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Sydney Roosters v Wests Tigers
Allianz Stadium
Sunday 2pm

These two battered and bruised Sydney clubs will face off on Sunday afternoon with plenty to play for but with very different prizes on offer.

The incentive should be greater for the visitors from Sydney’s west, however. The Tigers’ agonising golden-point loss last week to Telstra Premiership pacesetters Canterbury sees them now clinging precariously to eighth spot on the ladder, joined by the Broncos and the Raiders on 26 points with the Knights and Titans breathing down their necks.

Another loss here could potentially see them finish the weekend outside the top eight, and likely needing a final-round victory over the Storm in order to taste September football. However, a win would consolidate their top-eight position and leave them at extremely short odds for a shot at finals footy.

They enter this clash in fair form – last week’s hard-fought one-point loss to the unstoppable Bulldogs (the Tigers’ fifth one-point margin this year, for three wins and two losses) could arguably have been a victory but for yet another contentious obstruction ruling that went against them. That was preceded by a convincing victory over the Dragons and a thrashing of the Eels in a game of virtual touch footy at Campbelltown.

Meanwhile, although the Roosters are well out of contention for the finals they are still mathematically in the running for the wooden spoon. Victory over the Tigers here would remove them from the race for the NRL’s most unwanted prize, not to mention giving the home fans something to cheer about at the back end of a difficult season.

Both sides seem likely to go into this one having lost a key member of their leadership group in the previous round.
For the Tigers, the loss of captain Robbie Farah due to a broken hand is simply massive. In a difficult year both on and off the field, Farah deflected plenty of criticism from the media and former players on the way to mounting a titanic personal Origin campaign. He has also led by example every outing.

In a reshuffle, Liam Fulton moves from five-eighth to cover for Farah at hooker, Tim Moltzen shifts from fullback to five eighth, and Beau Ryan moves from centre to fullback. Chris Lawrence returns from injury to replace Ryan in the centres and mid-season recruit and back-up hooker Masada Iosefa replaces Tim Simona on the pine.
Meanwhile the Roosters’ chances received a boost at the judiciary on Wednesday night when star fullback Anthony Minichiello beat his striking charge following a clumsy hit on Raiders fullback Josh Dugan that went horribly wrong; ‘Mini’ now gets to celebrate his 250-game milestone in front of his home crowd.
Listed team changes see Martin Kennedy start at prop, pushing Frank-Paul Nuuausala to lock and Boyd Cordner to the bench, while Aiden Guerra returns from injury in a straight swap for Jack Bosden (dropped) in the second row. Tinirau Arona replaces Lama Tasi on the bench.

The Roosters’ form has not been great at the back end of 2012, with just one win since their Round 15 victory over the Tigers (trumping the Dragons 26-10 three weeks ago) and they have worryingly lost five of their past six – including defeats to other lower-table sides Canberra, Parramatta, Penrith and Gold Coast.

They will need a major form reversal to get over the line here – but they have had the wood over the Tigers in recent years, emerging triumphant in five of the past six clashes between these two clubs.

Watch Out Roosters: The Tigers will see no silver lining to Farah’s absence but their backline reshuffle (partially enabled by the return of experienced campaigner Chris Lawrence) means Beau Ryan returns to the No.1 jersey. In four games at the back this year for the Tigers, Ryan has seemingly grown an extra leg, averaging almost double the running metres (159) of regular custodian Moltzen (79 metres over 15 games at the back). Ryan has also been safe as houses under the high ball and offers a genuine threat from the back. 

Combine that with the bullocking form of Toyota Cup sensation Marika Koroibete (six tries and 25 tackle-breaks in four NRL games so far) and resurgent winger Matt Utai (71 tackle-breaks in 14 games, the most at the club) and the Tigers have some potent threats in their back three.

Danger Sign: With Farah out, stand-in captain Benji Marshall knows he will have to provide the creativity – and it could go one of two ways. Marshall has provided some sublime touches of late – he notched six try assists in two weeks in the wins over the Eels and Dragons, his no-look pass for Moltzen’s match-winner against the Dragons being the highlight. You can guarantee the Roosters will be watching Marshall intently but with so many options at his disposal, stopping him will be another matter. Marshall is also just three points away from becoming the first Wests Tigers player to crack the magical 1000-points barrier.

