Weekends out West: Power And The Passion

First half: The Tigers will emerge from a horror run of injuries as a ‘new’ team in every sense of the word. Young forwards Andrew Fifita, Simon Dwyer and Aaron Woods are quickly becoming leaders. I can’t help but look back to 2005 when three young blokes named Bryce Gibbs, Liam Fulton and Chris Heighington caused all sorts of problems for opposition teams. They weren’t the biggest or the best, but they played with power, passion and pride in the jersey.
  
Second half: Coach Sheens stuck to his guns by naming Tim Moltzen at centre and rookie Jacob Miller in the halves to take on the Roosters. Sheens inadvertently showed his hand when Moltzen came on in the centres after about 20 minutes against the Raiders, moving Blake Ayshford to back row duties. Moltz will play on the opposite side of the field this week, but the Tigers will once again look to take advantage of his speed, ball playing and line running.
 
Golden point: The Tigers injury epidemic continued this week with Rob Lui ruled out for up to six weeks with an ankle injury. Lui joins regular first graders Lote Tuqiri, Chris Lawrence, Gareth Ellis, Bryce Gibbs, Liam Fulton and Beau Ryan on the sideline. That’s seven players from last year’s starting 13 ruled out alongside emerging talent Ben Murdoch-Masila, Junior Moors, Nu Akeripa and Nathan Waters. The next two months will test the team’s depth like never before.
 
Numbers game: Vertically-challenged winger Matt Utai ran for a team-best 148m with two line breaks and one try against the Raiders – and people are still calling for his head.
 
Shout out: “It’s very disappointing for the kid and the team to lose our left edge, but the players have got to come to grips with understanding we’ve got another game next week” – Tigers coach Tim Sheens on long-term injuries to Chris Lawrence and Lote Tuqiri.
 
<^TigerBrad^>

Round 4: Roosters vs Tigers

Preview:

After continuing our dominance over the Raiders with another impressive win (six in a row and counting), the Tigers now face a bogey team of our own in the Roosters. And it’s coming right in the middle of what has to be the worst injury crisis of our club’s history. Three more players were added to the already cluttered casualty ward this week. That’s now seven players from the starting 13 out with medium-to-long term injuries, as well as a further four players from the NRL squad. It’s almost a case of who is going to be next. Would anyone be surprised if Robbie Farah was abducted by aliens this week? In reference to TigerBrad’s blog last week, the Tigers may well become a Benji Marshall one-man team if this alarming injury rate continues.

It must be said though that Woods and Utai have been very impressive filling in for Gibbs and Ryan over the past weeks. Now Brown (left wing) and Daniela (interchange bench) get an opportunity to return the top grade. While they are not Australia representatives (yet?) they showed great form throughout last year and should slot back into the NRL team seamlessly. Also, new recruit Jacob Miller gets a fast-tracked promotion to make his NRL debut at halfback. Miller was a surprising announcement on Tuesday, getting the nod ahead of Moltzen to replace Lui, who himself will make his first appearance in the run-on side at left centre. Miller played briefly in the pre-season trial victory over the Roosters, and in Toyota Cup so far has amassed 28 points over three games, including two tries and a perfect record of 10 from 10 goals.

Despite the massive injury toll, our Round 4 team still boasts plenty of skill and experience. With Marshall in career-best form running at and across the defensive line, and forwards Galloway and Fifita rolling through the middle, the Tigers have a great chance of bagging their third win of year (and for punters, a great chance to rake in juicy odds of $2.6o being offered by bookies). Our kicking game was greatly improved last Saturday night, forcing three consecutive line dropouts in the first half that clearly wore down the Raider’s defense. Marshall and Farah need to continue to orchestrate that blend of patience with trademark flamboyance in attack against the Roosters. Even with a new look left edge, I’m confident we’ve got the necessary tries in us – this game will be determined by how well the Tigers defend their line.

