Tigers v Dragons preview

Wests Tigers v St George Illawarra Dragons
Allianz Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm

The smoking Tigers will be red-hot favourites to end the premiership campaign of out-of-sorts St George Illawarra who offered little against the Roosters last Friday night; however coach Tim Sheens will be wary of a potential ambush given the Red V secured their best win of the season when taking down his side 36-12 back in Round 3.

Although the Dragons have been stuck in first gear when it comes to scoring points in 2012, with their 15.2 per game easily the fewest of all sides, the win over the black-and-golds featured the most points they have scored in a game all season. 

Recent form suggests they are some chance – they took down the Storm just two weeks ago and Sharks four games back – but everything hinges on how many points they can manage against one of the best attacks in the league. The Tigers average 22 points per game… can the Dragons keep up? Will their attack fire tracer bullets… or will the cork pop out of the end of the gun on a piece of string, as it has for most of the year?

Perhaps their biggest problem this week however is the venue – Steve Price’s charges have the worst ‘away’ record in the competition, having won just one of eight games on the road.

Meanwhile the bits-and-pieces Tigers recovered from an early scare to swamp the Eels 51-26 in Campbelltown last Monday night. Just as veteran Lote Tuqiri looks set to exit the NRL stage they unearthed another Fijian star in towering speedster Marika Koroibete who scored four tries (equalling the club record) in just his second first grade game. 

The surging win elevated the Tigers to outright eighth place on the ladder, but with just shallow breathing space to a swarm of chasers including the Dragons who sit two competition points adrift.

After a largely horror year with injuries it’s good news for the Tigers this week: with all players pulling up well Tim Sheens has been able to stick firm with the 17 who got the job done against the Eels last Monday night.

Meanwhile Dragons coach Steve Price hasn’t declared his hand on the possible return of five-eighth Jamie Soward; the playmaker has been named on the bench, with Nathan Fien slated to start in the No.6 – although there’s every chance that scenario will switch. Meanwhile Jack Stockwell is a new face on their bench.

Watch Out Wests Tigers: If Brett Morris gets clean ball and space to move he can go a long way towards securing the win. Wearing the No.1 jersey last meeting Morris set up two tries and made six damaging offloads to rock the Tigers back on their heels. Back on the wing ‘B-Moz’ will be an even bigger danger and short odds to add to his 11 tries for the year.

Nathan Fien has added spark in the No.6 recently; he gave the final pass for Matt Prior to score last week and also delivered the pinpoint cross-field kick for Ben Creagh’s try. Fien’s only other try assist for the year came against the Tigers in March. 

Powerful running from Ben Creagh and Trent Merrin will need to be contained. Without Matt Cooper on the left edge Creagh has been more of a target in attack recently, while Merrin’s galloping charges (134 metres) and offloads (a team-high 37) can ruin the Tigers’ night. 

Daniel Vidot will be keen to test out the defence of opposite winger Marika Koroibete. Vidot scored against the Tigers in his club debut for the Red V back in Round 3 and since then he has proven to be a valuable contributor with 147 metres each match. 

Danger Sign: If the Dragons start making inroads through the middle third of the field. They scored four tries near the goal posts in the first half of their Round 3 victory, exposing a soft underbelly. Tigers fans will feel anxious if the Dragons spend a lot of time camped inside their 10-metre zone – they have leaked 40 tries within the region (fourth most) – including an NRL-high nine tries from dummy-half. Meanwhile the Dragons have crossed for eight tries from dummy-half (second most). Dean Young, Mitch Rein and even Nathan Fien are the men most likely to have a ‘dig’.

Watch Out Dragons: The Red V will need a benchmark effort in defence if they’re to limit the scoreboard attendant’s involvement this week. The Tigers are hot off making seven try assists against the Eels, with Benji Marshall adding three to take his season tally to 30 – four ahead of next-best Cooper Cronk. Marshall is the key: the Dragons can’t allow him to skip across the field and put the outside and inside defenders in two minds about where the ball will end up. (Marshall also leads the NRL for line-break assists with 24.)

Makeshift five-eighth Liam Fulton could pose a scoring threat – he has six tries from 12 games against the Dragons, along with Marshall the equal most scored by a Tiger. 

