Wests Tigers v Bulldogs
Friday, 7:30pm (AEDT)
The Concord Kids take on the Belmore Bruisers in what is supposed to be – on paper at least – a total blue and white wash.
But then again, so was the Tigers' clash with the Rabbitohs. And judging by the courageous effort Dylan Walker had to produce to help his side to a hard fought win, then the only washing the Bulldogs will be doing is the grass stains off their jerseys on Friday night.
Make no mistake about it: the joint venture side got down and dirty with the defending premiers last week and held their own for much of the contest, eventually succumbing to a 20-6 defeat. Similarly, the Bulldogs trip to Brookvale last Friday only confirmed their reputation as the battle-hardened veterans they are, scraping away with a 16-12 victory in the northern beaches sandpit.
In essence, Des Hasler's side are made of it, and Jason Taylor's team is looking for it.
Taylor has handed rookie flyer Delouise Hoeter his NRL debut in place of suspended winger Pat Richards, who took the early guilty plea on his dangerous contact charge on Greg Inglis. The goal-kicking ace will be available next week.
In another key blow, in-form prop Aaron Woods is out with a knee injury, with Kyle Lovett joining the bench. Dene Halatau and Kevin Naiqama were also in some doubt for the Tigers.
For the 'Dogs, Hasler has named an unchanged line-up.
Watch Out Wests Tigers: We're only three games into the season but new Bulldogs fullback Brett Morris already holds the crown of tackle-bust king, streaking away from the competition with his 20 tackle breaks thus far.
The former Dragon has also averaged a mammoth 171 running metres and almost two line-breaks a game, making him priority number one for the Tigers defensive line. Many questioned whether the world's best winger could cover the entire backfield, but so far he's handled it with aplomb.
Watch Out Bulldogs: Third only to Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce and Sharks fullback Michael Gordon in the "supports" department this year is Tigers young gun Luke Brooks, with 71. The raps on this kid go as far as Leichhardt to Campbelltown, and his instinct to follow a ball runner with free arms has often been the energy in his side's surges upfield this season. If there's half a chance of a line break, you can safely – and responsibly – bet that he'll be backing them up.
Key Match-Up: Martin Taupau v James Graham. Such is the aggression that Taupau has brought into Taylor's starting 13 that the coach has already publically voiced his concern about his enforcer conceding penalties. And up against another bloke who never takes a backward step in Graham, it will be fascinating to see who'll stand over the other. Either way, it certainly makes for one of the more mouth-watering individual stoushes across the weekend. Someone bring the extinguisher on Friday night because this colossal match-up is certain to provide the fireworks.
The History: Played 27; Wests Tigers 10, Bulldogs 17. The Bulldogs were ambushed 46-18 in the first encounter at the Olympic venue last season, although they exacted some revenge with a 30-10 thumping exactly one month later at the same ground. It was their sixth win in their past seven clashes.
What Are The Odds: Tigers ($2.75) v Bulldogs ($1.45). Twice as much money for the Bulldogs in this one, although punters have been tempted to back the Tigers with the 6 point start. Perhaps a strong early start from Wests is on the cards with James Tedesco the best backed player in the first tryscorer market at $15. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Ashley Klein. Assistant Referee: Adam Gee. Touch Judges: Brett Suttor and Adam Reid. Video Referee: Steve Chiddy and Luke Phillips.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 9:30pm (AEDT).
The Way We See It: The Tigers were willing against the Rabbitohs last week, but so were the Bulldogs, and on that basis alone, we learn towards the "away" side by eight in what will probably a more tense affair than the previous two blowouts between these sides.