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Wests Tigers v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
Allianz Stadium
Friday 7.45pm

A lethargic two-game slump threatens to undo all the good work of the Tigers’ previous seven weeks of toil, with another defeat on Friday leaving Tim Sheens’ grip on the top eight at the mercy of other results.

It’s been a horror few weeks for the Tigers and their personnel, who have had to put on brave faces and battle through the sudden passing of captain Robbie Farah’s mother. No-one is offering the personal tragedy as an excuse but clearly all at the club have been hit hard, and it has shown on the paddock. Their 42-28 hammering at the hands of the Roosters in Round 15 was written off as an understandable glitch – but few expected them to self-destruct against the Knights the following week after racing to a 14-point lead just a quarter of the way through the encounter before succumbing 38-20.

Clearly their mindset isn’t right, and it’s affecting their defence: in those two games alone the Wests Tigers missed exactly 100 tackles – prior to that they were missing just 33 tackles per game.

Their second bye last week could not have come at a more opportune time, with coach Sheens keen for them to try to relax and shake the cobwebs from their heads.

Meanwhile the Bulldogs are basking in the glow of a five-game winning streak that has shot them to second on the ladder, with Melbourne their latest scalp following a comprehensive 20-4 victory in Mackay in Round 17 before their second bye last weekend.

Should they win it will be the first time in six years they’ve managed six wins on the trot. Also, they’re looking to post their sixth successive score of 20 or more points for the first time since 2007.

Losing Robbie Farah to concussion is a huge blow; with the captain sidelined coach Tim Sheens will start either  Masada Iosefa or Tom Humble in the No.9.  It’s a double-whammy for the home side, who have also lost fullback Tim Moltzen with a hamstring strain. However, the Tigers are bolstered by the return of Curtis Sironen and Liam Fulton from injury. In a reshuffle, Beau Ryan shifts from centre to fullback, with Blake Ayshford shifting from five-eighth to centre and Sironen resuming in the No.6. Matt Bell moves to the bench for Liam Fulton.

Meanwhile Des Hasler hasn’t wasted any time calling on Sam perrett to suit up in the blue and white, with the former Roosters bumping Luke MacDougall from the starting 13. Their only other team change sees Greg Eastwood return at lock, with David Stagg hitting the pine.  

Watch Out Wests Tigers: Krisnan Inu has grabbed a new lease on his football life since switching from the Warriors at the end of Round 11. The winger/centre has crossed for six tries in just four games, is adding 101 metres a match and has booted 12 goals. His error count is still high (more than one a game) but he’s playing with unabashed confidence and is prepared to back his instincts. The Tigers will need to support each other combatting Inu’s tremendous vertical leap when the ’Dogs go to the air on the right edge.

Another new recruit, Sam Perrett, will be hoping to get across the stripe after lean pickings at former club the Roosters in 2012. Perrett has managed just three tries in 15 games to date. Although he is yet to score against the Tigers in nine previous games, he’ll be encouraged jogging onto Allianz Stadium where he has bagged 24 of his 45 career tries.

Michael Ennis will still be pumped for a huge game despite Farah’s withdrawal; the passionate Bulldog had a blinder against Maroons hooker Cameron Smith in Mackay last match (125 receives, 52 tackles) and won’t hold back against whoever fills in.

Danger Sign: We’re not sure there’s been a more dangerous team in NRL’s history than the Bulldogs when it comes to scoring tries from long range. The blue-and-whites have crossed for 32 tries that originated from their own side of halfway – with Josh Morris’ 112-metre stunner against the Storm a fortnight ago their piece de resistance. That play was triggered by fullback Ben Barba, who will tear the Tigers apart if he’s not collared within moments of taking possession. Barba leads the comp for line-breaks (16) and is fifth on the try-scoring list (10).

