Six To Go: Save The Best For Last

1. The second 40 against the Dragons was arguably the Tigers best of the year. They came out of the sheds and controlled the game from the restart, playing with the sort of calm confidence you don’t always expect from a Tigers team. And wasn’t it great to see Tim Sheens giving his trusty umbrella an absolute flogging on the sideline.

2. Last week’s performances by Lote Tuqiri and Manu Vatuvei made Lindsay Lohan look reliable. Both international wingers had games to forget, with Lote struggling for form since returning from injury and Manu getting the worst case of the dropsies since Lee Oudenryn retired. Expect the big blokes to have an impact on tonight’s game – for better or for worse.

3. David Gallop and the NRL keep reminding us ‘This Is Our House’. It’s a multi-million dollar message built on emotion, tribalism and passion. It’s also highly hypocritical given the events of recent weeks. Players from Manly and Melbourne were suspended for bringing the game into disrepute, yet vision of the Battle of Brookvale is being used to promote the NRL Finals. Maybe next year the message will be ‘Not In Our House’.

4. In another marketing masterstroke, the NRL yesterday released $10 tickets for tonight’s game. The deal is being branded as a ‘Warriors Special’, and the NRL has also approved a group haka. Once again, where’s the consistency? If this is such a great idea, why weren’t Queensland residents offered $10 tickets to the Eagles v Cowboys game last weekend? And what about the Tigers fans who paid $60 each for tickets? No wonder people get pissed off.

5. It’s a shame to see the Tigers take on the Warriors in week two of the finals. Both teams play attacking footy and both have players who attract casual fans and ‘second teamers’. Sadly, one team will be knocked out tonight, leaving many casual fans with a choice between the Storm, Eagles, Broncos and Dragons. Eh…

6. Tim Moltzen, after last week’s performance I dedicate this song to you. Enjoy!

<^TigerBrad^>

Semi Final: Tigers vs Warriors

Preview:

After accounting for the Dragons, the Wests Tigers host a home semi-final at the SFS against the New Zealand Warriors to win the right to play Melbourne in the prelim final next week. The Tigers have already won both games against the Warriors this year, but this won’t be a slam dunk. We needed a minor miracle to chase down a big deficit the last time we played. In all games against the NZ we have a slender 10-9 record, but this is the first time we’ll meet in sudden death semi-final footy.

Wests are back to full strength and are $1.34 favourites with the bookies for this showdown. Here is a carefully selected set of comparisons to further boost our confidence:

Them Us
The Warriors were held scoreless for almost the first 60 minutes last week. The Tigers held the Dragons scoreless for the last 50 minutes.
Centre Joel Moon is out with a broken leg and Shaun Berrigan is still out injured. Centre Chris Lawrence returns to restore our left edge to the attacking and defensive weapon it used to be (sorry Utai).
NZ have a win ratio of 43% in finals football appearances. The Tigers have reached at least the Grand Final Qualifier in all finals series they’ve taken part in.
They have an away record of 6-7 so far in 2011. We have only lost 3 games from 12 at all home venues.
The Kiwis have leaked 19.5 points per game over the last 6 weeks. Wests have conceded an average of 14.67 points over the same period.
Mateo individually, and the Warriors as a team, lead the entire league in offloads. The Tigers have conceded an average of just over 9 offloads per game over the last 6 weeks, and managed one extra offload (26-25) combined in both of their wins over the Warriors earlier this year.

In knock-out football there will be no room for slow starts or periods of complacency. The Warriors can be a flamboyant team and can pile on points in quick succession if given a chance. They won’t play as bad as they did last week and Ryan will have his hands full as Vatuvei will be primed to make amends (Beau-y vs The Beast, anyone?). Manu will probably catch every ball hoisted his way, but he can be a little slow to turn so I fancy some cheeky grubbers behind the line for a full speed Ryan to latch onto.

Our efforts in games that we have been expected to win of late (Eels, Titans, Sharks) provide a good indication that Wests won’t drop the proverbial ball in this one when it matters most. Our defence is in excellent shape, with Gibbs and Fulton leading the way around the middle.

