Eels, Tigers set up showdown
Brad Walter | August 17, 2009
Benji Marshall versus Jarryd Hayne could be the personal duel on Friday night that decides whether Wests Tigers or Parramatta continue their charge for the finals but, according to the players, defence will be the key.
Less than 24 hours after Hayne spearheaded the Eels to a fifth consecutive win on Saturday night that has them in the top eight for the first time this season, Marshall turned in a similar starring role yesterday as the Tigers demolished a hapless Cronulla 56-10 at Toyota Stadium.
With Penrith surrendering a 24-18 half-time lead to help play Brisbane back into finals form after conceding 40 unanswered second-half points, the Tigers (26) have moved into fifth place on for-and-against, while the Eels (25) leapfrogged the Panthers (25) into eighth spot after their 40-4 thrashing of the Warriors.
Remarkably, the Tigers were second-last at one stage earlier this season, while the Eels were vying for the wooden spoon just three months ago.
But the winning streak of one of the NRL’s two in-form teams is set to come to an end when they meet at the SFS on Friday night. After crediting a meeting eight weeks ago in which they identified defence as the area of the game that was letting them down, Tigers players believe stopping tries - rather than scoring them - will be the key to beating Parramatta.
‘‘They’ve got some outstanding individuals who are really standing up for them and making a difference and we’re probably similar,’’ Tigers forward Gareth Ellis said. ''We’ve got one or two players who can score from anywhere so I think it’s going to be an exciting game. It still might not prove the difference but it could well do.
‘‘Both teams have been scoring points left, right and centre so I think that the team which stands up and is prepared to defend might be the one that does the real damage.’’
After missing out on the finals two years ago through for-and-against, fellow Tigers second-rower Chris Heighington said the players and coaching staff had spoken about their need to improve their defence following the 14-12 loss to Melbourne in round 15.
‘‘We were real honest with ourselves after that and pretty much put all of our focus on defence … we had lost a few close games earlier in the season. We’re now winning those games,’’ Heighington said. ''We’ve got some great attacking players so if everyone aims up in defence it helps our attack, and the whole team is responsible and putting their hand up and doing their job."
The weekend results have caused a dramatic change in the order of the teams vying for the four remaining places in the final eight, with the Tigers and sixth-placed Manly (26) climbing two places, Parramatta moving four spots higher and Penrith (25) and North Queensland (24) falling four places.
Still only three points separate the Tigers, Sea Eagles and Broncos from 12th-placed South Sydney (23) with three rounds remaining.
Should Newcastle upset Melbourne tonight they will unseat Parramatta from the top eight.
‘‘There’s still a long way to go,’’ Marshall said. ‘‘We could go fifth this week and then next week go back to eighth or ninth. We’ve just got to turn up to prepare against Parramatta, who I think are the form team of the comp at the moment.’’
With the third-placed Gold Coast and second-placed Bulldogs their other opponents, the Tigers face a tough draw but Marshall was unfazed. ‘‘I think it’s good for us,’’ he said. ‘‘If you are serious about semi-final football, you’ve got to match it with the tough teams. They’re three of the toughest teams going around at the moment. It’ll test our form and if we’re good enough to make it, they’re the three teams that we need to beat in order to do it.’’
THE RUN HOME
1 ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA: 36 (+227) - Broncos (h), Rabbitohs (a), Eels (h)
2 BULLDOGS: 34 (+125) - Roosters (h), Warriors (h), Wests Tigers (a)
3 GOLD COAST: 32 (+59) - Sharks (h), Wests Tigers (h), Sea Eagles (a)
4 MELBOURNE: 29 (+109)* - Knights (a), Sea Eagles (h), Roosters (h), Warriors (a)
5 WESTS TIGERS: 26 (+73) - Eels (h), Titans (a), Bulldogs (h)
6 MANLY: 26 (+50) - Storm (a), Sharks (h), Titans (h)
7 BRISBANE: 26 (-83) - Dragons (a), Cowboys (a), Raiders (h)
8 PARRAMATTA: 25 (-10) - Wests Tigers (a), Panthers (h), Dragons (a)
9 PENRITH: 25 (-27) - Rabbitohs (h), Eels (a), Knights (a)
10 NORTH QUEENSLAND: 24 (+80) - Knights (a), Broncos (h), Roosters (a)
11 NEWCASTLE: 24 (-20)* - Storm (h), Cowboys (h), Raiders (a), Panthers (h)
12 SOUTH SYDNEY: 23 (+10) - Panthers (a), Dragons (h), Sharks (a)