Wests Tigers v Newcastle Knights
Campbelltown Sports Stadium
Winning two straight games for the first time since the opening two rounds, the Wests Tigers continue to build as they set the foundations for next year and beyond.
While their win over the Raiders in Round 21 was entertainingly scrappy, this weekend they reach an intriguing stage of their season where the wooden spoon is still very much a possibility.
They come up against a Knights team which is similarly looking towards the future. In their two games under interim coach Danny Buderus, Newcastle has put forward a good 40 minutes in both performances – it's now time to combine the two.
While this game has wooden spoon connotations, each team has shown enough in recent weeks to suggest that this one will be a belter, or at least a high scoring affair.
In terms of team changes, Brenden Santi returns on a five man bench for the Tigers also including Manaia Cherrington.
Beau Scott (foot) and Tyler Randell (eye) have been named despite their injuries suffered last weekend for Newcastle. Randell takes Danny Levi's bench spot, with captain Kurt Gidley moving to five-eighth and Jake Mamo to fullback. Kade Snowden returns at prop which sees Sam Mataora join a five-man bench also including Chris Houston.
Watch out Wests Tigers: Knights captain Gidley is working his absolute hardest to leave the club on the best note possible. One of their best since Buderus became coach, Gidley has led from the front and his passion has showed on every single occasion he touches the ball. His move to five-eighth will mean he gets his hands on the ball on more occasions.
Watch out Knights: It goes without saying James Tedesco has been a class above his teammates in 2015. Scoring his 15th try of the season against the Raiders on Monday, Tedesco requires one more four-pointer to become the most prolific try-scoring fullback in a Tigers season. Beyond his scoring prowess, the 22-year-old is averaging 155 metres per game and is streets ahead in terms of tackle breaks (144 this year – 7.2 per game).
Key Match-Up: Luke Brooks v Tyrone Roberts – Receiving the ball on similar terms (Roberts 47.6 touches, Brooks 42.6 touches per game) the two halfbacks hold the key for their respective teams. When it comes to productivity however, Brooks stands tall. Producing 15 try assists to Roberts's mere two, the points are sure to come from the Tigers halfback. It's essentially Roberts' time to lift for the sake of his team.
The History: Played 20; Wests Tigers 10, Knights 10. For the first time since 2011 the Tigers will play the Knights away from Newcastle. Losing three of their past four games against them (all played at Hunter Stadium) the Tigers will be looking to find an edge in overall history. However when they last played in Round 10 it was Newcastle who prevailed 22-12.
What are the Odds: The Tigers’ return to form has seen their price shorten throughout the week, Round 23's biggest, according to Sportsbet. They have also been crunched to win by 13-plus at home on Saturday. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referee: Gavin Reynolds. Assistant Referee: Chris Sutton. Sideline Officials: Adam Reid and Rohan Best. Video Referees: Gerard Sutton and Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 (Live) – 3:00pm
The Way We See It: In the name of making the wooden spoon battle as intriguing as the race for the finals, we'll predict an upset and say Newcastle sneak away with this one. With the Panthers, Tigers and Titans all tied on 18 points, a Newcastle victory will ensure a four way tie for last spot leading into the final three games of the year. The Knights have already beaten the Tigers this year so who are we to say it won't happen again? Newcastle by four points.