Sheens and Farah are doing a great job in keeping a lid on the hype surrounding our club record winning-streak and making sure the squad stays focused on the road ahead. The past results have no bearing on the games to come. We haven’t won anything yet and there’s still room for improvement to keep our title charge alive. For us fans, we get to enjoy another thrilling ride at the Stadium, pub or lounge room cheering for the most exciting team in the league during the most exciting month for footy. Don’t you just LOVE it!!! C’mon TIGERS!!!

The Other Side:

The story of Wayne Bennett attempting to spoil the Darren Lockyer fairy-tale end to his career is an intriguing one. I give the Dragons a look-in despite their error-ridden second half last week. But maybe that’s just wishful thinking. Of all the teams on the other side of the draw, I fear the Broncos will give the Tigers the most concern. Lockyer has already conquered the ideal Origin exit and the closer he gets to the Grand Final the higher his team will lift. I still fancy our chances against all the remaining teams in the comp, of course, but I’d sleep easier if Brisbane get knocked out this week. I don’t think they will, though.

Fortune Teller:

FTS: With Lawrence back our left edge will once again be a weapon. I’m backing Tuqiri to finish off a sublime left edge movement to open the scoring.
HT/FT: Tigers/Tigers.
Margins: Tigers by 13 and Broncos by 4.

<^OneEyed Tiger^>

Open Letter to fans from Simon Dwyer

OPEN LETTER TO FANS FROM SIMON DWYER
9/09/2011 6:12:43 PM


Before Friday’s qualifying final, injured Wests Tigers second rower Simon Dwyer has penned an open letter to supporters.

Dwyer is waiting on surgery to his injured right arm and remains unsure whether the operation will take place in Australia or overseas.
Here is Simon’s letter.

“Whilst the medical opinions I have received are not very encouraging, I’m remaining very positive. I have undergone acupuncture and am still researching all of the doctors all over the world. If it is better for me to have surgery overseas, wherever that may be, we will go there. If not, then I will have the surgery here. Wests Tigers Club Doctor Donald Kuah has been a tremendous help in speaking to specialists who have experience with this kind of injury. All of the medical people I have seen have been very good.

“My team-mates, the coaching staff, and the management at Wests Tigers have been great. Every time I go to training, they want to know what is happening and what the best course of action is. The players have offered to do whatever they can to assist me. Plenty of the boys ring me during the week just to see how I am going. I never really knew how close they were to me until this actually happened. I didn’t know what extent they would go to help me. I feel that all the adversity the club has gone through this year has made the boys tighter as a group. Everyone wants to help each other out. Head Coach Tim Sheens has also been tremendous. He constantly rings me and offers his support. I can’t thank him enough.

“I must admit it was a bit of shock as to how many people actually cared what had happened to me. Every Wests Tigers game I have been too, plenty of fans come up and ask how I’m going. I can’t thank them enough for their support. It has been a real eye opener.

“I’ve started to practise writing with my left hand but the more I practice, the worse I get (laughing). I will just have to keep on trying. Like you all, I will be cheering the boys on very loudly. I know they can do it. I just would like to thank everyone again for their well wishes.”

Top 8: Eye Of The Tiger

1. Tonight is the night. The Tigers tackle the Dragons in a game that feels very much like a grand final. The prospect of wet weather was starting to worry me, but BWTF meteorologist Rob Maiden reckons we’re right for a dry tracker in Sydney. If that’s the case, the Tigers will be hard to beat.

2. Fans have been quick to criticise Tigers CEO Stephen Humphreys for “moving” tonight’s game to ANZ Stadium. Let’s make one thing very clear, all 16 NRL clubs agreed to the finals format almost one year ago, and Humphreys acted in the best interests of the great game of rugby league.

3. History suggests 2011 Dally M Rookie of the Year Daly Cherry-Evans will either sink, swim or sell out. Former ROY winners include Tasesa Lavea and Tim Smith, Steve Menzies and Mat Rogers, and Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau.

4. The Dragons are talking tough about stopping Benji Marshall. Beau Scott is talking. Jamie Soward is talking. Ben Hornby is talking. The only person who isn’t talking is Mr Marshall himself. Benji has been noticeably quiet in a very deliberate move that has forced the Saints to talk to themselves in the media. I call Sheenanigans.

5. The Warriors are dead set specials to beat the Broncos on Saturday night, which puts even more pressure on the Tigers. New Zealand pushed Brisbane for the full 80 just a few weeks ago and the Broncos will do it tough without Slamming Sam Thaiday and young gun Josh Hoffman.

