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Wests Tigers v WarriorsSydney Football StadiumFriday, 7.45pm
An absorbing clash between two of the Telstra Premiership’s most exhilarating attacking outfits, few games this season have promised as much excitement as Friday’s sudden-death semi-final between the Tigers and Warriors. The names say it all. For the Wests Tigers, the star quartet of Benji Marshall, Robbie Farah, Tim Moltzen and Robert Lui have been the driving force behind their run of nine consecutive wins, with a freakish ability to put together the big plays when they matter most. Add centre Chris Lawrence – who returns from injury this week – and centre Lote Tuqiri and the home side boasts strike power right across the field.
The Warriors are no slouches either. Young halves James Maloney and Shaun Johnson have been dynamic over the past three months; Kevin Locke has made the fullback spot his own with his raw speed and dynamic kick returns; Aaron Heremaia has split defensive lines with his energetic dummy-half runs; and offload king Feleti Mateo has arguably been the buy of the year in the back row.
Lawrence’s return on the left edge is a huge boost for the Tigers after Matt Utai was terrorised by Mark Gasnier last week but the Warriors have been forced into their own change in the centres after Joel Moon broke his leg in their 40-10 loss to Brisbane. Lewis Brown is the man most likely to fill that role.
The Warriors have a huge task ahead of them following last week’s embarrassing performance at Suncorp but the respective records of both of these sides at the Sydney Football Stadium are intriguing. The Warriors have played just six games at the venue over the past six seasons (for three wins and three losses) while the Tigers have actually lost three of their past five night games there.
A worrying sign for the visitors is that the Tigers have scored 96 points in their past three games against them and over the past two months have recorded the most line-breaks of any side (5.4 per game) while conceding the fewest (2.8). That said, the Warriors have scored more tries than any other team over the past 10 weeks with 45. Five-eighth James Maloney (182) needs just seven points to record the second-most points by a Warrior in a single season – behind coach Ivan Cleary, who notched 242 in 2002.
Watch Out Warriors: With five members of last year’s New Zealand Four Nations squad in the Warriors outfit, the Kiwi club is well aware of the danger posed by Wests Tigers five-eighth Benji Marshall. But knowing what he is capable of and doing something about it are two different things. Marshall is a master of improvisation – rush out of the defensive line and he will burn you with a burst of speed or find a means of putting a team-mate through a gap. Sometimes he’ll make oppositions pay even if they don’t do anything wrong. He boasts 22 try assists, 26 line-break assists, 15 line-breaks and 12 tries in 2011.
Danger Sign: The Tigers are lethal out of dummy-half. With Robbie Farah leading the way, they have made 12 line-breaks from dummy-half this season – more than any other side in the competition – and scored nine tries (second only to North Queensland). Not surprisingly, Farah tops the count in both categories with five line-breaks and three tries from dummy-half in 2011. The Warriors do have some reason to be confident in their defence however – they have conceded a mere three line-breaks from dummy-half this season (behind only Melbourne) and just a single try (best in the NRL). It promises to be an intriguing mini-battle.
Tigers Plays To Watch: Wests Tigers love playing to their right side. While much of the focus this week has been on the return of left centre Chris Lawrence from injury, it is in fact the opposite side of the field where the Tigers have the most joy with ball in hand, having scored a whopping 46 tries there in 2011 (compared to just 28 on the left). Only Brisbane boasts as many. The Tigers are particularly lethal one man in – the region patrolled by Chris Heighington and Blake Ayshford where they have scored 31 tries this season and where Heighington crossed against St George Illawarra last week. Ironically, it is here that the Warriors have been forced to make a change this weekend after left centre Joel Moon broke his leg during last Saturday’s loss to Brisbane.
Watch Out Tigers: Warriors five-eighth James Maloney has really come of age this season as the Warriors’ chief playmaker, but more than just taking his game to a new level he has also demonstrated an ability to produce the big play. He boasts 15 try assists in 2011 – but the strings in his bow are many and he is just as lethal running the football, with 10 line-breaks to his name. Watch for him to pass to one of his big forwards and then wrap around looking for the offload where his speed off the mark and quality step make him particularly dangerous.
Danger Sign: Tigers wingers Beau Ryan and Lote Tuqiri need to be on high alert on Friday night because the Warriors are certain to test them with some cross-field bombs. In fact, with 65 cross-field kicks in 2011 they rank second in the Telstra Premiership for kicking to their flanks. The main threat here is obvious – giant winger Manu Vatuvei is renowned for his leap and ability to catch the high ball. Vatuvei has scored 11 tries in 16 games this season. Notably, the Warriors also rank second for tries from within their own half with 17 so the Tigers must be ever-vigilant.
Warriors Plays To Watch: There is no doubt that the Warriors trigger much of their attack from offloading and second-phase play. Their 328 offloads in the regular season was second only to Penrith (331) while back-rower Feleti Mateo is the most prolific offloader in the Telstra Premiership with 78 in 25 games – 17 more than his nearest rival. Simon Mannering and Manu Vatuvei are also dangerous if not wrapped up. The men to watch should the Warriors continue to create second-phase play are fullback Kevin Locke, halfback Shaun Johnson and utility Lance Hohaia who all have the ability to break the line if given room to move. Johnson scored a spectacular long-range try on the back of a Mannering offload against Brisbane in Round 22 that highlighted the threat they pose.
