Tigers ready to break finals drought after using up nine lives
September 5, 2019 — 8.00pm
When it comes to the Wests Tigers do-or-die clash with Cronulla on Sunday, it has all been about the No. 9.
In game 191 of the season, star No.9 Robbie Farah has attempted to defy the odds to take his place in a line-up desperate to avoid another dreaded ninth-placed finish.
The fact that Farah was able to run this week shows just how much recovery and rehab clearly has changed. I remember when a broken leg meant a plaster cast, with a coathanger handy to deal with the itch, and visitors penning witty sayings on what started out as a bright, white surface.
The motivation to be a part of what shapes as a monumental afternoon at Leichhardt Oval is totally understandable as both the 2019 campaigns of the Tigers and Sharks come down to just 80 minutes, although you get the feeling that extra time could be a distinct possibility. That would be an excruciating prospect for a home team that must be sick and tired of just missing out.
The Tigers have not played finals football since 2011 and hold the unenviable record of finishing one place out of the top eight more than any other club. In 2004, 2007, 2009, 2016 and last season they missed the play-offs by the narrowest of margins.
It has been particularly difficult for halfback Luke Brooks who has played 130 games and is yet to figure in the big end of season clashes. As reported last week, that is the longest run of outs of any current player in the NRL.
He will have a major say against the Sharks as to whether that drought is broken. After last year’s breakout season as Dally M halfback of the year, Brooks has backed up with another solid and influential season. His partnership with Benji Marshall has blossomed with both understanding their own and each other’s games extremely well.
Brooks’ strength is his running game which he has been able to combine nicely with his play-making duties.
He is particularly astute at operating down the left-hand short side and capitalising on any opposing centre being caught at marker. When that occurs the opposition defensive line is out of shape, generally a player short with a back-rower caught alongside a winger and that change in configuration can be taken advantage of. This week it will be the wily Josh Morris he will be looking to exploit.
Marshall has also been excellent and at this stage of his career has eliminated the frantic and low percentage efforts out of his game. A couple of passes he has delivered over the last few weeks can only be executed when a player is in “the zone”. If his mind is ready to go, he must play again in 2020.
The Tigers have racked up 40 points in each of their last two victories but if they are to overcome Cronulla it will be as a result of what they do when they don’t have the football. Despite the big scorelines in defeating both the Knights and Dragons, their efforts defensively will have pleased coach Michael Maguire as much as the two competition points.
Newcastle were kept to just the one, late try, whilst the two conceded to the Dragons both came from kicks. St George Illawarra threw plenty at the Tigers but their on-line and scrambling defence was of the highest order.
Cronulla are again a difficult proposition to analyse. They have looked a better side on paper than anything they have produced on the paddock this season. You continue to get the feeling that if they were to put it all together, they are capable of making a real run but on what we have seen thus far, that would be giving them a huge benefit of the doubt.
I believe what my eyes tell me and I have really liked what the Tigers have done over recent weeks. I have seen a hard edge in their defensive efforts and when introduced into the contest, Josh Reynolds has provided a real energy and momentum out of dummy-half.
A couple of years ago Luke Brooks was part of the Tigers’ “big three”, along with James Tedesco and Mitch Moses. Tedesco’s Roosters have qualified, so to Moses with the Eels, I’ve a feeling that Brooks might finally be joining them.