Starting 13: Juke And Dive

1. Benji Marshall’s solo try against the Parramatta Eels showed the freaky five-eighth at the top of his game. The bearded one looks fit, fast and fully recovered from a mid-season knee injury.

2. Issac Luke is expected to turn his back on the NRL at the end of the season. The Rabbitohs hooker has received a massive offer to represent Australia at the London Olympics as a member of the diving team.

3. Poor old Mitch Brown can’t take a trick. The part-time winger, centre and fullback has once again dropped back to the bench, this time for the returning Lote Tuqiri.

4. Einhorn is Finkle! Finkle is Einhorn! Einhorn is a man! I’ll be cheering for the Broncos on Sunday afternoon! I can’t believe I said it. Now, can someone pass the toothpaste.

5. Rookie prop Matt Groat has made it pretty easy to forget about Andrew Fifita. The Cronulla-bound prop has all the potential in the world but for one reason or another refused to do the tough stuff that Groat clearly loves.

6. Sounds like Craig Bellamy is the latest coach to drink the South Sydney Kool-Aid. Let’s put this in perspective – again. The Bunnies belted two of the worst teams in the NRL and needed an intercept, sideline conversion, missed field goal and one of the best con jobs of all time to beat the struggling Cowboys.

7. Liam Fulton’s flexibility came into question this week, but the in-form backrower apparently has 20/20 vision. For those of you who missed it, check out http://tinyurl.com/3cd6v5t

8. Todd Carney is the NRL equivalent of a fart in an elevator. The bad smell just won’t go away.

9. Rob Lui had a career day against the Eels, going 20/20 in defence, but it’s his running game that continues to impress. His footwork, slight of hand and ability to break tackles remind me of the full fat Scott Prince, not the diet version we’ve seen in recent years.

10. You’ve got three teams locked on 30 points, a Rabbits ‘revival’ and a Dragons v Warriors clash that could decide the top four but hey, let’s broadcast the Eels and the Roosters. Thanks Channel Nine, for once again putting fans first.

11. It’s great to see Simon Dwyer out and about again despite a career-threatening injury. The big bloke will officially return to off-field action when he meets fans at Gearzone Campbelltown today.

12. Petero Civoniceva didn’t hold back in his assessment of the Panthers this week, and who can blame him. Penrith’s poor handling of the various coaching changes gave Steve Georgallis the perfect chance to return to the Tigers in 2012.

13. What’s the over/under on the number of penalties Greg Bird will pull on Monday night? A graduate of the Issac Luke School Of Acting, Bird captivated audiences with his portrayal of a fair and honest footballer when the teams last met in Round 6.

<^TigerBrad^>

Round 25: Tigers vs Titans

Preview:

The Wests Tigers are building beautifully for a huge finals push after collecting their sixth straight scalp. The Titans are down on troops, but have managed to pull themselves out of last place with two wins in their last three games against fellow cellar-dwellers the Sharks and Raiders. Wests are playing their final home game at Campbelltown on Monday night and will be very keen to send departing players including Gibbs, Payten and Moltzen off on a winning note.

The return of Tuqiri and Ellis from injury this week has made our strong team even stronger. Flanagan did a commendable job in Ellis’ place but drops back to NSW Cup this week. Brown has been very solid filling in for Lawrence but finds himself named on the bench with Utai selected in the unfamiliar position of centre. There’s every possibility that Brown and Utai will swap before kick-off. Lui pulled up sore with a cork last week but the long turnaround will ensure he takes the field.

Bull Bailey will make his return for the visitors, but Bird and Toopi could be late withdrawals from a team that is already missing nine top-line players from their 2011 squad (or ten, if you count Mat Rogers – I don’t).

