Do or die: It will be tight and tough at Leichhardt Oval
Sat 7 Sep 2019, 12:01 PM
Regardless of whether Robbie Farah plays or not, I’ve been really impressed with the way the Wests Tigers have been attacking the past couple of weeks.
It’s been a fantastic move by coach Michael Maguire to put Benji Marshall in at No.9 to start the game, which allows Luke Brooks to take control of the footy team. Brooks looks really comfortable with the reins in his hands. His attack and kicking games are a lot better - they look more fluid to me.
Brooks gets pushed into the background a little bit. Remember he won the Dally M halfback of the year last season, and lately he’s manoeuvred himself up near the top of the competition with try assists. In fact he and Benji are in the top five in the NRL – the only club to have two players there.
Brooks is also in the top-five now for the number of kicks made, as well as the total metres gained. So he’s doing some really good things in attack, but also defensively he’s very effective because of the confidence I’m sure ‘Madge’ Maguire has instilled in him to run the footy team.
Wests Tigers v Sharks - Round 25
He’ll obviously be a target as a half but he’s putting his body on the line and I’m certain that’s through the belief and confidence he’s feeling.
So I see a lot of upsides in Robbie not being there.
Then you’ve got Josh Reynolds, who is such a competitor, coming on late in the first half. He’s quick and competitive making him an instant danger. We all know he’s not had a lot of luck with injuries this year but he sure can play when he gets out on the field.
In my mind, the look and the mix of that hooker-half combination that the Wests Tigers are producing is a real delight.
Then I look at the Tigers forwards and I like what Ryan Matterson can do up the middle, along with prop Thomas Mikaele. Luke Garner is hard worker and then there’s the talent coming off the bench in the likes of Matt Eisenhuth and Michael Chee Kam. The balance in the Tigers line-up is solid.
I like their footy team and I like it better when Benji is starting at No.9 with young Brooks maintaining control.
You might be thinking I don’t believe the Sharks have a chance at a packed Leichhardt Oval tomorrow.
But for me, the Sharks are the smokies in this match. It has all the hallmarks of being a scrappy game this one – not in the sense of a lot of dropped ball but in terms of the grind.
The Sharks are very good at getting into an arm wrestle and there’s a lot to like about their halfback too in Chad Townsend. He also has a fine kicking game and is willing to take control of the pace of the ruck.
What they need is the best out of Shaun Johnson, because coach John Morris seems to have moulded the team together really well. I love the idea of having Kurt Capewell, Andrew Fifita and Braden Hamlin-Uele coming off the bench.
Their two starting props Aaron Woods and Matt Prior give a really good base early in the game, along with Paul Gallen.
Johnson puts Nikora into a hole
Then you have the creativity of backrowers Wade Graham on one edge and Briton Nikora on the other. Johnson actually improves Nikora’s game, and in turn Nikora adds to Johnson’s impact. It’s a working relationship that fires really well on that Sharks right edge.
Despite what they say about Josh Dugan being let down a lot by his body, he’s played 21 games so far this year and scored 11 tries. So he hasn’t missed much footy and he’s coming into his own at fullback.
I’m an unashamed fan of Dugan because he can win you a footy game. When he’s ‘on’ and confident, and playing tough, he’s got all the skills to match that big, strong body of his.
The quality of his kick-returns makes him a very dangerous runner with his footwork and acceleration. They can be match-winning characteristics.
So I’m picking the Sharks - just - in a tight, tough, grindy game.