The Roosters have been forced to make a minor re-shuffle in their backline to cover winger Sam Perret who is out for eight weeks with a fractured ankle. Replacing him is young gun Jason Carney, while Mitch Aubusson returns to the centres. Easts will be hurting after two losses on the bounce to Manly and Canterbury.

Fortune Teller:

FTS: Tim Moltzen makes his first run-on appearance of the year slotting into left centre where Chris Lawrence scored four tries in three games. With Marshall in the form he’s in, Timmy is a good bet to score the first of the game this week – and his first of the year.
Margin: Wests Tigers 1-7
Score: 16 – 12

Fantasy Bites:

As if more injuries to key players weren’t causing enough headaches for Dreamteam coaches (Harrison, Lawrence, Walsh), NRL coaches have also thrown a few surprising curve-balls this week, with regular second-rowers Aubusson and Mannering named in the centres for their respective teams this week. They may see a drop in workrate and overall score as a result.  Also, a number of players under injury clouds have been named, so keep up to date with the late mail on Friday before finalising your trades and starting 17 for the first Printing Well Cup head-to-head clash. The Coaches Box module can be accessed within the Printing Well League page where you can start trash-talking your opponent. FlannoFan has been talking up a big game at every opportunity, but can his team walk-the-walk against the Julian’s mini tigers?  Watch all the head-to-head scores live throughout the weekend from The Printing Well League page.

<^OneEyedTiger^>

Weekends out West: The One

First half: Some remarkable stats published this week show Benji Marshall has started season 2011 in top form. In just two weeks the Golden Boot winner has notched up eight tackle busts, six line-break assists and one line break. He has also scored one try and his league-leading five try assists include three to resigned centre Chris Lawrence. It’s an incredible effort for a playmaker who is under constant pressure on and off the field.
 
Second half: Headlines claim Marshall is “a one-man team”, but nothing could be further from the truth. The emergence of Rob Lui and improved Round 2 effort of captain Robbie Farah give Marshall the freedom to do his thing. He no longer has to handle the ball every possession. Lui and Farah can control play while Marshall counts numbers and identifies weaknesses before launching an attack. All the great players have time on their side, Marshall is no different.
 
Golden point: Marshall’s kicking game has been ordinary and I still don’t know what to make of his goal kicking. Benji is the sort of player who makes the hard things look easy and the easy things look hard. He will kick an absolutely beauty from the sideline only to spray one from in front five minutes later. Then there’s the passes into touch. They’re only small things and it’s hard to be critical because that’s what makes Benji Marshall the best player in the world.
 
Numbers game: 249 games and 15 seasons. Tigers forward Todd Payten will celebrate game 250 against the Raiders.
 
Shout out: “They’ve lost Jeremy Smith, Neville Costigan, Jarrod Saffy, now Michael Weyman [and] they’ve got a bloke in the pack called David Gower … wasn’t he a cricketer?” – Mark Geyer enters quote of the year territory when explaining why the Dragons won’t make the semis.
 
<^TigerBrad^>

Round 3: Tigers vs Raiders

Preview

Both the Tigers and Raiders will be looking for improvement on their Round 2 performances. The short-priced favourite Raiders inexplicably capitulated to an under-strength Broncos team in front of their own home crowd in a dire and uninspiring game. In fact, given the Shark’s result on Monday night, can anyone confirm if Canberra and Cronulla swapped jerseys at the end of their Round 1 match?

The Tigers got away with a win and registered their first competition points of the year thanks to a last quarter blitz of three try unanswered tries. It wasn’t a convincing 80-minute performance, but psychologically the win will do the team a whole lot of good, especially given we were missing three top-line forwards.

Of the two teams, the Raiders should be feeling more of the pressure this week. Wests registered a clean sweep in all three games against Canberra in 2010, two of which were played in Canberra (including the historic semi-final). But the task at Campbelltown on Saturday will be a tough one for the Tiges given the absence once again of Ellis and Gibbs. The Raiders are packing an abundance of size in their forwards and our boys will need to be muscle up and punch above their weight to match them up the middle.