With the Tigers now assured of a finals berth, the only question is where we will finish. There are a number of intriguing games involving teams either in the Top 8 or those in contention playing each other over the next two weeks. Here’s a quick look ahead at the remaining games of the teams fighting with us for 4th position:

Round 25:
Cowboys vs Sharks
Dragons vs Warriors

Round 26:
Dragons vs Panthers
Warriors vs Cowboys

The Tigers (+52), Cowboys (+56) and Warriors (+103) are all on 30pts. The Warriors have the strongest for/against differential but also the toughest run home. The Dragons (+118) have an even better differential but are 1 point back on 29pts. The reigning premiers have a tricky game this week as they try to get their season back on track. These four teams are likely to fill positions 4 down to 7 in some combination. From Wests perspective the scenario is very clear: win the last two games and they’ll be a great chance of securing a home final.

Wednesday’s courtroom decision that cleared Benji of all wrong-doing in the assault charge will only serve as further fuel to Wests fire this week. Only their own complacency can cost the Tigers this vital win. The first 13mins in the second half last week showed that Wests can be guilty of clocking off early and inviting the opposition back into the contest. The Eels weren’t good enough to take advantage but the Tigers need to drill that out of their game before the finals.

Gold Coast were posted at massive $7.50 underdogs. In all honesty, I can only see those odds lengthening given their long injury list and, more importantly, the winning form of the Tigers. We’ve only lost one of our last eight Monday night games. What more can you say?

Fortune Teller:

FTS: Tim Moltzen has been chiming in from fullback and combining very well in attack with Lui and Marshall. He made a number of line breaks last week and I think he’s a good bet to convert one of those for this week’s opening try.
HT/FT: Tigers/Tigers (unbackable odds, to be sure).
Margin: Another big, confidence-building victory in front of a home crowd. Tigers by 24.

Fantasy Bites:

Week 3 of the BWTF Printing Well Cup Finals Series sees four teams face-off in the Grand Final qualifier. The top-ranked Howling T’Wolves now play the fast-finishing Horsehead Bookends, who advanced from 6th place at the end of the regular season and toppled FlannoFan last week with a 756-692 victory. The OneEyedTigers host the 89Heros, who easily accounted for the mini tigers 782-579 last week.

<^One Eyed Tiger^>

Starting 13: Relieve The Hype

1. The Tigers relied on a hot start to beat the Panthers on Friday night in a performance that had all the makings of a Rolling Stones tribute band. Frustrating to watch and a step or two behind the real thing, but got the job done.

2. I must be missing something here, South Sydney knock off two of the worst teams in the NRL and all of a sudden they’re the team to beat?! Thankfully, the Cowboys can put an end to this hysteria tonight.

3. Jake Mullaney will join the Eels in 2012 after a tremendous Toyota Cup career at Wests. Mullaney overtakes Cody Towney as the most talked about Tiger never to play first grade.

4. Brett Kimmorley has done it again, this time tipping Canterbury to beat Manly at Brookvale Oval on Sunday. Bulldog Brett makes Laurie Daley sound impartial. How’s that Dragons vs Raiders grand final shaping up, Loz?

5. Bryce Gibbs has been brilliant during the Tigers five-game winning streak. I was quick to bash Bryce for his poor start to the year, and the humble pie sure tastes good.

6. League journos missed a golden opportunity when Canberra captain Alan Tongue announced his retirement this week. Surely ‘Retirement bug bites Tongue’ and ‘Tongue’s career licked’ were there for the taking.

7. Matt Utai was in frightening form for the Tigers on Friday night. Mini Bar Matt had a game to forget, but produced a moving tribute to Russell Richardson when he dropped the ball over the line in the opening minutes of the game.

8. Teetotalling Todd Carney’s future remains unclear, with suggestions the Titans, Sharks and Raiders will all look to sign the 2010 Dally M medalist if the Roosters release him.

9. Liam Fulton continues to take his game to the next level. The rangy back rower is going from strength to strength and seems to have inspired his good mate Gibbs to do the same.

10. No team does celebrity fans quite like South Sydney, so I’m sure Tom Cruise, Oprah Winfrey, Christian Bale, Ben Affleck, Jake Gyllenhaal and Matthew McConaughey are all over their side’s ‘surge’ towards the finals.

11. Mitch Brown will be a solid signing for one NRL club next season. The talented Tiger offers plenty of versatility and is the sort of player every team needs. A press release this week suggested he will remain at Wests in 2012, but time will tell.

