Tigers hope for Leichhardt magic repeat
Wests Tigers players say the parochial home crowd helped drag them over the line in their last match at Leichhardt and are hoping for another dose of the same in a must-win final-round clash against the Raiders this Sunday.
That 26-14 win over reigning premiers North Queensland in Round 22 was arguably the black and golds' most impressive win of the season.
They face a nervous wait to see if the Titans can beat the Cowboys on Saturday night to end the Tigers' finals hopes before Sunday's 2pm kick off but if the Cowboys win, Jason Taylor's men will be looking for another packed Leichhardt Hill to boost their chances against the in-form Green Machine.
"Hopefully we get a big crowd like the one a couple of weeks ago against the Cowboys. I think that crowd really brought the boys home so we're pumped to play at Leichhardt," halfback Luke Brooks said this week.
"The boys always lift for games at Leichhardt, especially with a big crowd there and a lot of people cheering us on, it'd be good."
That home crowd didn't quite get the job done for them last time the Raiders came to visit; in Round 7 last year the home team shot out to a 22-0 lead before the Green Machine came roaring back with 30 unanswered points.
Brooks admitted that game still played on his mind – as did the 60-6 thrashing the Tigers suffered in Canberra in Round 8 this year.
"I was actually thinking about that game this morning (Wednesday morning) when I woke up but that's a different year and a different team," Brooks said.
And he added the thrashing earlier this year was "still there" as well – though he insisted the Tigers have improved out of sight since then.
"It's still there. I still think about it a bit. We've got a chance now to make amends for that game and for that poor performance but we're a different team now," he said.
"We're a lot better than we were back then so hopefully we can turn it around.
"I think we've found the way we want to play. With Elijah Taylor coming he's sort of helped us find the footy we want to play and over the past two months we've started doing that and I think we've been better for it."
Brooks admitted the team had got "pretty lucky" since a big 40-10 loss to Penrith a fortnight ago looked to have ended their season, with other results going their way coupled with their own impressive last-start win over the Warriors keeping them in contention.
"After the Penrith game most people thought we were no chance and we thought it would be tough to make it but some results have fallen our way and we've found ourselves in a spot to make the eight, so if one more result goes our way we've got to beat the Raiders," he said.
"It will be an interesting weekend."
Centre Tim Simona – who faces one of the toughest tasks in league this weekend when he looks to mark up against tackle-busting centre and close mate Joey Leilua – didn't play in the Round 8 loss in Canberra but admitted it was tough watching on.
"We played them earlier in the year and they pulled our pants down. We're hoping for a good quality game and there's no better place than to have it at Leichhardt," Simona said.
"It was pretty embarrassing from my point of view. I didn't play that game but I watched from the sideline. It was pretty disappointing and embarrassing. We want to better our performance and there's no better place to play at."
Simona though, like Brooks, was on the wrong end of the Raiders' comeback at Leichhardt last year.
"I did [play that game]. Canberra… you just can't take the foot off the pedal against any sort of team in the NRL. I think it was 22-0 in the first half and they beat us in the second half so hopefully we can learn from that and put in an 80-minute performance," he added.
Simona was also expecting plenty of sledging from close mate Leilua come Sunday.
"I'm good mates with Joey, we played Samoa together and we're really good mates. He's been on form all year, [second] most offloads in the competition. I'm looking forward to a good challenge and I'm sure he is," Simona said.
"I guess you've got to get in front of his face and try and limit his touches with the ball and if the players around me can help me out I think it can go a long way.
"There will be a lot of sledging. Me and him get along well, every time we play each other we always sledge at each other so there will be a lot of sledging come Sunday no doubt.
"He's a bit of a joker, he loves a prank that fella but I'm looking forward to the challenge."
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