6. Balmain Ryde-Eastwood Tigers winger Charlie Herekotukutuku has the best rugby league name since former Auckland Warrior Hitro Okesene. Somewhere, Ray Warren is hoping this bloke never plays first grade.

7. The Sydney Roosters have finally called last drinks on Todd Carney’s contract, and my money is on a return to the Raiders. Canberra have already shown they’re prepared to roll the dice on damaged goods – I’m talking to you Matt Orford – and under fire coach David Furner needs to win at all costs in 2012.

8. Eight weeks ago Wests were belted by an ordinary Eels outfit. Eight weeks ago Robbie Farah said “judge us at the end of the year”. Eight weeks ago I thought he was having a laugh. To the captain’s credit, the Tigers have turned it around. They went the distance, now they’re back on their feet. Play it loud, play it proud and enjoy Eye Of The Tiger

<^TigerBrad^>

Qualifying Final: Tigers vs Dragons

Preview:

Eight straight wins have culminated in a top 4 finish for the Wests Tigers and set-up a mouth-watering final against our fierce rivals, the St George-Illawarra Dragons. And I am bigger than “Big Kev” excited! Here’s my analysis of our chances:

Why I’m confident…

  • The Tigers have not relied on just one or two players throughout our winning streak. Farah and Marshall have not been at the top of their game each week, and nor should they be expected to. Instead it’s taken a team effort with players such as Lui, Ayshford, Fulton, Ellis, Galloway and Utai all stepping up at different times and making key plays and/or leading by example in defence.
  • Our rookies are playing like seasoned first graders. The rise and rise of Woods and Groat has been phenomenal. And although Lui is not technically a rookie, he is once again showing what outstanding talent he has for a young kid. He seems to have overcome his mid-season form slump just in time. In the Grand Final qualifier last year against the Dragons he had a blinder and if his game against the Sharks is anything to go by he’s building nicely for a repeat of that performance.
  • Last week’s game against the Sharks was not perfect, but a close, grinding win in front of a partisan crowd is a pretty good lead-in to Finals Footy in my book.
  • On our day I rate our defence as good as the Dragons. Even though over 26 rounds the Tigers conceded almost 90 more points than St George, in the last 8 weeks they’ve conceded on average less than 15 points per game (St George’s average points against per game over the same period is 18). Also, our attacking options at 1, 6, 7 and 9 are currently the most potent in the league, bar none.
  • Wests tend to lift for the big games and a HUUUUGE crowd at ANZ will only help ensure we are “on”. Some might be concerned that the Tigers haven’t been rewarded with a “home” final, but I really don’t think that will be a contributing factor to the result. The Wests fans have out-enthused and out-cheered their counterparts in the 2005 and 2010 finals. We may not hold a lease, but ANZ will be “OUR HOUSE” tonight!

Why I’m a little concerned…

  • The Dragons are at full strength and have the most successful coach in the NRL at the helm. He may already have his bags packed but will still be demanding nothing but the very best from every one of his players. They put in a good winning performance under pressure against the Warriors when their season was on the line two weeks ago.
  • The Tigers are still having a trouble dealing with attacking kicks. Too many bombs are being allowed to bounce. Moltzen, McKinnon and Utai have all been guilty of this and there’s no doubt Soward and Hornby will be looking to exploit this often. Also, Moltzen needs to be more urgent when running the ball back from long kicks. We can’t afford to give up 5-10 metres at the beginning of every set.
  • We also have not been able to break the recent habit of slow second-half starts. In each of the last five games, the Tigers have been the first team to concede points after half time. You have to go back to Round 21 when we played Manly for the last time we scored first after the break (and in that game we went on and held them scoreless for the entire half). If the Dragons are allowed to skip away and build a lead after half time, they will make it difficult to chase down.

Around the Grounds…

Every year since the McIntyre system was adopted by the NRL at least one of the bottom four teams have won in week 1 of the finals. Like most people, I strongly doubt that the Knights will contribute to that stat this year. Despite entering the finals with two losses and being down a couple players due to injury/suspension, Melbourne should be too strong.