12. You’d have to think contract negotiations have derailed the Dragons season. The reigning premiers have lost their coach and a handful of players in moves that mirrored the drama at Camp Concord.

13. Form goes out the window when the Tigers take on the Eels, and I’ll be happy if Wests walk away with the two points regardless of the score. Parra could be playing to avoid the wooden spoon, while the Tigers are walking a top-four tightrope. It should be a beauty.

<^TigerBrad^>

Round 24: Tigers vs Eels

Preview:

The Wests Tigers are shooting for six straight wins, while the Parramatta Eels are fighting to avoid six straight losses. The last time Parra tasted victory was against us in Round 18. That was a dark night for the Tigers, but to their credit our players have dug themselves out of that low period and will be keen to exact revenge this Sunday afternoon at the SFS.

Despite the Eels poor record of late, they have been competitive in most of their last five losses. The absolute drubbing at the hands of Souths two weeks ago aside, they have lost the other four games by an average of just three points. They were beaten by a single point at the hands of Penrith and Canterbury, then held what should have been match-winning leads against competition front-runners Melbourne and Manly only to be beaten in the final quarter. So despite the Tigers jockeying for a mid-ranking position in the finals and the Eels battling to avoid a wooden spoon, this game could be closer than it might seem at first glance. Wests will need to turn up with the right attitude if their hot-streak is to continue.

Tuqiri has not been named in this week’s team, but provided he doesn’t suffer a setback over the next few days I would not be surprised if Sheens includes him on game-day. Failing that, the consistency of fielding an unchanged line-up will certainly not hurt our chances. Utai is long odds to have back-to-back poor performances. Up until last week he was one of our most consistent players. Payten had a quiet game against Penrith – possibly hampered by injury, possibly keeping his powder dry for the finals. Regardless of his work rate though, Todd’s experience and mentoring of the younger forwards on the field is a definite positive for the team.

Kearney is continuing with the Hayne experiment at five-eighth. He has certainly not been as dangerous in attack since shifting from fullback, but will still cause Moltzen a few headaches with his towering bombs. Burt has hit a real purple-patch of form and shapes as the biggest threat to the Tigers.

The Eels tend to start hard but fade in the second half. By contrast, the Tigers usually play their best football after the break. Last week was only the third time this year that Wests had scored first and maintained the lead throughout the game to full-time. Heading into the finals we need a bit more practice playing from in-front and protecting a lead. And this should be one of those games.

Fortune Teller:

FTS: Benji needs just four points to eclipse Hodgson’s club point-scoring record of 786. I’m backing him to do so with the game’s first try!
HT/FT: Tigers/Tigers.
Margin: If the weather forecast is correct, this could be a wet and very windy affair. Still, I reckon the Tigers by 18.

Fantasy Bites:

The four top seeds in the BTWF Printing Well Cup recorded wins in the first week of the finals. The top two seeds, Howling T’Wolves and OneEyedTigers, were the only teams in the league to break into the 800s with scores of 809 and 802, respectively. They eliminated 1 FISH and Frothing Donkeys from the competition and each earned a rest this week. 89Heros were pushed by Horsehead Bookends in a tight game but prevailed 703-701. In the other game, FlannoFan accounted for the mini tigers 655-528.

Week 2 of the finals will feature:

– 89Heros vs mini tigers
– FlannoFan vs Horsehead Bookends

<^One Eyed Tiger^>

Starting 13: Home

1. Now is the time to bring Mitchell Pearce home. The Roosters are an absolute rabble on and off the field and Junior Junior will never reach his potential at Bondi. I don’t care what it takes, just get the kid in a Wests Tigers jersey.

2. How in the blue hell did the NRL judiciary clear Paul Gallen of striking? The NSW skipper looked at Beau Henry and kicked him while he was on the ground. This has set a dangerous precedent with the finals just around the corner.

3. Chris Walker, Carl Webb and Paul Whatuira signing with Parramatta is among the worst career moves since Milli Vanilli stopped lip syncing. At least the retired Eels can “blame it on the Hayne”.

