The Wests Tigers (9-9) got exactly the weekend they needed in round 19, beating the Rabbitohs and watching both the Raiders and Warriors lose.
They leapfrogged the Raiders on the ladder into ninth spot and are just two wins behind the Warriors , Broncos and Panthers. Forget about the Raiders, if any team is going to sneak into the eight at the last minute it's the Tigers, who boast one of the NRL's best defensive records.
The Tigers have claimed two huge scalps over the past fortnight in the Dragons and Rabbitohs and also boast a win over every team in the top four. They have been one of the competition's best defensive sides all year and suddenly look very capable in attack with the recent addition of Moses Mbye and Robbie Farah and return of Benji Marshall from an injury lay-off.
They don't control their own destiny but if they keep winning and get a few favourable results, the Tigers could yet steal a finals berth.
The Bulldogs went down to Parramatta 14-8 last week and will be hard-pressed to avoid finishing last.
Key match-up: Moses Mbye has fitted in so smoothly with the Tigers that you'd think he had been there all season. He has added a much-needed extra dimension to the team's attack and is loving playing under coach Ivan Cleary. Friday's clash will be his first game against the Bulldogs since leaving the club to join Wests less than two months ago and Mbye looms as a match-winner for the Tigers if the Doggies are able to keep it close down the stretch.
Bulldogs v Wests Tigers - Round 20
For the Bulldogs to win: Experienced props Aiden Tolman and Dave Klemmer need to lead from the front and do their best to inspire the young Dogs. The effort has been there but they don't have the class to worry rivals for long periods. If Will Hopoate and the Morris brothers can play their best, the Doggies might be a chance.
For the Tigers to win: Back-to-back wins over two of the NRL's genuine heavyweights should have the Wests Tigers brimming with confidence, and that's exactly how you want to feel at the business end of the season. The spine looks considerably more capable with Farah and Mbye on board, while Marshall has picked up where he left off before his injury. If the Tigers defend as well as they have in the past two games the Dogs might not even score.
Bulldogs Stat Attack: Canterbury winger Brett Morris has scored 13 tries in 17 games against the Wests Tigers.
Wests Tigers Stat Attack: If they can get the result here it will be the first time the Tigers will have defeated the Bulldogs twice in a season since 2005.
And another thing: The Balmain Tigers and Canterbury Bulldogs squared off for all the marbles in the 1988 grand final, but the game will always be remembered for the sneaky high shot Dogs five-eighth Terry Lamb put on the Tigers' brilliant English import Ellery Hanley. A badly dazed Hanley tried to return after a brief stint in the 'head-bin' but was done for the afternoon and played no part in the second half. The Dogs led 10-8 at half-time and went on to win 24-12. Lamb wasn't penalised or cautioned in any way and the incident was only captured clearly by one television camera.
Fullback for Bulldogs is number 1 Will HopoateFullback for Wests Tigers is number 1 Moses Mbye
Winger for Bulldogs is number 2 Brett MorrisWinger for Wests Tigers is number 2 David Nofoaluma
Centre for Bulldogs is number 3 Josh MorrisCentre for Wests Tigers is number 3 Esan Marsters
Centre for Bulldogs is number 4 Kerrod HollandCentre for Wests Tigers is number 4 Kevin Naiqama
Winger for Bulldogs is number 5 Reimis SmithWinger for Wests Tigers is number 5 Corey Thompson
Five-Eighth for Bulldogs is number 6 Lachlan LewisFive-Eighth for Wests Tigers is number 6 Benji Marshall
Halfback for Bulldogs is number 7 Jeremy Marshall-KingHalfback for Wests Tigers is number 7 Luke Brooks
Prop for Bulldogs is number 8 Aiden TolmanProp for Wests Tigers is number 8 Russell Packer
Hooker for Bulldogs is number 9 Michael LichaaHooker for Wests Tigers is number 9 Robbie Farah
Prop for Bulldogs is number 10 David KlemmerProp for Wests Tigers is number 10 Ben Matulino
2nd Row for Bulldogs is number 11 Josh Jackson2nd Row for Wests Tigers is number 11 Michael Chee-Kam
2nd Row for Bulldogs is number 12 Rhyse Martin2nd Row for Wests Tigers is number 12 Luke Garner
Lock for Bulldogs is number 13 Adam ElliottLock for Wests Tigers is number 13 Elijah Taylor
Interchange for Bulldogs is number 14 Fa'amanu BrownInterchange for Wests Tigers is number 14 Alex Twal
Interchange for Bulldogs is number 15 Greg EastwoodInterchange for Wests Tigers is number 15 Sauaso Sue
Interchange for Bulldogs is number 16 Ofahiki OgdenInterchange for Wests Tigers is number 17 Matthew Eisenhuth
Interchange for Bulldogs is number 17 Danny FualaloInterchange for Wests Tigers is number 19 Chris McQueen
Bulldogs: No late changes for the Bulldogs who are 1-17 with Adam Elliott to play his 50th NRL game for the club. Matt Frawley and Francis Tualau dropped off the extended bench 24 hours before kick-off. Chris Smith and John Olive were omitted an hour before the game.
Wests Tigers: Robbie Farah, David Nofoaluma (concussion) were both cleared to play. Luke Garner did likewise earlier in the week and is good to go. Elijah Taylor and Michael Chee Kam both passed head injury assessments in the side's win over the Rabbitohs last start and are not in doubt. Jacob Liddle and Pita Godinet dropped off the extended bench 24 hours before kick-off. Robbie Rochow and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak dropped out on game day with Chris McQueen into the 17.
Head-to-head: Played 33; Bulldogs 20 wins, Wests Tigers 13 wins
Previous result: Wests Tigers won 14-10 at ANZ Stadium in round 12
Points per game: Bulldogs 15.9; Wests Tigers 15.8
Points conceded per game: Bulldogs 20.8; Wests Tigers 17.6
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League
Petero Civoniceva's prediction: The Bulldogs tried hard but couldn't get over the Eels last week. The Tigers on the other hand were tremendous in the way they went about upsetting a red-hot South Sydney outfit, backing up the previous week's impressive win over the Dragons. They look like they're getting back to that good form they were in early in the season, especially with Robbie Farah and Moses Mbye adding energy and spark to the attack.
Tip: Tigers by 10