Wests Tigers have a very strong NRL squad this year – and it’s just as well. With no less than five players out indefinitely (Ellis and Gibbs last week joining Ryan, Moors and Flanagan), plus Murdoch-Masila and Fulton out until Round 6 and 8, respectively. The only real positive to take from this extended casualty ward is that it’s happening in Round 3 and not Round 23. The opportunities that Woods and the Schirnack lads are getting now will only strengthen the depth of our club. Payten, in his 250th first grade game, is in for a big game in front of our home fans and will lead the young pack by example.

Last week, Brisbane were able to advance up the middle of the field with quick dummy half runs and short one-off-the-ruck passes, so look for Farah, Galloway and Woods to replicate this strategy. As long as we can get their big pack moving backwards early in the tackle count, the Tigers have the strike power and favourable match-ups in the halves and three-quarters to out-score the Raiders.

No prizes for guessing who Marshall will target with his first kick-off. I think Lui and Marshall will also send a few cross-field kicks into Vidot’s corner throughout the game to try to keep him unsettled.

Fortune Teller

Given the bizarre results over the first two rounds, you’re either a raving lunatic or have a gambling problem if you voluntarily part with your hard earned on NRL matches this week. If you’re still tempted, please, seek help. As a purely academic exercise, betting with Monopoly money only, here are a set of least unlikely predictions:

FTS: Utai. He’s making plenty of hit-ups and playing outside Ayshford who is in excellent form.
Margin: Wests Tigers 1-12
Score: 23 – 16.

Fantasy Bites

There’s one more trial game before head-to-head BWTF Printing Well Cup starts, so this is the week to focus on making some easy cash. If your top-guns are misfiring, trade them out now before their price drops and pick-up an over-achiever in their place. There are dozens to choose from in every position.

Let’s hope the boffins at NRL.com sort out their IT issues before Round 4.  The downtime of the site and out-of-date stats is as poor as Greg Inglis’ form at the moment. FlannoFan and myself may need to volunteer our professional services to get their project management and software release procedures up to scratch.

Can’t wait for the head-to-head games to start.  Best of luck everyone!

<^One-Eyed Tiger^>

Weekends out West: Panic Prevention

First half: Fire Sheens, send Utai and McKinnon to Super League and drop Lui, Dwyer and Fulton. A season that started with so much promise is over after a three-try-to-four Round 1 loss against a new-look Bulldogs team with plenty to prove. The naysayers took a little over an hour to write off the Tigers in what has to be one of the greatest overreactions since Channel Nine hailed an emerging halfback named Ben Black as the next Andrew Johns. Many questioned the Tigers attitude and there’s no doubt they looked sluggish and out of sync at times, but there were plenty of positives to take away from the game.
 
Second half: Andrew Fifita looks fit and motivated and had the trademark fend working brilliantly on Monday night. The big bloke is at his best in broken play and won’t make a name for himself as a battering ram. He seems like the perfect bench player to run wide, offload and link with the backs after the opening 20 minutes. Fifita reminds me a bit of former Eel and Rabbitoh Dean Widders, which isn’t a bad thing. Aaron Woods could well be the ‘Anti-Andrew’, for one of a better term. He loves the rough stuff, making 19 tackles and running for 45m with one offload in just 21 minutes against the Dogs. Woods is a giant of a man who should play whenever Galloway is off the field.
 
Golden point: I hope we’re not seeing the emergence of Tim Moltzhenry. Tiger Tim is far too talented to be a bench player who only takes the field in garbage time. Moltz should be eased back into the game until he regains the speed and confidence that made him one of the most exciting players at the club, but don’t waste his talent on the bench. Like him or loath him, Daniel Fitzhenry filled the utility role because he was exactly that, a veteran player with great utility value. Moltz is a young player with blinding speed and slick ball playing skills. Minutes make the man, and the Tigers must find a way to get Tim Moltzen on the field.
 