4. About $2 million worth of backline talent will be sitting on the sideline tonight when Tigers stars Chris Lawrence and Lote Tuqiri join Luke Lewis, Michael Gordon and Lachlan Coote on the injured list.

5. South Sydney halfback Chris Sandow has had a crack at Jamie Soward for “yahooing” after the Saints raced to a 20-0 lead over the Bunnies in Round 21. It seems the king of the pre-try celebration was offended when Soward screamed “woo-woo”. Seriously.

6. I thought it was Steve Noyce’s hairline that was receding, not his spinal column. The embattled Roosters CEO and Nick Politis puppet should fine himself for bringing the game into disrepute.

7. The NRL match review committee is keeping a close eye on Beau Ryan amid growing calls to charge ‘The Footy Show’ funnyman with impersonating a first grade winger. Ryan has been in career-best form and combined beautifully with Lawrence on Friday night.

8. I’m tipping “pub”, “2am” and “Number Two Nate Myles” weren’t mentioned when Australian cricket captain Michael Clarke took Teetotalling Todd Carney under his wing for a “friendly chat” at a Bondi cafe last month.

9. In an event to rival a Big Foot sighting, Tin Man Tim Moltzen contested a bomb against the Dragons…and dropped it.

10. Surely Foxtel pays Brett Kimmorley to give an opinion, not promote one of his six former clubs. Bulldog Brett’s love affair with all things blue and white is embarrassing. Even Wayne Pearce and Gary Freeman give the Tigers a touch up every now and then.

11. It’s The War To Settle The Score. A steel cage match between Ray Hadley and Andrew Voss with Phil Rothfield as special guest referee. The winner gets a night out in Junee with the Ray Warren statue.

12. Spineless Steve must long for the days when he managed a club featuring Craig Field, Kevin McGuinness and John Hopoate. The Tigers trio were altar boys compared to Teetotalling Todd and Number Two Nate.

13. ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ columnist Benji Marshall confirmed he has no desire to coach when he declared Tin Man Tim “has been playing unbelievably well”. I would say these two should get a room, but unfortunately they already have.

<^TigerBrad^>

Round 23: Panthers vs Tigers

Preview:

The Wests Tigers well and truly established their premiership credentials over the last two weeks. They now face the challenge of staying focused and injury free over the final month of the regular season against teams with little or no hope of making the finals. The Panthers finished second on the ladder last year but remain only a mathematical chance of making the cut this year. In other words, they’ve got buckley’s.

The fact that Sheens has taken the squad into camp this week is a positive sign that they won’t be paying attention to the hype or getting too far ahead of themselves. Wins by the Rabbitohs and Bulldogs ensure they both remain four points outside the 8, but close enough to keep the pressure on. Wests are almost assured a finals spot, needing two wins and a couple of other results to go our way to be guaranteed of squeezing in. But it’s clear that no-one at the club (fans included!) will be satisfied with 8th. To make a serious charge for the title we need to finish as high up the ladder as possible.

Despite beating more Top 8 sides than the Warriors and Knights combined, our for/against at the moment is inferior to the other teams on 26 points so wins and losses will likely determine our finishing position in the 8. Here is a quick look at the remaining schedule of the teams in equal-6th:

  F/A 23 24 25 26
6. WARRIORS +81 Knights (h) Panthers (a) Dragons (a) Cowboys (h)
7. KNIGHTS +57 Warriors (a) Broncos (h) Bulldogs (a) Rabbitohs (h)
8. TIGERS +19 Panthers (a) Eels (h) Titans (h) Sharks (a)

The game featuring the Knights and Warriors this week will be interesting. A 90-minute draw will suit us perfectly since it will essentially nullify their for/against record from our perspective. But failing that unlikely scenario, a Warriors victory will probably be best for us. Provided these two teams get no more than two wins, then the Tigers can afford to drop one game and still finish as high as 5th or 6th position.

On the injury front, losing Lawrence until the finals will be a big loss. He has been extremely important to our attack since returning from his hip injury. In positive news, Utai has been cleared of a hand injury and Tuqiri should be back next week. Brown will get his chance to secure the vacant centre position until Lawrence returns, with Moltzen retaining the number 1 jersey and McKinnon warming the bench.

