging 79 metres a game and Groat a meagre 41 metres. Meanwhile Test representative Shillington is killing it up front for the Green Machine, leading all recognised props for territory with an average 163 metres each week, plus four offloads and even a try assist. (Brett White is back to his best too, adding 106 metres a week.) Shillington will be up for a big game after debuting against the Tigers at Campbelltown back in 2009.   

Where It Will Be Won: Possession. It doesn’t matter how lethal your attack is if you only get limited chances to launch it. To date the Tigers are completing just 59 per cent of their sets – easily the worst in the league. Is it any surprise they have managed just two line-breaks per game (the fewest)? 
Meanwhile the Raiders are completing at a good 80 per cent. 

The History: Played 23; Wests Tigers 14, Raiders 9. The Wests Tigers boast an imposing record winning eight of the past 10 games – including the past seven straight. They have a 5-1 record in Campbelltown. 

The Last Time They Met: The Tigers walloped the Raiders 49-12 in the national capital in Round 8 last year – just five weeks after a 34-24 success in Campbelltown. The Tigers were on the back foot early, conceding a try to Josh Dugan with just 10 minutes gone, before scoring four tries in 27 minutes to head to the sheds up 24-6. They went on with the job in the second 40 and although Dugan crossed for a second try the visitors piled on another four tries in the closing 20 minutes to run away with the contest. The Raiders were their own worst enemy, completing their sets at just 52 per cent, although the Tigers were red-hot in making seven line-breaks. Tigers fullback Wade McKinnon was a standout, scoring two tries, running 132 metres and busting five tackles, while skipper Robbie Farah added two try assists. The Raiders were best served by Matt Orford who added two try assists in his second-last ever NRL game, while Josh Dugan was a powerhouse with nine tackle-breaks helping him to 138 metres. 

Match Officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Dan Eastwood & Nick Beashel; Video Referee – Paul Simpkins. 

The Way We See It: The Tigers are going to miss Robbie Farah – but not as much as the Raiders will miss Josh Dugan and Shaun Fensom. Canberra will need to maintain their excellent discipline with the Steeden and they also need Terry Campese to offer a breakout game if they’re to steal this one. Under the circumstances, and given the Tigers’ affinity with their Campbelltown base, it’s more likely Benji Marshall will orchestrate a much-needed victory for the home side. Wests Tigers by six points.  

Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 7pm.

Statistics: NRL Stats