Tim Moltzen v Kevin Locke: Two excitement machines in superb form go head to head in what will prove a decisive battle. Moltzen has averaged 133 metres over the past five weeks and is a huge danger through the middle where he constantly looms up in support of playmakers Farah, Marshall and Lui. He set up a spectacular try for Beau Ryan in this way last week when Farah and Lui combined to put him through a gap. Locke’s threat comes in his running of the football. In 2011 he ranks fifth in the NRL for average kick-return metres with 64.8 and has contributed nine line-breaks, nine line-break assists and nine try assists.
The History: Played 19; Tigers 10, Warriors 9. The Tigers will head into this clash as warm favourites but the fact remains that little has separated these two clubs over the years – and 2011 has been no different with their two meetings yielding narrow 20-12 and 26-22 wins to the Tigers. Another win here would be just the third time the Tigers have defeated a side three times in a single season after North Queensland in 2005 and Canberra last year. This will be the first time these two teams have met in the finals, although notably the Warriors have won three out of the four Week 2 finals games they’ve played in over the years.
Last Time They Met: The Wests Tigers produced one of the comebacks of the year to beat a stunned Warriors outfit 26-22 at Mt Smart Stadium in Round 14. Trailing 22-4 after Manu Vatuvei scored in the 59th minute, the Tigers looked gone until Benji Marshall inspired a remarkable surge. Tries to Marshall on 63 minutes, Wade McKinnon on 66, Marshall again in the 71st and Beau Ryan in the 74th turned the game on its head as they stormed home to steal the two points. The Tigers were aided by four full sets of possession more than their opponents in the second half, during which time they also steeled themselves to miss just 15 tackles. The Warriors certainly paid the price for kicking just one goal from five attempts earlier on.
Conclusion: Despite their somewhat significant hiccup against the Broncos last weekend, it is impossible to imagine the Warriors performing quite so poorly again this time around. In fact, history says that winger Manu Vatuvei – who made five errors last week – tends to hit back strongly after a bad night out. Fact is the Warriors have speed to burn and the ability to score points from anywhere; however, if confidence is king then they have a huge mountain to climb. The Tigers are the form team of the Telstra Premiership with a club record nine wins in a row and it will take a supreme performance to topple them.
This game promises to be a thriller but given the form of the Tigers’ key playmakers and a forward pack that is relentless across the park, they should be expected to progress to the grand final qualifier.
Match Officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Jared Maxwell; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Ricky MacFarlane; Video Referees – Sean Hampstead & Paul Simpkins.
Televised: Channel 9 – Live from 7.30pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 10.30pm.
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Oh my God I AM PUMPED!
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First semi-final: Tigers v Warriors
WHAT, WHERE & WHEN:
First semi-final final, Sydney Football Stadium, 7:45pm (EST) Friday
WWWWW (Wests Tigers); LWLWW (Warriors)
Wests Tigers $1.33, Warriors $3.25 - See TAB Sportsbet’s market.
THE NEXT STEP:
The winner earns a shot at Melbourne Storm in the preliminary finals; the loser’s NRL season is over.
TALE OF THE TAPE:
Wests Tigers will start the match as heavy favourites having won nine consecutive matches. The Warriors, conversely, produced one of their worst performances of the year in last week’s qualifying final, coach Ivan Cleary questioning his players’ right to have a shot at redemption.
Will Wests Tigers make it 10 straight? Can the Warriors overcome their horror show in Brisbane last week? Post a comment at the bottom of the page.
For the Warriors to win they’ll need to complete their sets; horrible ball control left them devoid of the chance to build pressure in the loss to Brisbane Broncos. Pressure is something their opponents, the Tigers, absorbed in spades in their qualifying win over St George Illawarra. Lucky to be only trailing by six points at the break, Tim Sheens’s side found their fluidity in the second half and also re-energised their line defence. They can’t, however, afford such a poor start against the Warriors who, when on song, are among the NRL’s most formidable attacking outfits. The Tigers have beaten the Warriors twice this season, a 20-12 triumph at Leichhardt Oval in round two followed by a get-out-of-jail 26-22 victory at Mt Smart Stadium in round 14.
The Tigers have won six of their eight finals matches, with both their losses coming in the 2010 series. The Warriors have lost their past three and six of their past seven finals matches, with their last finals win coming in week two of the 2008 finals series against Sydney Roosters.
Chris Heighington v Feleti Mateo: No Wests Tigers forward has made more metres this season than Chris Heighington. The tireless backrower was among the Tigers’ best against the Dragons, but will need to replicate the performance against a powerful Warriors forward pack. Lock Heighington’s role in shutting shown Mateo will also be pivotal. With Shaun Johnson inexperienced and James Maloney coming off one of his poorer games of the season, Mateo can ease pressure on the Warriors playmakers with his ability to slot in as an extra half and take the ball to the line.
