Round 26: Tigers vs Titans

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!

<^One-eyed Tiger^>

Round 25: Tigers vs Storm

There was a semi-final atmosphere at Parramatta Stadium last Sunday. In front of a packed house, the Wests Tigers put in one of their best efforts of the season. Despite bombing three tries in the first half and a cruel 7-0 penalty count in the second half, the Tigers prevailed for a heart-stopping win. The ability to secure a top-2 finish now lies entirely in our hands.

The gameplan that was effective against the Eels can easily be applied to Melbourne. Run the big guys (Payten and Ellis) at opposition gamebreakers (Inglis and Cronk) early and often to wear them out, move the ball to from edge-to-edge to keep the forwards in motion and create linebreak opportunities, and employ a smart kicking game to gain good field position and repeat sets.

The Tigers beat the Storm last year at Leichhardt and have won five from six encounters there. With the stakes they are playing for this time around there’s no reason why Wests can’t do it again. It’s the final home game for the regular season and a vocal Sunday afternoon crowd will be desperate to ensure the Storm’s Leichhardt hoodoo continues.

Fortune-Teller: Lote Tuqiri scores the first try, Blake Ayshford scores the last try and Wests win by 4.

<^One-eyed Tiger^>

Round 24: Tigers vs Eels

Last Sunday was a great day to be a Wests Tigers supporter. On the field the players put in an impressive team effort to secure it’s place in the finals, re-establish their position in the top 4 and give their for/against ratio a much needed boost. Off the field the club generated news headlines before and after the game for their touching support of Lleyton Giles and his family. The sad story of this poor kid resonated with Tiger’s fans and the wider public alike. After the game Benji Marshall lifted the youngster on his shoulders for a victory lap and then the whole team formed a guard of honour for him. It was another example of the true class and heart that makes this club great.

The performance last Sunday definitely blew the cobwebs out of the machine and reconfirmed Wests are a serious title threat. There were some dicey moments early in the first and second halves, but these were minor hiccups. The impact of the Tigers forward pack against a much bigger Panthers pack was even more impressive given Galloway was missing and Gibbs only lasted 20mins. Ellis, Fulton, Fifita and Skando led the way, with Lui and Brown having arguably their strongest games of the year.

Our run to the finals will ensure we’ll be playing near our best when we get there, with consecutive games against a could-be (Eels), would-be (Storm) and will-be (Titans) finalist team. This Sunday, the Hayne-and-Marshall show will be the main drawcard as always. These two are the most entertaining and unpredictable players in the NRL – if they both turn up with their A-game Gus Gould will be beside himself. The battle between the backrowers will also be a major factor. Hindmarsh and Ellis are two tireless workhorses who will go full tilt from the first to final whistle. Look for Lui to continue his impressive, creative play on the edge of ruck. The kid has a mountain of potential and is starting to fit perfectly into his role between Farah and Marshall. The loss of Gibbs for about three weeks is unfortunate, but the return of Galloway and the powerful form of Fifita and the evergreen Skandalis should mean business as usual in the Tigers engine room.

In the corresponding game last year the Eels effectively killed the Tigers season. This time around the Tigers can put the final nail in Parra’s campaign. It’s vital that the momentum gained from last week is not wasted. The hunger and determination that the players showed against Penrith indicates that won’t be the case.

Fortune-Teller: Fuifui Moimoi will score the first try but Wests will lead at half time. Chris Heighington celebrates his 150th game with the last try of the match and the Tigers win 25-12. You can bet on it!

<^One-eyed Tiger^>

Round 23: Tigers vs Panthers

First it was the ‘Baby Broncos’, now the ‘Busted Bunnies’ are the latest under-strength team to pull off a seemingly impossible victory against a short-priced favourite Tigers. It was a heartbreaking loss. Some questionable refereeing decisions were unkind, but the loss was all down to an extremely poor rugby league performance by the Wests Tigers.

Regardless of where in the Top 8 the Tigers finish, if they take this current form with them they’ll drop out in straight sets. We have seen Wests play a lot better this year but for some reason things just aren’t clicking at moment. The sting has gone from their defence and they are unable to build momentum in attack. Sheens has a big week ahead to pull the team together and rebuild the confidence of a genuine premiership contender. It was encouraging to read of the mini-camp that Sheens and Folkes held in Kiama this week. The team bonding, intense training session and skills session in the pouring rain showed how seriously the club is working to get back into the zone. They certainly responded well the last time the Rabbitohs embarrassed them. Even though the magnitude of the loss is quite different this time around, the pain certainly isn’t so hopefully the response will be the same.

This week’s opponents, the Panthers, were also run down in the second half last week. They have stumbled over recent games losing 4 of their last 5 and missed the opportunity to go into outright 2nd on the ladder, remaining on 28 competition points. Nothing is certain, but both the Roosters and Titans have likely wins this weekend (against the Sharks and Cowboys). Should the Tigers lose the ‘battle of the big cats’ they could slip as low as 8th due to their poor for/against record. 8th! Alarming given that we were within a matter of seconds of being outright 2nd this week.

