It’s goodbye to the Wests Tigers if they do not roll up the sleeves and beat the Bulldogs
The Daily Telegraph
August 17, 2012 12:00AM
THE finals are three weeks away and each weekend is throwing up huge challenges that need to be met. Tonight, the Tigers face theirs.
The pre-season favourites are a dangerous side and will challenge the Bulldogs, the current premiership favourites.
They contain a mighty attacking punch, flicks, tricks and constant ball movement. But they also pose a great danger to themselves.
Week-to-week, minute-to-minute, play-by-play, you don’t know what to expect from the Tigers. Their strength is their weakness: unpredictability.
They seem to pride themselves on doing things differently. While other teams talk about consistency, the Tigers seem to reject it.
They talk about what they are capable of.
The Tigers know they are a dangerous team, but that has led them down a dangerous path.
We have been told the Tigers have the talent and ability to cause great damage in September - all they need to do is get there. Tonight we find out if that’s true.
There are some encouraging signs for Tigers fans. Last Saturday night in conditions that made the Dragons a tricky proposition, the Tigers came good on a promise - even if it was a week late - to knuckle down and play with more defensive application.
If the Tigers are serious about maintaining this promise, this is the perfect game for them. They face a team on an 11-game winning streak and brimming with self-belief. If the Tigers don’t turn up with their overalls on, this could get ugly. But if they are willing to fight hard and get dirty, they could very well end the Bulldogs’ run.
You can’t help but use the word talent when discussing the Tigers, but tonight it’s what they do without the ball that will define the contest.
For Canterbury, success brings its challenges too. The Bulldogs looked ready to be beaten last weekend. Their middle defence was as brittle as glass early, and they found themselves down 14-0 after 15 minutes to Brisbane.
And the Broncos could have easily led 26-0 after blowing two or three try chances.
The clash between hookers Michael Ennis (L) and Robbie Farah will be crucial to deciding the outcome of the game. Source: The Daily Telegraph
Monday’s headlines told us the Dogs fought back, but it’s hard to work out what was behind their comeback. Was it the Dogs’ self-belief and the brilliance of Ben Barba? Or have the Broncos lost all self-confidence?
I suspect a little bit of both.
The Dogs sit four points clear on the ladder and are rightfully competition favourites. But don’t think things are all smooth sailing for Des Hasler’s men.
Little things are creeping into the Dogs’ game. It’s the nature of a long winning run - when defeat comes it is usually about losing some of that attention to detail.
It’s why Hasler continues to reject praise and the notion they are the competition benchmark. Yes, it’s Des still trying to fly under the radar, but no one knows his side better and he would be recognising things that others aren’t.
As a player, Des believed in hard work and consistency. He wasn’t the most gifted or natural bloke but no one worked harder, or was fitter, than Des.
That same work ethic and dedication is the cornerstone of his coaching and his football teams.
While we all marvel at the brilliance and attacking genius of Barba, Des would be harbouring concerns that his team is developing an over-reliance on the little Queenslander.
In a few weeks Barba will be wearing the Dally M Medal around his neck, but if the Bulldogs think they can build a finals campaign on individual talent, they are in for disappointment.
Tonight the majority of the heat might be on the Tigers, but Hasler will be fully aware of the test facing his men. A slow defensive start like they had against the Broncos will see the Tigers blow the Dogs away.
Some of the individual match-ups will be enthralling.
Mick Ennis and Robbie Farah will continue their long-running battle. Farah owns the Blues No.9 jersey but Ennis won’t believe the war has been won between the pair just yet. Farah’s game has gone to new heights this year.
Benji Marshall gives the Tigers confidence and arrogance, but it’s Farah who brings the poise and control. Ennis will needle Farah relentlessly - if this game explodes it will be the two hookers who will provide the dynamite.
And the confrontation between Marshall and young tyro Josh Reynolds will be worth the drive to Homebush.
Reynolds would have slipped beautifully into Warren Ryan’s Dogs of War teams during the 1980s. He is a super competitor who attacks his opponents physically and, according to those who have battled against him, verbally.
You can bet that all week Reynolds has had Benji at the forefront of his mind.
Like Ennis, Reynolds will be on a mission to drive Benji crazy. Sprinkle all that with the magic of Barba and we could be in for one of the games of the season.
Hopefully a clear night in Sydney’s west will deliver a crowd of 50,000. A game of this nature deserves no less.
I’ll say this. I’ll not accept another 30-40 defensive catastrophe tonight. Given what is at stake at this point of the season. Given the team we’ll put out tonight and the talent it possesses. There’s no excuse for a defensive capitulation. We’ve a forward pack that is equal, if not better than the Bulldogs arguably. Yes, i know Barba at some point will cause us headaches, Reynolds, Kasiano, Graham and Morris likewise. Defense though is priority number 1 tonight and if we see the same 50 odd missed tackles. Well, i’ll be very dissapointed.
Rolling up our sleeves is a drastic understatement.
Look, we’ve have had a miserable season. A combination of under-performing players who often believe their own hype, injuries, along with a coach who IMO is staler than the two month old loaf of bread in my pantry.
But a win tonight would go a long way to salvaging something from this poor season. I’m not interested in flick passes, or flashy plays. I want to see aggression. I want to see tough defense. I want to see an orange, black and white brick wall. I want to see 13 players out there smashing anything that stands in their way.
Please, for the love of god, belt the living daylights out of anything in a blue and white jersey tonight. For the first time this season, I’d love to see a Tigers side that goes out there and bashes the opposition. Do they have it in them?