Tigers v Roosters preview

Wests Tigers v Sydney Roosters
Leichhardt Oval
Sunday 3pm

What contrasting fortunes these two sides have endured over the past two months of the season. 

After a sluggish start to their 2012 campaign, the Tigers have roared right back into premiership contention, with their seven consecutive wins making them the hottest side in the NRL right now.

More importantly, they look to be getting better as each week goes by. After beginning their winning run with a 30-0 defeat of Penrith back in Round 7, the Tigers only narrowly held on to beat struggling Parramatta 31-30, needed a last-minute miracle to down the Gold Coast and pipped the Warriors 24-22 at Leichhardt.

But after a superb win over North Queensland three weeks ago, they have put the foot down of late with a 40-0 thrashing of Canberra and a hard-fought 10-6 win in Melbourne last start.

Key to their success has been Benji Marshall’s move to halfback with the dynamic play-maker revelling in the added responsibility, while youngster Curtis Sironen has impressed since making his NRL debut in Round 12. Unfortunately Sironen misses his opportunity to play his first game at Leichhardt Oval this week after being ruled out with a knee injury that’s required minor surgery.

The Roosters, on the other hand, are desperate to snap a four-match losing streak that has seen them slip four points out of the top eight, with coach Brian Smith even admitting in the wake of last week’s loss to Brisbane that their season is slipping away.

The Roosters have fallen from a high of fifth spot on the NRL ladder after six rounds to 12th after 14 and another loss here to the Tigers would put them under tremendous pressure to haul themselves back.

That said, they certainly haven’t had much luck of late, with a series of controversial refereeing decisions adding to their difficulties. They included a crucial Daniel Mortimer try being controversially disallowed for foul play in an 18-10 loss to Manly, a knock-on being missed in the lead-up to a Canterbury try two weeks ago and a series of bizarre calls during last week’s loss to Brisbane. 

The frustration of their plight was there for all to see at the post-match media conference last Sunday when captain Braith Anasta’s response to questions about their bad luck was to simply bang his head on the table – but as it stands it is up to the Roosters themselves to turn their season around.
It won’t be easy, but what better way to regain some lost confidence than upsetting the Tigers away from home?

The gold and blacks have lost five-eighth Sironen to injury with a replacement yet to be named, however they welcome back hooker Robbie Farah following his sensational Origin performance (record 64 tackles) while Mitchell Pearce returns for the Roosters. Roosters coach Brian Smith has named an extended six-man bench that also features hooker Anthony Mitchell and winger Justin Carney.

Tigers duo Farah and Chris Heighington are both chasing their 100th career wins this week – although they won’t want to learn that the Tigers have only ever won four Round 15 fixtures.

A Roosters victory on Sunday would be quite an achievement for the boys from Bondi given that not a single member of the squad has ever won an NRL game at Leichhardt. Coach Brian Smith, on the other hand, has won six of 15 games there and would have fond memories of his last success – a 66-12 thrashing while coaching Parramatta back in 2001. That remains the most points Wests Tigers have ever conceded and is their third biggest loss of all time. 

Watch Out Tigers: Roosters fullback Anthony Minichiello has been in scintillating form this season, averaging 147 metres per game and scoring a team-high six tries from his 13 appearances. And it is his ability to follow the football that has troubled opposition defences, with the veteran custodian having supported the ball 101 times so far in 2012. Only North Queensland’s Matt Bowen has supported more often (130).

Danger Sign: The Roosters are the only side in the competition that poses a greater threat through the middle of the field than they do on the edges. In fact, they’ve scored an NRL-high 14 tries up the middle but just 11 on their left and 12 on their right. The Tigers will need to be aware of their opponent’s strength.

Watch Out Roosters: Minichiello can expect a workout when defending close to the try line, with Wests Tigers the most prolific side in the competition when it comes to using the grubber. The Tigers have used the grubber 71 times in 2012 (well clear of second-best Penrith’s 57) and are masters at earning the repeat set. However, if anyone is equipped to handle the barrage it is the Roosters who have defused 20 of 23 grubbers this season (87 per cent) – the best percentage in the NRL.

Danger Sign: The Roosters’ marker defence will need to be on the ball this weekend because the Tigers love running the football from dummy-half. In fact, only Brisbane (311 runs) run more from dummy-half than the Tigers (303) who will welcome back hooker Robbie Farah from Origin duty. Farah has run the ball 74 times from dummy-half in 2012, however it is Beau Ryan that has been busiest – his 93 scoots placing him behind only hookers Issac Luke and Cameron Smith this season.

Benji Marshall v Mitchell Pearce: So much relies on Mitchell Pearce this weekend, with the NSW State of Origin halfback returning to bolster his side’s chances. Pearce has been hot and cold this season and would no doubt love to greatly increase his return of nine try assists and 10 line-break assists in 2012. He has also struggled with the boot, kicking for just 3118 metres at 283 per game. By comparison, this week’s opposite number Benji Marshall has kicked for 5449 metres at 419 per game as well as contributing 19 try assists and 12 line-break assists.

Where It Will Be Won: Defence through the middle will be key to both teams’ success this weekend. The Tigers are renowned for their relentless dummy-half running and hooker Robbie Farah will punish the visitors if they become lazy around the rucks. Similarly, the Tigers must hold form through the middle of the field with the Roosters certain to try to get on a roll and punch holes straight up the guts.

The History: Played 20; Roosters 12, Tigers 8. The Tigers’ win over the Roosters in their last meeting was the first time in five games they had prevailed. While the home side has won the one and only meeting between these two sides at Leichhardt Oval, the Roosters have actually won six of their past seven games at the venue dating back to 1991.

The Last Time They Met: Wests Tigers finished over the top of the Roosters to secure a 19-12 win in Round 20 last year and continue their impressive charge towards the finals. It was a fast start for the Tigers who found themselves ahead 8-0 midway through the opening half following a penalty goal to Benji Marshall and try to Beau Ryan who swooped on a perfectly placed Marshall grubber. 

But after withstanding more attacking raids, the Roosters quickly turned the tide with Braith Anasta throwing a clever pass for BJ Leilua to scored and Aiden Guerra then crashing over just a few minutes later to take a 12-8 lead into the break.

Alas, the Roosters wouldn’t trouble the scoreboard attendant again and they quickly found themselves behind once more, with Liam Fulton crossing in the 47th minute and Blake Ayshford adding another just five minutes later off a well-timed Robert Lui ball.

The Roosters had plenty of chances to level the scores, however dropped ball hurt them and Marshall ensured the Tigers took the two points in the dying minutes when he potted a field-goal to give his side a seven-point buffer.

The Roosters made 10 errors to the Tigers’ four and completed just 77 per cent of their sets – which contributed to Nate Myles being forced to make 50 tackles and Jake Friend 40.

Chris Heighington ran for 114 metres, made 23 tackles and six tackle-breaks for the Tigers.

Match Officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Gavin Badger; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & Steve Carrall; Video Referee – Bernard Sutton. 

The Way We See It: It’s hard to see the Roosters throwing enough at the Tigers to hurt them here. The gold and blacks are playing at their favourite venue, Leichhardt Oval, are in fine form with seven wins in a row and will head into this clash confident of cementing their position in the top four. 

Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports 2 – Delayed 6pm.

*Statistics: NRL Stats