Tigers look to stop Penrith offloads
There is one thing on the minds of Wests Tigers players heading into this weekend's battle of western Sydney: stop the offloads.
A resurgent Tigers almost overturned a 26-0 half-time deficit in Melbourne last week and the team are hoping to take that momentum into this weekend's battle with the Panthers – but they know Penrith are a very different proposition from the highly structured Storm.
Unafraid to play what they see with skilful and unpredictable players like Bryce Cartwright, Tyrone Peachey and boom rookie Nathan Cleary, Penrith are the type of team that can produce something unpredictable.
But the Tigers – themselves an unpredictable attacking force on their day – want to defend first and attack second rather than getting pulled into a chaotic try-fest.
Fullback James Tedesco told NRL.com his team may have put themselves under too much pressure early last week knowing what a tough road trip AAMI Park is, and would be out to avoid a slow start again at ANZ Stadium this weekend.
"They're very different, very unpredictable. They play a lot of second phase. A lot of offloads and what not, guys like Cartwright and Merrin, we have to be on our toes for them," Tedesco said of the Panthers.
"They like to play a lot of footy, Melbourne are a much more structured team than Penrith are, so we're going to have to be on our toes for the full 80 but if we can play like we did in that second half [against Melbourne], play our game then we'll go a long way to winning."
Halfback Luke Brooks said the main concern leading into Saturday was "stopping the offloads".
"Penrith are leading the comp in offloads. That's a big part of their attack and if they can stop that it will help us in defence. Stopping players like Cartwright who offloads a lot will help us," Brooks told NRL.com.
Brooks is correct – Penrith players have popped 210 offloads between them this season, led by Bryce Cartwright (39), Trent Merrin (29) and the now-injured Peta Hiku (20). They are a huge 28 offloads clear of the next most prolific club in that stat, South Sydney (182).
Vice-captain Chris Lawrence agreed stopping Penrith's second phase was a top priority.
"It's just trying to reduce the amount of time they have with the ball and their amount of attacking opportunities because they are so good with the ball," Lawrence said.
"They're the type of side, not too dissimilar to us in that they can put a lot of tries on in succession so we're going to have to try and not clock off at any stage during the game because they can really hurt you with their offloads and put back to back tries on very quickly."
Dene Halatau noted that Penrith haven't been well-beaten in any game this year, with most of their losses very close. Aside from a 24-6 loss in Melbourne in Round 13 the Panthers' worst loss was by just eight, in Canberra back in Round 1.
"[Penrith] do promote the ball well off second phase, they get plenty of offloads. Off the back of that they convert that into tries," Halatau said.
"They've been a team that can do that but can also grind out games. They haven't really been beaten well this year, they've been in almost every game they've played and the losses have been hard for them so that's probably given them a lot of confidence that they're thereabouts.
"They just need to convert that into some wins and string that together so they're probably going to come at us pretty hard. We don't want to get caught up in a try-scoring affair, I think we need to play solid and try and limit their opportunities."