Wests Tigers v Dragons: Fonua returns; Mann in No.6
The stage is set - now it is up to the Wests Tigers to show they belong in the top eight. And you can bet your last dollar Leichhardt Oval will be a capacity crowd on Saturday night as the hosts make a bold late charge to play semi-final football.
The Tigers have won four of their past five matches, including an away win over St George Illawarra five weeks ago, to put themselves within one win of the eighth-placed Broncos.
Their opponents meanwhile are in free fall, with the Dragons losing five of their last six games after being the competition leaders heading into round 17.
Match: Wests Tigers v Dragons
Round 23 -
Venue: Leichhardt Oval
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
Key match up: Luke Brooks v Ben Hunt. The Tigers' number seven has enjoyed his best season following his brilliant debut versus the Dragons at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2013. Under-pressure rival playmaker Hunt needs to rise for a number of reasons - chiefly his team's alarming form ahead of the semis next month.
For the Tigers to win: Use the guile and experience of club legends Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah. The premiership-winners in 2005 have been instrumental in their team's recent success and know to keep a steely focus in clutch moments. If the pair fire, the Dragons will struggle to contain them.
For the Dragons to win: Their forward pack needs to wake from their slumber. Jack de Belin, Tyson Frizell and Tariq Sims need to re-discover their early club season and Origin form or Paul McGregor's men will be watching the finals from their lounge rooms.
Tigers Stat Attack: It is no secret Ivan Cleary's men have built their season on defence. They have made the most tackles (7426) and accumulated the most kicks (417). Esan Marsters has been a standout with 45 offloads, while Brooks has 14 line-break assists to his name.
Dragons Stat Attack: Possession has been a highlight, with the Dragons and Cowboys the equal yardstick with 52%. The Red V also lead the standings when it comes to tackle breaks (772). They trail only the Rabbitohs (33,172) when it comes to total run metres (32,874).
And another thing: If the Tigers manage to beat the out-of-sorts Dragons on home soil, they will move to 26 competition points. Tigers fans will be hoping the Rabbitohs topple the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium to set up a frenetic last couple of Telstra Premiership rounds.
Match: Wests Tigers v Dragons
Round 23 -
Fullback for Wests Tigers is number 1 Moses MbyeFullback for Dragons is number 1 Matthew Dufty
Winger for Wests Tigers is number 2 David NofoalumaWinger for Dragons is number 2 Nene Macdonald
Centre for Wests Tigers is number 3 Esan MarstersCentre for Dragons is number 3 Euan Aitken
Centre for Wests Tigers is number 4 Mahe FonuaCentre for Dragons is number 4 Timoteo Lafai
Winger for Wests Tigers is number 5 Kevin NaiqamaWinger for Dragons is number 5 Jordan Pereira
Five-Eighth for Wests Tigers is number 6 Benji MarshallFive-Eighth for Dragons is number 6 Kurt Mann
Halfback for Wests Tigers is number 7 Luke BrooksHalfback for Dragons is number 7 Ben Hunt
Prop for Wests Tigers is number 8 Russell PackerProp for Dragons is number 8 James Graham
Hooker for Wests Tigers is number 9 Robbie FarahHooker for Dragons is number 9 Cameron McInnes
Prop for Wests Tigers is number 10 Ben MatulinoProp for Dragons is number 11 Tyson Frizell
2nd Row for Wests Tigers is number 17 Matthew Eisenhuth2nd Row for Dragons is number 12 Tariq Sims
2nd Row for Wests Tigers is number 12 Michael Chee-Kam2nd Row for Dragons is number 17 Luciano Leilua
Lock for Wests Tigers is number 13 Elijah TaylorLock for Dragons is number 13 Jack de Belin
Interchange for Wests Tigers is number 11 Chris LawrenceInterchange for Dragons is number 10 Leeson Ah Mau
Interchange for Wests Tigers is number 15 Sauaso SueInterchange for Dragons is number 14 Jeremy Latimore
Interchange for Wests Tigers is number 16 Luke GarnerInterchange for Dragons is number 16 Blake Lawrie
Interchange for Wests Tigers is number 18 Jacob LiddleInterchange for Dragons is number 19 Jai Field
Wests Tigers: Chris Lawrence has moved to the bench, with Matt Eisenhuth promoted to a starting role. Jacob Liddle has been elevated to the bench. Mahe Fonua returns from a broken arm in the centres, with Kevin Naiqama shifting to the wing and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak dropping out. Malakai Watene-Zelezniak was cut an hour before kick-off, while Robbie Rochow and Tyson Gamble were omitted from the squad on Friday night.
Dragons: With Gareth Widdop (shoulder) out, Kurt Mann starts at five-eighth with Cameron McInnes and Tyson Frizell to share the captaincy. Frizell has made a game-day shift to prop, with Leeson Ah Mau dropped to the bench. Luciano Leilua will fill Frizell's shoes in the back-row. With no Widdop, reserve Jai Field is a late inclusion on the bench. Zac Lomax and Jacob Host were cut an hour out from kick-off, while Darren Nicholls and Hame Sele were dropped on Friday night.
Wests Tigers v St George Illawarra Dragons, Saturday 5.30pm at Leichhardt Oval
Head-to-head: Played 35; Dragons 19 wins, Wests Tigers 16 wins
Previous result: Wests Tigers won 20-16 at Jubilee Oval in round 18
Points per game: Wests Tigers 16; Dragons 22.6
Points conceded per game: Wests Tigers 17.6; Dragons 19.5
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League
Petero Civoniceva's prediction: A month ago the Dragons were looking secure in the top four and were considered premiership contenders. Now the wheels have fallen off and it's hard to fathom what has happened. You would expect them to draw a line in the sand this week and stand up but the Tigers will smell blood in the water and the Leichhardt crowd will lift them.
Tip: Tigers by 6