Watch Out Bulldogs: No team runs the gauntlet down the short right side better or more often than the Tigers, who have resorted to the play 105 times to date. It’s resulted in 24 tries, including 15 adjacent to the right corner post – the most tallied by any team. Sam Perrett, get ready!

Of course you can bet Benji Marshall will be in the thick of things. The scheming halfback is having a banner year, leading the NRL for try assists (22) and ranking a close third for line-break assists (15).

Danger Sign: The Bulldogs need to be ready for plenty of grubber kicks into the in-goal – the Tigers have scored 16 tries from kicks and the ’Dogs have conceded 11 off the boot.   

Keith Galloway v Sam Kasiano: Galloway was an Origin player this time in 2011 and his yield from when these sides met in Round 16 last year reveals why: 19 hit-ups, 168 metres, 32 tackles and three offloads – in a soundly beaten side. This year he’s been solid, making 130 metres with 15 hit-ups in 56 minutes on the park. It’s up to Galloway to drive the Tigers’ engine room and he’ll relish the head-to-head battle with Sam Kasiano, who has made a name for himself with his piston-legs charges (13 a game for 106 metres) and deft ball-playing skills. As much as he’ll be a force running the football the Tigers need to look out for Kasiano’s deep passes behind decoy runners to supports looking to split open the defence – the wannabe Maroon has made six line-break assists, double the next best contribution by any prop.

Where It Will Be Won: Territory. The Tigers simply must overturn their current negative territory differential. They’re currently conceding 88 metres more than they are making every match, which understandably is severely hindering their ability to build field position and mount pressure. Meanwhile the Bulldogs make 34 metres more than they concede each match – not a huge amount, but enough to see them press the opposition line a lot more often.  

The History: Played 22; Bulldogs 13, Wests Tigers 9. The Bulldogs have won five of the past eight clashes including three of the past four; however, the record at Allianz Stadium is one game apiece.

The Last Time They Met: The Bulldogs defeated the Wests Tigers 16-6 in a largely one-sided contest at Campbelltown Stadium in Round 16 last year.  

Frank Pritchard got the ball rolling for the visitors when he charged over on the left edge following a left-side sweep in the 26th minute. That saw the Bulldogs take a 6-nil lead to halftime and they went further ahead when Ben Barba outmanoeuvred the Wests Tigers line defence to be first to a Trent Hodkinson grubber for a 12-nil lead in the 55th minute.

Tigers fans started trudging towards the exits when Bulldogs centre Josh Morris crossed 14 minutes from fulltime for a 16-nil advantage. Wade McKinnon fumbled a Kris Keating grubber just outside his goal-line, with the NSW centre swooping to pick up the loose ball and cross for the simplest of tries.

Tim Moltzen saved some face for the home team three minutes from the siren, scoring off a piece of Robbie Farah ad-lib brilliance. Without picking up the ball at dummy-half the No.9 soccer-kicked the Steeden through the goal-line defenders, with Moltzen winning the chase.

Errors killed the Tigers on the night: they made 14 mistakes to their opponents’ six. Also, they squandered a heap of opportunities, tallying a whopping 40 unused plays (to the Bulldogs’ eight).

Aiden Tolman was a rock up front for the victors, making 21 hit-ups and 140 metres as well as contributing a try assist, while Farah defended stoutly for the Tigers, making 43 tackles.

Match Officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Gavin Morris; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Gavin West; Video Referee – Sean Hampstead.

The Way We See It: Have the past two games deflated the Wests Tigers’ bubble? Certainly Tim Sheens’ charges are capable of turning things around at the drop of a hat but their opponents this week aren’t looking like a side prone to faltering without notice. In fact, Des Hasler has the ’Dogs playing with menacing consistency, so much so we have them pencilled in as Grand Final candidates even this far out. On exposed form it’s a no-brainer: Bulldogs by six points.

Televised: Channel 9 – Live 7.30pm (NSW & Qld); Fox Sports 2 – Delayed 10.30pm.

•    Statistics: NRL Stats

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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