The Panthers are without Lewis this week, but are looking particularly thin in the backline. Jennings has been named at fullback with Simmons shifted to wing. It will be interesting to see Jennings’ impact from the back. His speed in broken play will put extra pressure on our kick-chase game, but he will no doubt be targeted with some trademark Benji bombs throughout the night. Apart from Jennings, Penrith’s main dangermen in attack will be Walsh (with his kicking game) and Waterhourse (with his edge running). Our one weakness in defence has been defusing attacking kicks, and unfortunately that’s one of Penrith’s pet plays. So limiting their go-forward and restricting their opportunities in the 20m zone will be important.

Winning games we are meant to has never been easy. Penrith Park will be another tough assignment, but even without Lawrence the Tigers should have them covered across the field. The key thing the players need to achieve over the coming weeks is maintaining their intensity for the full 80 minutes to ensure they are battled hardened for finals footy. Oh, and no more injuries would be great too!

Fortune Teller:

FTS: Beau Ryan is looking the goods as first try scorer.
HT/FT: Tigers/Tigers.
Margin: Wests will be too strong and in Benji’s 150th game will run away with a comfortable 14 point victory.

Fantasy Bites:

The business-end of the BWTF Printing Well Cup begins this week, with a 2012 Wests Tigers Stripes Membership up for grabs for the grand final winner courtesy of our sponsor. In Round 22, the Mongrel Magpies were fighting for a place in the finals but just fell short after a 611-all-draw with Frothing Donkeys. So 1 FISH, despite losing 703-737 to Horsehead Bookends, completes the Top 8 and goes head-to-head with the Howling T’Wolves first up. The full draw for the first week of the finals is:

– Howling T’Wolves (1st) vs 1 FISH (8th)
– OneEyedTigers (2nd) vs Frothing Donkeys (7th)
– 89Heros (3rd) vs Horsehead Bookends (6th)
– FlannoFan (4th) vs mini tigers (5th)

The bottom two losing teams will drop out and the top two get a bye the following week.

Coaches have a few additional injuries and suspensions to deal with this week. Lawrence, King and Prince are gone for the rest of the fantasy season due to injury, while Carney, Myles and Nuuausala have been stood down due to well-publicised off-field dramas. Harrison is also looking unlikely to play again due to injury. Hannant, Lewis and Elijah Taylor are absent this week, but Gallen escaped suspension and Cowboys Thurston and Scott have been named to return against the Broncos. Thurston in particular could be a fantasy superstar down the stretch if he stays fit.

<^One Eyed Tiger^>

Weekends out West: 20 Good Reasons

Ramblings on the week that was…
 
1. Gareth Ellis is incredibly important to the Wests Tigers. He is somewhat of a ‘gentlemanly enforcer’, not an old fashioned thug. He also looks like Roger Ramjet, which is always a good thing.
 
2. If Ellis is Roger Ramjet, Matt Utai is a mini bar on legs. A great signing who adds plenty of thunder to the Tigers lightening.
 
3. Jamie Lyon is still overweight and still overrated. Nothing a date with Liz Hurley won’t fix.
 
4. Benji Marshall will probably win the Dally M, but he doesn’t deserve it. What was once the most prestigious individual award in the game has turned into a popularity contest in recent years.
 
5. Mitch Brown is on the bench more than Judge Judy.
 
6.  The NRL is going to use satellite and micro chip technology to track forward passes. They also wanted to replace players with robots, but realised Wayne Bennett had already done that at the Dragons.
 
7. Steve Georgallis is an excellent hire as assistant coach. Hands off Bulldogs.
 
8. Chris Lawrence’s remarkable return from a devastating injury shows anything is possible. Let’s hope the Simon Dwyer story continues in 2013.
 
9. Dave Taylor has accused the Dragons of being soft. That’s interesting coming from a mountain of a man who often avoids collisions and falls in love with the grubber kick.
 
10. The Gold Coast Titans will claim back to back wooden spoons in 2012, giving Scott Prince more time to drive his Audi in the off season.
 
