Wests Tigers v Broncos preview

Wests Tigers v Brisbane Broncos
Allianz Stadium
Friday 7.35pm

The Wests Tigers return to the scene of their inglorious, spluttering golden-point defeat last Sunday, desperate for a win to stir the soul of their flagging premiership campaign – but they have the battle ahead against an in-form Broncos unit that took down the Dragons in fine style last Friday night.

The Tigers’ demoralising loss to the Rabbitohs in extra time – their fourth on the trot – puts even more pressure on the one-time premiership favourites, who find themselves rooted at the bottom of the competition table alongside the inconsistent Eels and Titans.

There’s been plenty of talk from the coach and squad about the need to dig themselves out of their hole and this weekend leaves them their only immediate chance to do so at home, with three successive games on the road immediately after Easter.

As if the nature of their loss – conceding two tries in the final four minutes, then a field-goal in extra time – wasn’t hard enough to swallow, their morale suffered another almighty hit with the news tough defensive second-rower Gareth Ellis will be sidelined with a broken foot for up to three months.

But the good news is they welcome back skipper Robbie Farah and hard-edged prop Keith Galloway.

Meanwhile the Broncos are riding high after chalking up win number four against the Dragons at Brisbane HQ. The home side charged out of the gates, racking up a 24-nil lead by the halftime break, then weathered the Red V’s comeback to emerge 28-20 victors.

The win leaves them in third place on the ladder, just four differential points adrift of the Bulldogs. They have home games against the Raiders and Titans over the next fortnight; a clean sweep over the next three weeks (arguably a better-than-even-money proposition) may even see them challenging the Storm at the top of the ladder approaching the representative period.

Farah’s return couldn’t be more timely; it allows Tim Sheens to shift his replacement Liam Fulton back to the second row to cover for Ellis absence. Up front, Matthew Bell hits the interchange, with Galloway to start. The Tigers’ only other change sees Blake Ayshford slot in at centre for the injured Joel Reddy (hip).

Meanwhile, workhorse Corey Parker has been given a surgeon’s clearance to return from his thumb ligaments injury; he bumps Scott Anderson off the interchange.

Watch Out Wests Tigers: Just don’t mention the ‘s’ word – the Tigers’ confidence defending their goal-line, particularly at marker, is shot to bits at the moment. Incredibly, through five games they’ve conceded five tries to raids from dummy-half. Issac Luke schemed his way over twice last week – and worryingly Broncos’ hooker Andrew McCullough had success from dummy-half too against the Dragons. Of course, they’ll be expecting the Broncos to rush at them from close to the try-line – but this focus could just leave them vulnerable should the visitors shift the ball quickly to the edges.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – the Tigers’ woes stem from the inability of their forwards to lay sufficient foundation for their backs to unleash their brilliance. The Tigers are making the fewest metres each week (just 1107) – until their pack steps up and dominates games they’ll continue to find it tough to exit with a win.

Incredibly, the Tigers are the only side in the comp that doesn’t have a forward averaging triple figures in metres gained. Their best is Keith Galloway’s 98 metres in his only game to date, followed by Aaron Woods, with 92; thereafter it drops away to Chris Heighington with just 81 metres.

The Broncos make the third-most metres each week (1382). Prop Ben Hannant made 161 alone against St George Illawarra last week! If the visitors maintain their standard it will take a huge effort from the Tigers to stay in the contest, let alone threaten victory.

Danger Sign: The Broncos will have done their homework and noticed the Tigers are most vulnerable down their left fringe, where Andrew Everingham scored against them last round. Consequently expect halfback Peter Wallace to pop plenty of short balls to runners including Matt Gillett at close range.

Watch Out Broncos: Skipper Robbie Farah is back from his two-week suspension – and he’s not happy. The subject of a media storm a fortnight ago, Farah has had to suck it up on the sidelines as his team continued their defensive rot. He knows he’s the man that needs to take hold of the troops and guide them back to form, so expect huge involvement from the No.9.

Farah has yet to open his try assists account in 2012 – but he did lead all hookers in the category last season with 19. He’ll be in the thick of the Tigers’ scheming – and he’ll target the Broncos’ left-edge defence, given they’ve conceded nine tries there (two last week) compared to six on their right side.

A Benji Marshall quick shift to the left could also prove profitable – he set up Tim Moltzen in this manner to open their scoring against the Rabbitohs (the Dragons had success there against the Broncos last week too). Marshall also delivered the final pass for Lote Tuqiri to score in the left corner.

Danger Sign: In our preview last week we said: “If Benji looks sprightly, shows the ball and displays a goose step in the first 15 minutes, you’ll know he’s switched on.” Well, he did, he did… and he was.  Look for the same body language on Friday.

Adam Blair v Sam Thaiday: Blair joined the Tigers with the reputation as a strong runner, creative ballplayer and hard-hitting defender but with just 65 metres a game, one line-break, three tackle-breaks, no line-break assists and a whopping 4.5 missed tackles a match, fans are wondering what all the fuss was about. It’s time he made a statement. He’ll have a tough time though, up against one of the game’s passionate workhorses. Broncos skipper Thaiday is averaging 90 metres and 35 tackles, with two try assists and two line-break assists already banked.

Where It Will Be Won: Staying in the game the whole 80 minutes – that includes a commitment in defence, and strong discipline in not conceding silly penalties. The Tigers have conceded the most penalties (39), while the Broncos’ 25 defensive penalties conceded are the fifth fewest.    

The History: Played 19; Broncos 14, Wests Tigers 4, drawn 1. The Broncos have won five of the past eight clashes. The ledger at Allianz Stadium stands at one game all – although Brisbane have won eight of their past 10 games there. The Tigers haven’t lost five in a row since 2009.

The Last Time They Met: The Broncos beat the Tigers 31-18 at Allianz Stadium in Round 7 last year.

The home side rocketed to an 18-nil lead after 27 minutes through tries to Jharal Yow Yeh, Alex Glenn and Sam Thaiday before Tim Moltzen bagged the first of his two tries of the evening. Peter Wallace added to the Broncos tally in the 35th minute, scooping up the loose ball after Beau Ryan lost possession on his try line in a crunching Alex Glenn tackle, then Darren Lockyer picked off a field-goal on the stroke of halftime for a 25-6 lead.

The Tigers struck back with tries to Robert Lui and Moltzen before Darren Lockyer crossed from a scrum down the right edge for the final scoreline.

Prop Keith Galloway clawed out 153 metres for the home side while Broncos Jack Reed, Justin Hodges and Yow Yeh made 22 tackle busts between them.

Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Steve Lyons; Sideline Officials – Ricky MacFarlane & Russell Turner; Video Referee – Sean Hampstead.

The Way We See It: It’s impossible to get excited about the Tigers at the moment. We know they’ll come roaring back at some stage – possibly even this week. But on exposed form they’re playing too poorly, and the Broncos too well, for us to tip against the visitors. Broncos by eight points.  

Televised: Channel 9 – Live 7.30pm (NSW & Qld); Fox Sports 2 – delayed 12am Saturday.

•    Statistics: NRL Stats