However, the Cowboys have a great chance of toppling Manly. Unlike the Tigers, I think the somewhat neutral venue of the SFS will hurt the Sea Eagles. Their fans don’t usually travel from Brookie in great numbers. And really, who can blame them? Even The Big Issue vendors look the other way when a Manly supporter approaches. Coupled with the loss of Stewart and some fitness concerns in their backline, I reckon Thurston is due to rediscover his early season form and guide the Cows to a win.

The Warriors and Broncos game could go either way. Thaiday and Hoffman will be missed by Brisbane, while Vatuvei and Berrigan will strengthen the NZ attack. Home ground advantage will probably see the Broncs through, but it should be a very close contest.

Should any two of the bottom three teams win, the outcome of the Tigers v Dragons game has extreme ramifications. The winner gets a free ride to the Grand Final qualifier while the loser gets sent packing immediately. That just emphasises what’s at stake in finals footy: you gotta play to win and win at all costs! It will be an unbearable 24 hours should the unthinkable happen tonight.

Fortune Teller:

FTS: Ayshford.
HT/FT: The Tigers will need to lead from the start. Tigers/Tigers.
Margin: Tigers by 4.
Multi: Tigers 1-12, Broncos 1-12, Cowboys 1-12, Storm 13+.

Fantasy Bites:

The BWTF Printing Well Cup Grand Final was a tense affair for those involved. In the end, TigerBrad’s Howling T’wolves won the inaugural title by a single point in a 730-729 thriller.

The OneEyedTigers were left rueing decisions to leave four try superstar Uate (53) on the bench and select Hindmarsh (49) instead of Parker (67) as captain. But a solid effort by Hayne (59) kept them in the contest. The T’wolves built their premiership squad around a very solid backrow and Houston (43), Watmough (46) and Mannering (55) didn’t disappoint when it mattered most. Heading into the last game, the OneEyed’s had a very slim lead, but the T’wolves had one extra player to play – it all came down to Melbourne 5/8 Widdop. He averaged 30 throughout the season, but at half time only had 4 points to his name. Then in a cruel twist went off injured in early in the second half. At full-time of the last game, the OneEyeds had a one point lead in the grand final. However, overnight updates and re-calculations awarded Widdop an extra two points, and that was enough for the T’wolves to take the lead and win the title. Congratulations Bradley, my friend, well deserved!

<^OneEyed Tiger^>

Starting 13: Eagle Crock

1. Tigers v Sharks, it all comes down to this. Or does it? If the Tigers win, the critics will say they’ve had an easy run into the finals and therefore won’t be a genuine threat. If the Tigers lose, the critics will say they’ve fallen at the final hurdle and therefore won’t be a genuine threat. Confused?!

2. Manly’s response to the Battle of Brookvale has been disgraceful. You’ve got Glenn Stewart playing the victim, Brent Kite playing the standover man, Des Hasler playing the accountant and Peter Peters playing with himself. Brett Stewart was suspended in 2009, get over it and move on.

3. Robbie Farah wasn’t taking any chances on Monday night when he calmly slotted a field goal to extend the Tigers lead to 39-10 with the full-time siren sounding. Farah continued a Tiger tradition of hookers kicking unnecessary field goals. Somewhere, Benny Elias was smiling.

4. Dave Taylor will replace injured South Sydney centre Greg Inglis in tonight’s must-win game at EnergyAustralia Stadium. It’s a familiar role for Taylor, who has plenty of experience as an overweight, overpaid Queenslander bludging in the Bunnies backline.

5. The 2012 installment of Wests v Manly has all the makings of a classic. Adam Blair, Gareth Ellis and Keith Galloway taking on Glenn Stewart, Anthony Watmough and Brent Kite will be worth the price of admission.

6. Ben Barber’s ‘try’ moved the NRL one step closer to gridiron. There’s no doubt it was a brilliant display of athleticism, but it simply wasn’t a try and would never have been awarded in a top of the table clash.

7. Tigers young gun Jacob Miller was this week named Toyota Cup Halfback of the Year. Miller has shown plenty of promise in four first grade appearances and becomes the third Tiger to make the team behind Matt Hyland and Rob Lui.

8. Mini Bar Matt Utai looked like he was running in quicksand when he opened the scoring against the Gold Coast on Monday night. And what about the chase by 85-year-old Titans prop Luke Bailey. Has there ever been two more attractive men involved in a foot race?