11. Chooseday Night Football is good. The 1993 Balmain Tigers were bad. Read ‘Jonestown: The Power and The Myth of Alan Jones’ for a fascinating insight into how one man brought the Tigers to their knees.
 
12. Shane Warne looks like a malnourished canary wearing novelty sunglasses. Somewhere, Billy Birmingham is in the studio.
 
13. Beau Ryan isn’t the quickest, the strongest or the smartest Wests Tiger of all time, but he may be the most passionate. Word from Camp Concord indicates a contract extension could be on the cards.
 
14. <^One-Eyed Tiger^> went three for three in last week’s Fortune Teller, nailing first try scorer, the half time full time double and the winning margin.
 
15. I’m drinking the Kieran Foran  Kool-Aid. This young Kiwi could be anything.
 
16. I’m drinking the Darren Lockyer Haterade. And you thought John Farnham took a while to say goodbye…
 
17. Young forwards Aaron Woods and Matt Groat could play Paul Sironen and Steve Roach in a movie. The Wests Tigers pack is suddenly in very good hands.
 
18. Does anyone else question Chris Sandow’s sincerity when he kisses the logo on his Rabbitohs jersey?
 
19. It’s only a matter of time before Tin Man Tim Moltzen throws an intercept by passing the ball to his wingers to make a kick return.
 
20. The Tigers haven’t beaten the Dragons since 2008. We’re due.
 
<^TigerBrad^>

Round 22: Tigers vs Dragons

Preview:

The Wests Tigers are flying high and shooting for four wins in a row. The Dragons have stalled since the State of Origin period, having only won twice in their last eight games (including one draw) and desperate to avoid a hat-trick of losses this Friday.

The Dragons welcome back Dean Young to an extended six-man bench. Sheens has named the same 18-man squad that was announced for the previous week, with McKinnon back on the extended bench and Fifita still in the dog-house.

St George-Illawarra have been rolled in the dying stages of their last two games after building a comfortable half-time lead. In contrast, the Tigers have won their last two games after being behind at half-time then keeping the opposition scoreless in the second term. Bennett publicly questioned the Dragon’s effort and will have delivered a couple of sprays to his players this week to fire them up. But the fact they have come so close and still lost their last couple means that nervousness and doubt will be in the back of their heads. No lead against Wests is secure – just ask the Wariors. And as Souths showed last week the Dragons can panic if they put under sustained pressure. Their second half completions dropped to 70% and they missed 18 tackles in that half in the loss to Souths. The Tigers were able to physically contain the Manly forward pack (and give George Rose a bloody nose to boot). They also applied and maintained pressure on the Sea Eagle defence late in the second half, securing a number of back-to-back sets to keep them out of the contest. Another effort like that will go a long way to toppling St George-Illawarra.

This game has all the indications of an instant classic. The individual match-ups are mouth-watering: Lawrence vs Gasnier, Marshall vs Soward, Heighington vs Creagh, Galloway vs Weyman. And of course Farah gets to rekindle the hate with Young that flourished in last year’s grand final qualifier. This game will also commemorate the 50 year anniversary since the famous 1961 grand final between the Western Suburbs and St George sides of the mergers. It’s bound to be a very special night at the SFS – I can’t wait for kick-off!!!

Fortune Teller:

After scoring 3/3 with last week’s lucky guesses – I mean, careful analysis – the pressure is on this week.

FTS: The Tiger’s right side defence remains a concern and I fear the Dragons will be targeting it. I think Matt Cooper is a good chance to open the scoring.
HT/FT: The trend of Dragons leading and Tigers trailing at half-time looks to continue, with the Tigers winning the second half of course. Dragons/Tigers.
Margin: Tigers by 4. Fire up boys!

Fantasy Bites:

With one round to go in the BWTF Printing Well Cup regular season, the Top 8 is just about decided. Lisa’s No Chance (9th) faces FlannoFan (4th) and Phil’s Mongrel Magpies (10th) faces Gus’ Frothing Donkeys (8th) in the two games that matter most. Good luck – the finals start next week!

<^One-Eyed Tiger^>