The Tigers’ wingers should figure prominently – left-side rookie Marika Koroibete was a sensation scoring four tries against the Eels and busting through 12 defenders, while Matt Utai scored a double and broke nine tackle attempts. He may be only 168cm but Utai is averaging more than six tackle busts every game on the right flank. 

Danger Sign: Grubbers and short kicks could hasten the Dragons’ downfall. The Tigers resort to grubbers more than any team, with the Dragons third worst at defusing them, and second worst at negating short kicks. The Tigers have scored 19 tries off the boot, while the Dragons have conceded 19 tries, the sixth most.      

Robbie Farah v Mitch Rein: Farah will be keen to show Rein who’s boss after being outplayed when they met back in Round 3. On that occasion the Dragons’ rookie sent his big forwards crashing through the Tigers in midfield and scored a wonderful try from dummy-half. Rein is proving tough to contain at the ruck, leading all players for line busts from dummy-half (8). Meanwhile Farah has helped nine team-mates into space in just 13 appearances in 2012. His scoots from the ruck have yielded five breaks. Clearly the battle of the No.9s will go a long way to determining the winner. 

Where It Will Be Won: Improving on their weaknesses. The Tigers need to take some concrete pills – they miss the most tackles in the league, averaging 37 a game. And they were worse than average last week, missing 39. Meanwhile the Dragons have to find a way to get over the try-line… and early: they have won all seven games when leading at halftime, but lost nine of 11 when trailing at the break.   

The History: Played 24; Dragons 13, Wests Tigers 11. The Dragons hold the advantage in recent clashes, winning five of the past eight. However the Tigers dominate at Allianz Stadium, losing to the Red V just once in five match-ups. 

The Last Time They Met: The Dragons scored their most points in 2012 back in Round 3 when they smashed the Wests Tigers 36-12 at WIN Jubilee Oval.

Dragons hooker Mitch Rein scored the first of his side’s six tries, dummying inside and out in a 10-metre scoot from dummy-half.

Brett Morris, in his first game at fullback in 2012, carved the Tigers open from close range and looked certain to score their second try in the 14th minute before being wrestled to a halt on the goal line – but he was still able to promote the ball to Dan Hunt who plunged over under the posts for a 12-nil advantage.

Beau Ryan stopped the bleeding for the visitors when he pounced on a Benji Marshall grubber kick for a 12-6 scoreline with 20 minutes gone; however it didn’t take long for the Dragons to again expose some flimsy defence up the middle, with Trent Merrin breaking through from 20 metres out then offloading to Nathan Fien who plunged over to the right of the posts for an 18-point buffer five minutes from fulltime. 

Ben Hornby completed the Dragons’ first-half scoring onslaught, grabbing a precise and smart Nathan Fien pass to dot down under the posts for a 24-6 lead at the break.
Returning from the sheds, Jamie Soward ensured the visitors would need to score four times when he booted a penalty goal for a 26-6 lead at the 47-minute mark, before Joel Reddy breathed hope into the Tigers’ cause with a left-edge try in the 54th minute.

That was all the joy there would be for Tigers fans, with tries to Daniel Vidot (70th minute) and Ben Creagh (77th minute) rounding out their misery.

The Tigers returned a low count for missed tackles (28) – but unfortunately they missed the ones that mattered. Errors also cruelled their cause, with a whopping 19 dropped balls throughout the 80 minutes.

Both sides were guilty of not respecting the football, with the home team completing their sets at 67 per cent and the Tigers a lousy 50 per cent.

The Dragons dominated the line-breaks 5-1 and missed just 10 tackles all evening.

Second-rower Matt Prior had a huge game with 20 hit-ups and three offloads, while Morris added two try assists and six damaging offloads to go with a rampaging 195 metres.  
Liam Fulton was the best of the Tigers with 51 tackles.   

Match Officials: Referees – Gerard Sutton & Adam Devcich; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Nick Beashel; Video Referee – Bernard Sutton. 

The Way We See It: With both sides eyeing off eighth spot in the playoffs this should be a cracking game, played at pace and with plenty of niggle. However, when push comes to shove we anticipate the Tigers’ blistering attack will post too many points for the Dragons to match. Tigers by eight points.    
Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 7.30pm. 

Statistics: NRL Stats