Numbers game: $1.7 million over five years. The reported deal to keep Chris Lawrence at the Tigers.
 
Shout out: “It was four tries to three so it’s not throat-cutting time. We just need to be better” – veteran coach Tim Sheens puts the Tigers Round 1 loss in perspective.
 
<^TigerBrad^>

Round 2: Tigers vs Warriors

Preview:

Of these two teams looking to notch up their first win of 2011, the Warriors face the tougher task this weekend. Not only are they backing up after going down to the Dad’s Army Eels in front of 38,000 home fans (and I think the 24-18 scoreline flattered the Warriors, just quietly), they need to venture across the ditch to Leichhardt Oval without Maloney (suspended) and Vatuvei (injury). Coming into the run-on side is newcomer Inu and youngster Issac John.

The only personnel change to the Tigers line-up that was announced on Tuesday is Fulton out due to injury and last week’s late scratching Gibbs back in (although both Gibbs and Ellis are in some doubt). I think we can put a line through last week’s result and call it “rusty”. The kicking game was off, there were a couple of lapses in defense and a general lack of patience in attack – especially on 5th tackle. For the Tigers to live up to the pre-season hype, back-to-back performances like that should not occur. And I’m very confident it won’t happen on Saturday night in front a packed and vocal Leichhardt crowd.

The last time these teams met, the Wests Tigers racked up their biggest win of 2010 with a 50-6 thumping. On that night, Lui and Marshall found a number gaps down the right side of the field, with Daniela scoring a hat-trick. Parramatta also managed to score a couple of tries down the right in the first half against the Warriors last week. If our forwards can pepper the fringe of the ruck down that side again, some solid yards and scoring opportunities for Dwyer, Ayshford and Utai should be on the cards.  I’m also looking forward to seeing a more relaxed Marshall take the field and pick-up from where he left off in the second half last week.  Hopefully Farah is also on his way to returning to his best after an injury-hampered performance.

Fortune Teller:

FTS: Simon Dwyer
Margin: Wests Tigers 13+
Score: 29 – 12

Fantasy Bites:

The first rule of Dreamteam is “Don’t Panic”. Round 1 was one of the more brutal starts to the season I can remember, with a number of long and medium-term injuries sustained by high profile players. But keep in mind that Rounds 1, 2 and 3 are essentially trial games before the BWTF Printing Well Cup Head-2-Head comp kicks-off in Round 4. As such, don’t feel pressured into making rash trades. There are only 30 trades to use up to and including the Grand Final in Round 26, and you want to make sure you have plenty up your sleeve when you reach the finals.

If you are unlucky enough to be carrying two or more players who sustained a serious injury, make sure you use your trade(s) wisely. In the early rounds the key is to look for players who’s value will likely increase dramatically over the coming weeks. This will allow you to trade out those players when they reach their peak value and give you extra cash to upgrade your mid-range players to elite players later in the year. Player values don’t adjust until the player has scores in three games, so if you have a suspended player (Aiton, White, King, Maloney) or a short-term injury (Dugan, Hodges, Hannant) think twice before trading them out this week.

When you do decide to make a trade, don’t pull the trigger until Friday afternoon. Trades are final and cannot be reversed if your new guy picks up an injury during training. Remember, you don’t need high-scoring players in every position at this stage of the season. Just like in the NRL, the goal is to peak in the finals, not in March! Your plan for the next two weeks is to make sure that come Round 4 you have 17 fit and productive starting players (plus a good collection of cheap bench players) and that the collective value of the squad is due to rise.

<^One-Eyed Tiger^>

Weekends out West: Monday Bloody Monday

First half: I can’t fault Coach Sheens for picking new recruit Matt Utai to debut on the wing against his former club. Two things Utai will always have are power and leg speed. He’s also destined to remain five-foot-nothing for the rest of his career, but that’s another story for another day. Sheens may well be giving Utai an extended trial to see what he’s got left in the tank after winning a premiership with the Bulldogs in 2004 and representing his native New Zealand on four occasions. Ageing wingers tend to serve the Tigers quite well, particularly during the opening weekend of competition. I’m almost certain Jason Moodie scored the club’s first try in 2004, and Lote did the same with his first touch of the football in 2010. Now it’s up to 29-year-old Utai to continue the run.

