Wests Tigers v Dragons: Fonua returns; Mann in No.6
Author NRL.com Timestamp Tue 14 Aug 2018, 04:00 PM
The stage is set - now it is up to the Wests Tigers to show they belong in the top eight. And you can bet your last dollar Leichhardt Oval will be a capacity crowd on Saturday night as the hosts make a bold late charge to play semi-final football.
The Tigers have won four of their past five matches, including an away win over St George Illawarra five weeks ago, to put themselves within one win of the eighth-placed Broncos.
Their opponents meanwhile are in free fall, with the Dragons losing five of their last six games after being the competition leaders heading into round 17.
Key match up: Luke Brooks v Ben Hunt. The Tigers’ number seven has enjoyed his best season following his brilliant debut versus the Dragons at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2013. Under-pressure rival playmaker Hunt needs to rise for a number of reasons - chiefly his team’s alarming form ahead of the semis next month.
For the Tigers to win: Use the guile and experience of club legends Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah. The premiership-winners in 2005 have been instrumental in their team’s recent success and know to keep a steely focus in clutch moments. If the pair fire, the Dragons will struggle to contain them.
For the Dragons to win: Their forward pack needs to wake from their slumber. Jack de Belin, Tyson Frizell and Tariq Sims need to re-discover their early club season and Origin form or Paul McGregor’s men will be watching the finals from their lounge rooms.
Tigers Stat Attack: It is no secret Ivan Cleary’s men have built their season on defence. They have made the most tackles (7426) and accumulated the most kicks (417). Esan Marsters has been a standout with 45 offloads, while Brooks has 14 line-break assists to his name.
Dragons Stat Attack: Possession has been a highlight, with the Dragons and Cowboys the equal yardstick with 52%. The Red V also lead the standings when it comes to tackle breaks (772). They trail only the Rabbitohs (33,172) when it comes to total run metres (32,874).
And another thing: If the Tigers manage to beat the out-of-sorts Dragons on home soil, they will move to 26 competition points. Tigers fans will be hoping the Rabbitohs topple the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium to set up a frenetic last couple of Telstra Premiership rounds.
Wests Tigers: Mahe Fonua returns from a broken arm in the centres, with Kevin Naiqama shifting to the wing and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak dropping out. Chris Lawrence also returns from injury in the second row with Matt Eisenhuth moving to the bench and Jacob Liddle back to the reserves.
Dragons: With Gareth Widdop (shoulder) out, Kurt Mann starts at five-eighth with Cameron McInnes and Tyson Frizell to share the captaincy. Leeson Ah Mau is named to start with Luciano Leilua on the bench with Jacob Host returning from a shoulder injury on the interchange.
Wests Tigers v St George Illawarra Dragons, Saturday 5.30pm at Leichhardt Oval
Head-to-head: Played 35; Dragons 19 wins, Wests Tigers 16 wins
Previous result: Wests Tigers won 20-16 at Jubilee Oval in round 18
Points per game: Wests Tigers 16; Dragons 22.6
Points conceded per game: Wests Tigers 17.6; Dragons 19.5
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League