Watch Out Tigers: Offloads on the edges will be dangerous, in particular from towering Brad Takairangi on the left fringe. The interchange is proving a real shock weapon for the tricolours, with 25 offloads and four try assists from his 14 games. And Nuuausala’s move to lock will free him up to add even more creativity – he leads his team-mates in creating second-phase play with 30 offloads so far.

Look for the Mitchell Pearce/Aidan Guerra combination to strike off a Pearce cross-field chip kick from close range aimed 10 metres in from the sideline; Guerra is proving the master at slipping past the opposition and snaring the ball (he has five tries to date).

Youngster Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is still finding his feet in the top grade having now notched four games on the wing, but his early season form in Toyota Cup was scintillating. He played 13 of his 14 games this year at fullback, averaging 186 metres per game to be second in the NYC behind only boom Cowboys second-rower Jason Taumalolo. He also contributed 10 tries and 10 line-breaks in that time.

Danger Sign: Halves Braith Anasta and Mitchell Pearce, and experienced centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall, need to get more quality ball to their outside backs, whose average runs (Tuivasa-Sheck 12, Moga 9) are well below the busiest wingers in the competition (Penrith’s Josh Mansour with 17 leads Newcastle’s Akuila Uate 15). Anasta’s spiral bombs and Pearce’s cut-out passes need to put pressure on the reshuffled Tigers backline by creating opportunities for the young Roosters backs.

Aaron Woods v Jared Waerea-Hargreaves: Out of many intriguing battles across the park, the duel between the tireless young New South Welshman and explosive Kiwi will definitely be one to watch.

Woods seemingly went within a whisker of making his State of Origin debut as his 2012 form improved markedly on his already-impressive debut 2011 season. Waerea-Hargreaves, however, played his 11th Test match in the early season Anzac fixture but hasn’t really gone on to hit the high notes this year. Both men are the leading metre-eaters in their respective forward packs… which could be a pointer to some of the Roosters’ problems. While the tireless Woods runs for a huge 141 metres per week (and is the team’s second-top tackler, bringing down 35 opposition ball runners per game), no-one in the tricolours pack runs for more than Waerea-Hargreaves’ 91 metres per game. The entire Roosters pack will need a shift in attitude if they want to threaten the Tigers line.

Where It Will Be Won: Territory. Across the board the Roosters lag behind their opposition in running metres – the tricolours make the least running metres (1259 metres per game) of any side in the NRL. The Tigers actually run for the second fewest (1290 metres per game) but this is partially offset by their long kicking game (596 metres, sixth best in NRL). Whichever side gets on the front foot will seize the advantage.

The History: Played 21; Sydney Roosters 13, Wests Tigers 8. The Roosters comfortably have the edge here, winning five of the past six clashes including their visit to Leichhardt Oval earlier this year. They also have a winning 7-3 record against the Tigers at Allianz Stadium.

The Last Time They Met: The Roosters came away with the points from their Round 15 visit to Leichhardt Oval. 

Winger Matt Utai crossed out wide early to open the scoring but the Roosters hit the lead in the ninth minute when Aiden Guerra waltzed through some flimsy defence. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves barged over five minutes later, then in the last five minutes of the first half a quick double strike from Boyd Cordner and Braith Anasta saw the Roosters go to the break with a 24-4 lead.

When Lama Tasi got the first try of the second half on the 50-minute mark the Tigers were seemingly dead and buried. Any thoughts of a comeback following Keith Galloway’s 55th-minute try were snuffed out when Pearce scored to make it 36-10 on the hour. But the Tigers are rarely predictable and a rapid hat-trick of tries through Beau Ryan, Tim Moltzen and Chris Lawrence had the Roosters nervously watching the clock as their lead was reduced to eight points with eight minutes to play.

That was as close as the Tigers got, however, with Martin Kennedy putting the exclamation point on a thrilling win when he muscled his way over for his only try this year with one minute to play.

Jake Friend set up three of the Roosters’ seven tries, while Aaron Woods was enormous for the Tigers, making 184 metres from 21 runs.

Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Adam Devcich; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & Henry Perenara; Video Referee – Paul Mellor & Tony Archer. 

The Way We See It: On form and with much more to play for the Tigers are the obvious option here. However, the loss of Farah will be critical. Wests have won two but lost four of the six games they have played without him this year – and it also means the Roosters can pay extra attention to Benji Marshall knowing there is little playmaking threat elsewhere on the park. We’ll still take the Tigers on a hunch but don’t be surprised if the Roosters lift in front of their home crowd. Wests Tigers by six points.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats

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