50,000 expected for Dragons-Tigers NRL finals blockbuster
From: The Daily Telegraph
September 05, 2011 12:00AM
AND then there were eight.
After a gruelling season, just eight teams remain alive - Melbourne, Manly, Brisbane, St George Illawarra, Wests Tigers, North Queensland, New Zealand and Newcastle.
The NRL semi-final series will explode into action on Friday night when two fierce rivals, St George Illawarra and Wests Tigers, meet at ANZ Stadium in Homebush before an expected crowd of more than 50,000 fans.
They may not say so publicly, but these two teams genuinely dislike each other.
Who will come out on top is anyone’s game. TAB Sportsbet has both teams at $1.90.
Last year, St George Illawarra eliminated Wests Tigers 13-12 in a grand final qualifier.
And who could forget the memorable 2005 preliminary final when Wests Tigers beat the Saints before winning the title a week later?
“There is a great rivalry between the two clubs,” St George Illawarra prop Michael Weyman said.
He said both clubs had “passionate sets of fans”.
“There is some tradition so it’s going to be a huge game,” Weyman said.
"Last year (in the grand final qualifier) there was a big build-up. It is a different year but it’ll still be a cracking game. It is a healthy rivalry.
"They are a great team with some real game-breakers.
"We just need to do the little things right and stick together. We’ve stuck together through the tough times this year. We can’t worry about what is being done or said outside of our playing group.
"It’s a semi-final so you just have to go out and do your job for the 80 minutes.
"This year has shown how tight the competition is.
“It doesn’t matter whether you finish first or eighth - anyone can beat anyone.”
There is a strong chance the Tigers could have Chris Lawrence, Todd Payten, Beau Ryan and Keith Galloway back from injury to confront their fierce rivals.
Wests Tigers chief executive Steve Humphreys said the two teams were evenly matched. “There has been a great rivalry between the two sides in recent years (and) Friday night will be a great contest with a great atmosphere,” Humphreys said.
Wests Tigers coach Tim Sheens said the Saints were returning to their best form.
“They looked very much like their old selves on Friday night,” Sheens said.
“They defended the shifts really well and their forwards turned up in the middle.”
Wests Tigers skipper Robbie Farah said his side did not fear the Dragons.
“It’s a semi-final,” he said.
"You have got to beat the best teams to win the comp. Any team you come up against is going to be hard. Last time we played them, it was a tough game (16-14 in round 22).
“We got them at the end but it took 80 minutes to get them. I’m sure it will be the same on Friday night.”