Second half: Depth shouldn’t be an issue in 2011, with the likes of former first graders Mitch Brown, Geoff Daniela, Junior Moors, Mark Flanagan and Rocky Trimarchi going around in NSW Cup and young guns Ratu Tagive, Aaron Woods and Junior Roqica named in Toyota Cup. Then there’s Australian Schoolboy Jacob Miller, goal kicking fullback Jake Mullaney, utility Sean Meaney, returning Tiger Ben Jeffery and brothers Al and Jason Schirnack, who will all spend round one in the lower grades. Winger Beau Ryan and rising star Ben Murdoch-Masila are unavailable due to injury, and early reports show Ryan could be out for a number of weeks. The only other concerns are Todd Payten and Gareth Ellis, who could take a week or two to overcome offseason injuries and reach top form.

Golden point: While I’m happy to be a fully paid member of Team Utai, I can see Wade McKinnon finishing the season on the sideline or in England. I was high on the McKinnon signing at the time, but when reality set in it became obvious he offers very little in attack and isn’t the player he was in 2007. Injuries have robbed him of his speed and he doesn’t have the ball playing skills that modern day fullbacks so badly need. With any luck Coach Sheens is giving McKinnon a week or two to sink or swim before the Mitch Brown era begins – again. It was incredible to see Brown’s speed, determination, ball handling and confidence during last year’s finals. He also has plenty of size and is cool and calm under pressure. As for Tim Moltzen, leave him in the 14 and he could easily be one of the best in the game. Think of Moltz as a rich man’s Kurt Gidley.

Numbers game: Three. That’s the number of times in a row the Tigers have started their season with a Monday night game. No sir, I don’t like it.

Shout out: “Benji is a great player and we know that he’s going to turn up to play. It’s more important for us to make sure that we’re really good defensively and make sure we’re on our game” – Canterbury coach Kevin Moore on how the Bulldogs are preparing for a fired-up Benji Marshall.

 
<^TigerBrad^>

Round 1: Bulldogs vs Tigers

Preview:

After a very positive off-season in which the Wests Tigers are considered by many pundits as certainties for the finals and second favourite on the TAB to take out the 2011 title, it all threatened to come undone over the weekend before the first whistle was blown. The most important thing to be resolved so far is that Benji is cleared to play, but the episode did sour what had been a near perfect build-up to the season opener.

On Monday night, Tim Moltzen makes his long anticipated return for the Tigers off the bench. Coach Sheens will ease him back into the action for a couple of weeks as he regains full confidence in his knee, but is destined for a huge year if he can stay fit. All eyes will also be on Marshall to see how he deals with the drama that has unfolded this week. The Monday kick-off should give him and the boys enough time to get their focus on.

The Wests line-up is near full-strength, with the only potential weakness at this stage being the right wing position. With Ryan unavailable with a groin injury, Utai gets his chance against his former club after impressing Sheens with strong performances in the trials. He made plenty of metres with the ball against the Roosters in the last trial game, but defensively he’ll be tested this week – in the air by Hodkinson and on the ground by Morris and Turner. Sheens made special mention of Utai’s fitness and positive attitude at training so he’s obviously doing everything right to earn his place back in first grade. His main rival for the position in Ryan’s absence, Mitch Brown, was named on the wing for the Balmain Ryde Eastwood Tigers in the NSW Cup.

The Bulldogs have recruited heavily for this year and are likely to be one of the dark horses in the comp, but it will probably take a few weeks for them to gel as a unit. Their forward pack and centre-three-quarters are big and powerful, but they may be vulnerable with a new halves combination and a new fullback. Barba was explosive in short bursts off the bench last year and will be a danger in broken play, but I’d be looking for Marshall and Lui to hoist some attacking bombs at him early with Tuqiri, Lawrence and/or Ayshford rushing through to put him under-pressure.