Payten and McKinnon have both been named this week and can hopefully take the field. Again, it’s a strong looking line-up on paper and if they can get the attitude right a win at Campbelltown against our western rivals will get the finals push back on track. Penrith are a real bogey team for the Tigers, winning 14 of 18 games against us and having a 100% record at Campbelltown. The Panthers have scored a lot of tries from kicks this year and the Tigers have been vulnerable in this area. Both teams have pace to burn out wide, but the Wests forward pack will need to match the Panthers for the full 80 if Benji and the backs are to have any chance.

The closeness of the competition means the final make-up of the Top 8 is more difficult to predict than the Federal election. The next two games will be make or break. It’s time for Farah and the boys to stand up for real action and move the Tigers forward to the finals! Yes we can! (Spoken by One-eyed for the Wests Tigers Fans, Brisbane.)

Fortune-Teller: Michael Jennings scores the first try for Penrith and the visitors take the lead into half-time. Chris Lawrence scores the final try and the Tigers win 28-24.

<^One-eyed Tiger^>

Accuracy troubles Sheens

Benji Marshall’s goal kicking accuracy has been subject of much debate
over the last 2 weeks, understandably, Marshall is getting increasing
frustrated with his Meninga like accuracy and its only a matter of
time until this costs the Tigers a game.

So should Benji continue with this role within the club?

There are whispers amongst various circles that one Craig Fitzgibbon
could be joining the Tigers ranks shortly, next season at the latest.
Perhaps this was what was inferred when T. Sheens mentioned a few
weeks ago that the club was again casting a wider net in recruitment
and looking to England for more talent.

I don’t believe Fitzgibbon is the answer, although I am a fan. Nor
does Jake Mullaney solve the issue, he still is too wet behind the
ears. Lawrence has potential, but probably doesn’t need the
distraction. Many people suggest Lote, due to his previous
responsibilities in the 15 man yawnion, this isn’t an option that I
would rule out at this point.

For me though, the solution is already within the club, an unsung
workhorse, who rarely gets the post match interview but does all the
small things well. Mark Flanagan.

Not only will Flanno reduce the chills on a winters morning on the job
site, when your boasting to your mates about another 13+ victory
against the weekends opposition.

Rumors from the old dart say Mark Flanagan kicks at 80%. This could
not confirmed after several minutes of Google bashing. Is Sheens
holding this ace up his sleeve because he is concerned that Mark isn’t
on the field 80 minutes? Perhaps he should take the risk?

Solving the kicking duties for Wests Tigers has been problematic since
Hodgson was squeezed from the club, in 2008. Surely B Marshall has
been given plenty of opportunities to secure the role, and with sweaty
palms I can only agree with the punters that suggest it will be a 1/4
conversion result that will end the Tigers season.

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Round 22: Tigers vs Souths

At the moment, the Wests Tigers are running along like a thoroughbred approaching the last turn before the home straight. They are playing within themselves and not doing anything too fancy. But most importantly they are fit, staying within the leading pack and hopefully gearing up for a powerful charge to the finish line. Hopefully!

We survived another close game on Saturday against an enthusiastic Cronulla side. For the most part it was a flat performance and a little too close for comfort in the end. Fortunately wayward goal-kicking, jitters under the high ball and Bryce Gibbs did not cost us another vital win.

It’s fitting that we face South Sydney this Saturday in a game that can not only guarantee our first finals berth since ’05 but effectively end the Bunnies chance of making the cut. 28 points may be enough to qualify for the finals – depending on other results – but with five games remaining and being only two points behind the current leader, the Wests Tigers still have bigger stakes to play for. The full-time siren of that Black Sunday massacre at the hands of the Rabbitohs in Round 10 was the turning point for the Tiger’s season. After that game Wests have enjoyed 8 wins from 10 games, whereas Souths have a 4-6 record.

Down on luck and form, the Rabbitohs also limp into this clash without several big name forwards. Given the lack of impact up front, playmakers Luke, Sutton and Sandow are likely to direct the attack to the fringes and force our pack to move around. Ellis, Fulton and the outside backs will be in for a busy night but should have the quality and strength to come out on top.

The Tigers field a similar team to last week, with McKinnon back in the starting side and Fifita onto the bench. Ayshford remains a likely starter despite an injured arm. It may be one of South’s last throws of the dice, but for the Tigers it shapes as an important confidence builder for games to come – especially against fellow Top 4 side the Panthers the week after. Even though we are short-priced favourites, a repeat of last week’s performance won’t be enough. Wests will need to tighten their ‘D’ (most notably improving their bomb defusal which is sure to get heavily tested again) and start putting together full 80 minute performances. Grinding out wins is vital for qualifying for the finals, but it’s not going to win a title. August is the month for getting into good winning habits before the serious stuff kicks-off in September. A solid win against Souths on Saturday will be the perfect start!

Fortune-Teller: Rob Lui opens the scoring and the Tigers lead at half-time. Nathan Merritt scores the final try, but it’s too little too late. Wests Tigers win 26-16. You can bet on it!

<^One-eyed Tiger^>