Wests Tigers v Sydney Roosters
A desperate Wests Tigers side hosts a red-hot Roosters outfit to kick off Round 20 of the NRL Telstra premiership, with the latter pressing hard for a top-two finish and the former now needing wins to get away from wooden spoon territory.
It's been a tough trot for the Tigers of late; they were on the wrong end of a big score at Suncorp last week, which was their fourth straight loss since a powerful win over South Sydney in Round 14.
They now find themselves in outright last place on the ladder with the 2015 finals now little more than a mathematical consideration. The young, rebuilding side has the talent but is a little thin on experience, especially with skipper Robbie Farah still sidelined.
Meanwhile the Roosters did their best to sort the wheat from the chaff last week with a dominant win over a Warriors side that had looked like a premiership force until running into a red, white and blue brick wall at Allianz Stadium last Sunday.
The Tigers regain the services of David Nofoaluma this week in the centres in place of Nathan Milone, although they have lost Ava Seumanufagai. His place on the bench is taken by Jack Buchanan.
The Roosters actually look stronger this week than last with representative forward Boyd Cordner returning after a one-week rest, pushing Isaac Liu to the bench and Jackson Hastings to 18th man.
Watch out Wests Tigers: The Roosters have firepower all over the park but after a stuttering return from a long layoff with a foot injury, centre Blake Ferguson looks to be fit and firing again. His solo try against the Warriors last week was all brute strength and determination as he racked up three line breaks, six tackle breaks and 238 metres. A week earlier against the Panthers it was two line breaks, seven tackle breaks and 215 metres. The Tigers' left edge of Tim Simona and Pat Richards will be in for a workout on Friday night.
Watch out Roosters: Maligned halfback Luke Brooks has the equal second-most try assists of any player in the NRL this year with 13 in 16 games, trailing only Cowboys superstar Johnathan Thurston (20 in 14). The Tigers also boast two of the top three tackle breakers in the NRL in fullback James Tedesco (a whopping 118) leading the man who will line up opposite him on Friday, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (95), while hard-running Tigers lock Martin Taupau is third (70). If Taupau and prop Aaron Woods (182 metres per game – most by any prop) can lay the platform, they do have the firepower in the backs to do some damage.
Key Match-Up: James Tedesco v Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. Here we have two of the most exciting and in-form players in the competition, both of them fullbacks. They are top two for tackle breaks among all comers with Tedesco ahead 118-95, and the Tiger is also in front on the try-scoring tally 11-6. Tuivasa-Sheck is the number one metre-getter in the NRL with 231 per week (the next best back is Storm winger Marika Koroibete's 181 per week) while Tedesco's 151 is fourth best of regular fullbacks.
Each man has 15 offloads, hinting at an ability to generate second phase play, while with just six handling errors for Tedesco and eight for Tuivasa-Sheck all season they're not missing too many of the bombs fullbacks get peppered with, showing each presents a safe pair of hands at the back.
The History: Played 26; Wests Tigers 8, Roosters 18. The Roosters have been dominant over the merged club over the past 15 years. They enjoyed a big 36-4 win over Jason Taylor's men in Round 9 this year, giving them six straight wins and 10 of the past 11 between these two clubs.
What Are The Odds: The Roosters have been the best backed side of the round and money has been running 10:1 in favour of the tricolours, according to Sportsbet. Roosters by 13+ has been the only margin punters are interested in. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Jared Maxwell. Assistant referee: Gavin Morris. Touch judges: Russell Turner and Kasey Badger. Video Referees: Bernard Sutton and Ben Galea.
Televised: Channel Nine, Live, 7.30pm (NSW); Delayed, 9.30pm (QLD).
The Way We See It: A slick Roosters outfit looks to have timed their run well and will be very tough for any side to stop. This looks too big of an ask for the Tigers at this point – Roosters by 13 plus.