Fortune Teller:

FTS: Look for Chris Lawrence to score the first try of the 2011 campaign.
Margin: The Tigers to win by 4.
Score: 22 – 18.

Fantasy Bites:

Risk: Up until the later rounds of 2010, Canterbury’s David Stagg was a fantasy superstar. But with new additions to the new ‘dogs pack, Coach Moore has indicated he will be rotating his backrowers this year. This means that Stagg – a former 80 minute workhorse – will likely see his on-field minutes, and therefore points, on the decline this year. He may be a good mid-range backrower down the track when his dollar value reduces, but he is unlikely to be an elite fantasy option in 2011.

Reward: Robbie Farah got off to a relatively slow start last year and it took him a couple of games for his fantasy scores to justify his high price-tag. But I reckon he’ll hit the ground running this year. He’ll be desperate to get the upper hand over his rival Ennis and could see a greater amount of metres gained and line-break assists around the ruck to take some focus off Marshall. He can also be counted on for solid scoring kicking metres out of dummy half.

<^One-Eyed Tiger^>

Weekends out West: Start Me Up

First half: The Tigers forward pack is one to be feared in 2011. The injured duo of Gareth Ellis and Todd Payten might take a week or two to find their feet, but you know what you're going to get from Bryce Gibbs, Liam Fulton and big Keith Galloway. Speaking of big, Aaron Woods is an absolute monster who literally stood out from the pack against the Roosters. This kid needs some luck after a horror run with injury and should combine well with fellow young gun Simon Dwyer and a slimline Andrew Fifita. It's going to be tough to find playing time for Junior Moors and Mark Flanagan, who has a game that is probably too similar to Liam Fulton. It's one or the other, and form would suggest Fulton is the man for the job. Rounding out the forwards is inspirational captain Robbie Farah, who will continue to give his all for the full 80 minutes.
 
Second half: A huge amount of depth will put plenty of pressure on players to retain their place in the Tigers backline in 2011. Wade McKinnon will need to turn back the clock to head off a huge challenge from Mitch Brown, and then of course you have the returning Tim Moltzen who must be included in the top 17 for round one. Wing is another huge question mark with Beau Ryan battling injury, Brown and new Tigers Ratu Tagive and Matt Utai to keep the number five jersey his own. Chris Lawrence and Blake Ayshford have a mortgage on the centre positions, and I for one hope Ayshford uses his winger more this year! The combination of Benji Marshall and Rob Lui really came into its own in the latter half of 2010 and if trials and the All Star Game are anything to go by, these two are ready to fire.
 
Golden point: Manly fans, players, officials and sponsors have been dudded by a gutless David Gallop. The same man who suspended Brett Stewart for four matches in 2009 has endorsed a Sydney Roosters plan to fine Todd Carney $10,000 for his latest off-field indiscretion. Stewart was cleared of sexual assault charges, while Carney has already been found guilty of a growing list of charges. He was charged with drink driving and dangerous driving in 2006, led a police chase through Canberra in 2007, urinated on a man in a Canberra nightclub in 2008, jumped on the bonnet of a car in Goulburn in 2009 and set fire to a man's pants in 2010. In March 2009 Gallop warned "The last weekend before the start of the season is double demerit weekend". Carney's 'punishment' proves two weekends before the start of the season is half demerit weekend, right David?
 
Numbers game: Rob Lui's line from the Foundation Cup read like this: two try assists, one try, one field goal. There's your halfback for round one and beyond.
 
Shout out: "He does things I have never seen before. If those greats once sat on a throne, well, Benji is now occupying the same throne. He can do things those others can't. Mind you, they could do things Benji couldn't" – Ray 'Rabbits' Warren on why Benji Marshall is one of the best players of all time.
 
<^TigerBrad^>

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