TALK THE TALK:
“I wouldn’t swap him for any other five-eighth.” - Tigers coach Tim Sheens sums up why Benji Marshall is the man to lead Wests Tigers to a second consecutive preliminary final.
“The fact we just survived is the best tonic.” - Warriors coach Ivan Cleary believes if a drubbing by Brisbane doesn’t motivate his players, nothing will.
BRETT KIMMORLEY SAYS:
“None of last week’s winners put a complete 80-minute performance together, though the Tigers’ second half was very impressive. A lot of the usual focus was on Benji Marshall but I thought Keith Galloway, Liam Fulton and Robbie Farah were particularly outstanding against the Dragons. For Sheens’s men to win again this week they will need to do a bit of ball playing in the pack to combat the Warriors’ size in the forwards. In Fulton and Heighington they have the skill to do that. I thought the Warriors last week would turn in a replica game plan from their round-26 win over Newcastle Knights, by playing controlled, structured football. Instead, we saw a horrible performance punctuated by silly unforced errors. The danger sign for the Tigers is if they put in a poor first half like they did last week, because I’d expect the Warriors’ attacking structure to hurt them more than the Dragons did. However, Tim Sheens is such an experienced coach and he would have been hell bent on addressing the intensity issue. You would expect Cleary’s men to put in a much better effort but I can’t see them turning it around enough to halt the Tigers’ winning streak.”
NODDY’S PREDICTION: Wests Tigers by 14 points.
Oh my God I AM PUMPED!
OMG, me too! Hope I can sleep tonight!
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Preview: Wests Tigers v Warriors
VENUE & TIME: Sydney Football Stadium - Friday, September 16, 7.45pm (AEST), 9.45pm (NZT)
COVERAGE: Channel 9/Sky Sport
HEAD TO HEAD: Played 19 – Tigers 10, Warriors 9
LAST TIME: Round 14, 2011 – Tigers 26-22
He didn’t quite make it last week but Tigers centre Chris Lawrence will definitely make a return from the hamstring injury he suffered in Round 22. Matt Utai makes way for the Test centre. Tigers coach Tim Sheens has named a six-man bench with Utai and Ben Murdoch-Masila the two that are likely to drop off.
Warriors coach Ivan Cleary has also been forced into one change with Joel Moon (ankle) being replaced by Krisnan Inu. Youngster Elijah Taylor will travel with the squad as 18th man.
The Tigers moved into equal premiership favouritism after their come-from-behind win over the Dragons in week one of the playoffs. And it’s hard to argue with that with the joint-venture club riding high on the back of nine straight wins. Their late-season momentum looked like being burst as they trailed 12-6 at half-time against the defending premiers before some Benji Marshall and Tim Moltzen magic inspired a spirited fightback. The sides have met twice this year with the Tigers winning on both occasions.
Many were calling the Warriors dark horses for the title heading into the finals but they were more like tame ponies against the Broncos last weekend. Led by mistake-prone winger Manu Vatuvei, the Kiwis fumbled and bumbled their way through a painful 80 minutes, going down 40-10. Other results kept their season alive but unless they improve significantly against the firing Tigers, the SFS scoreboard attendant will have a busy night on their hands.
The Tigers were furious earlier this season when the Dragons snuck in to snare Tim Moltzen on a three-year deal and it’s easy to see why. Moltzen, who turned 23 the day before taking on the Warriors, has been the x-factor in the club’s late-season surge and is the perfect foil for Marshall and skipper Robbie Farah. He is not only vital to the Tigers’ chances for his impact with the ball, but has improved the defensive side of his game as well. Back-rower Liam Fulton has also lifted his game of late. While fellow second-rowers Gareth Ellis and Chris Heighington continue to get the plaudits and get through a mountain of work. Fulton provides that extra bit of ball-playing ability on the Tigers’ right side.
Beware the wounded beast. That is the motto the Tigers have been living by this week as they expect a fierce response from Warriors winger Manu Vatuvei on Friday night. Vatuvei had an absolute shocker against the Broncos but there’s no doubt he is the most destructive winger in the NRL when on his game. And if the 25-year-old is as good as he was bad last week then the Tigers could be in trouble because when Vatuvei is on, the rest of the Warriors side follows. Fullback Kevin Locke was also kept fairly quiet against the Broncos but there is no more dangerous runner of the football in broken play. If the Tigers don’t present a straight defensive line and give the youngster an inch too much space, he will make them pay.
They say momentum is vital at this stage of the season and if this match was going to be decided on that alone then the Tigers will have this match sewn up at half-time. The Tigers have done a superb job to win nine games on the trot but this is the first time when the result is do-or-die for their season. There are no more second chances for either side and sudden death football can often change the way teams play. It’s hard to see the Tigers going into their shell though. The Warriors also like to play an expansive game which assures fans of one thing, an entertaining game where neither side will die wondering. There’s no way the Warriors will dish up the same performance they did against the Broncos six days earlier but I doubt they can improve enough to stop the Tigers juggernaut. Tigers by 10.