Last week’s win secured a home final, but unfortunately was overshadowed by a worrying injury toll. The Wests Tigers finished the game with no fit reserves on the bench after losing Lawrence, Ellis, Skandalis and McKinnon throughout the 80mins. In the afternoon heat, missing some key players of their own and in front of a packed Leichhardt Oval, the Melbourne Storm were predictably disinterested, providing only isolated moments of serious resistance. If the Tigers weren’t scoring on their fifth tackle they were guilty of cheap turnovers or poor kicks. It could have got ugly in the second half, but Benji was in one of his moods and together with strong performances by Farah, Fifita and Payten helped the Tigers get the win they deserved.
In terms of injuries, the Tigers have already discovered and blooded some excellent backup players throughout the year and will field a very competative team against the Titans this Friday. Mitch Brown, Geoff Daniela and Simon Dwyer have been rewarded for solid performances of late and named in the starting line-up, while Daniel Fitzhenry and Big Willie Makata make their return to the NRL side on the bench. Liam Fulton and Bryce Gibbs are due back for the Qualifying Final.
The hosts have injury concerns of their own. Preston Campbell is definately out and Luke Bailey, despite being named in the team, had hand sugery on Tuesday. Mat Rogers and Anthony Laffranchi were also named but are under injury clouds. It remains to be seen whether Cartwright will risk these guys. Gold Coast can secure a Top 2 finish with a win if the Sharks beat Penrith at Penrith. But they can fall to 6th with a loss if other results conspire against them. Wests can remain in 2nd with a loss of 8 points or less if Penrith lose, but could slip as low as 4th.
Apart from the obvious factor of which team the Tigers will play in the Qualifier, the uncertainty of a 2nd, 3rd or 4th place finish means the Tigers can either play on Friday or Saturday the following week – which for those of us trying to arrange flights and accommodation in Sydney is mega-frustrating! (If only the ‘Dogs kicked that field goal in the 80th minute to beat Penrith on Monday night … or if only the Tigers held on for one more tackle in the 90th minute to get a draw against Souths … etc etc).
The Tigers have made a habit of doing “just enough” to win the close games this year. This match against the Titans has all the makings of another nail-biter. The Titans have a solid home ground record and their vocal supporters will be keen to make Mat the Rat Rogers’ final regular season game a memorable one. The contingent of BWTFs making the journey south will need to be fine voice to help our boys over the line!
Fortune-Teller: Mark Minichiello will score the first try and Geoff Daniela will score the last try of the match. Wests Tigers will win 24-22. You can bet on it!