9. What’s happened to Beau Ryan? It’s been bugging me for weeks, but I think I’ve found the answer. It was Sunday, June 12 when Ryan threw himself at a rampaging Manu Vatuvei with the Tigers clinging to a four-point lead. That moment maketh the man.

10. The Raiders have hired Michael Hagan to work out what went wrong in season 2011. How about losing Terry Campese before a ball was kicked in anger, signing 33-year-old Matt Orford and carry on like they’d just won the premiership after smashing the Sharks in Round 1? Just sayin…

11. Ben Murdoch-Masila returned to first grade on Monday night and looked dangerous every time he touched the ball. The man they call BMM was noticeably fitter and faster than the player who struggled to adapt to the speed of the NRL earlier this year.

12. Retirement has robbed fans of the match of the season. Parramatta and the Gold Coast will battle it out for the wooden spoon this weekend, but wouldn’t it have been great to see Carl Webb, Chris Walker and Paul Whatuira take on Mat Rogers and Brad Meyers.

13. Injuries to Chris Lawrence and Lote Tuqiri mean the Tigers haven’t had the quickest of backlines this year, but what about the Sharks trio of Dean Collis, John Williams and Colin Best. It gets better, with the scintillating Ben Pomeroy named 18th man.

<^TigerBrad^>

Round 26: Sharks vs Tigers

Preview:

The Wests Tigers can equal their all-time record of eight straight wins and just about secure a Top 4 finish at Shark Park on Saturday night. The Cowboys can theoretically steal 4th even if the Tigers win, provided they rack up a cricket score against the Warriors across the ditch (odds, anyone?). Cronulla started the year reasonably well and strung together four wins in a row from Round 15-18, but haven’t been able to win a game since. Co-incidentally, their current losing streak began at the same time as the Tiger’s current winning streak. The Sharks pushed the Cowboys last week and got into a winning position in the second half but couldn’t finish them off. In front of their home crowd this week they will be hoping to celebrate captain Paul Gallen’s 200th game and finish the season on a high.

Wests welcome back Bryce Gibbs to the starting line-up to face his future team-mates and it looks as though Lote Tuqiri will also play despite leaving the field injured on Monday. Chrissy Lawrence is likely to be rested until the finals, giving Matt Utai another week to shine at centre. Unfortunately Todd Payten is out for further 3-4 weeks with a torn calf. The Sharks are boasting a full strength forward pack but are lacking some backline speed with Nathan Gardner out injured.

The Tiger’s performance last week was patchy at times, but the Titans were truly beyond bad. Fans should take heart that Wests were able to canter to big win without reaching for fourth or fifth gear. Our defence was solid and our forwards dominated the ruck. Cronulla will certainly put up a bigger fight than the Gold Coast managed, so Wests will need to improve their completions and discipline to enter the finals on a solid note. The forward battle should be a great contest, but their halves and backline should be no match for our boys.

I’m sure Coach Sheens will be happier keeping a clean sheet this week rather than racking up 50 … but doing both would of course be pretty sweet! This week is all about proving they can maintain their intensity for the full 80 and be injury free at full-time. Our best football is still to come, but the Tigers need to work hard to ensure this game is a stepping stone rather than a stumbling block.

Fortune Teller:

FTS: I’m going for value and backing Ellis to score first off a Benji short-ball.
HT/FT: Tigers/Tigers
Margin: Tigers by 24 (30 – 6).

Fantasy Bites:

The BWTF Printing Well Cup Grand Final is here! Two of the BWTF admins, OneEyedTiger and TigerBrad, face-off in the big dance. Brad’s Howling T’wolves proved too strong in the end for the gallant Horsehead Bookends in the first pre-lim final winning 751-646. In the other pre-lim final, the OneEyedTigers survived a very tight encounter with the 89Heros to squeeze home 787-769.

Brad got the chocolates when these teams met during the regular season, but the OneEyeds have recorded a higher weekly average over the course of the season. It’s going to be close one. A 2012 Stripes Membership and bragging rights throughout the off-season await the victor.

Thanks to all who played in our NRL.com Dream Team competition this year. Hope you enjoyed it and we’ll definitely be doing it again next year – possibly with more prizes on offer. Stay tuned.

<^One-Eyed Tiger^>