Obviously all matches from here until the end of the NRL season are of critical importance to nearly all teams – but putting the NRL table aside for a moment; this is truly a big test for the Wests Tigers.
While the Sydney City Roosters really have nothing to lose; playing enthusiastically for 80 minutes and enjoying their football under Brad Fittler – the Wests Tigers have lost 4 of the their last 5 matches. The heavy win over the North Queensland Cowboys probably masked where the Tigers are realistically at on their NRL 2007 quest.
The power of the suburban homeground, especially in a Monday night match this season cannot be questioned. A large crowd at Liechhardt Ovarl roaring the Wests Tigers home in a big win, with Benji Marshall and Brett Hodgson back. Having Robbie Farrah back at hooker gave the Tigers a huge directional boost, the creative value of Brett Hodgson also blatantly obvious – he was sorely missed last week. Was it purely Liechhardt that got the Wests Tigers the recent big win?
In 2007, it once again seems that the Wests Tigers forwards may be the missing piece in their puzzle. Individually the Tigers forwards all have unquestionable talent. Bryce Gibbs, Bronson Harrison both young big men playing good footy and guys that have tasted success at a young age. Coach Tim Sheens has Keith Galloway making massive metres and the former Cronulla bookend has cut the ill-discipline and the poor percentage offloads from his game.
Its the Wests Tigers forward pack as a group that struggles to make centre field dents in opposing teams. While their smaller frame forwards can have success on the fringes or use angled runs to maximise impact – this only gets you so far. When the Tigers faced the Gold Coast Titans pack last week – their faults were were seriously exposed. Facing premier NRL forwards in Luke Bailey, Anthony Laffranchi and Mark Minichiello, the Titans were able to dominate their smaller Wests Tigers opponents – thus nullifying the impact from the Wests Tigers outside men.
Against the Sydney Roosters tonight, the forward battle will be intriguing. Up until last week, even though the Roosters were winning – you couldn’t say their forwards had totally dominated an opposing pack. Full credit to them, the Roosters have been pumped and got the job done over the last month.
In their effort against the Warriors – the Roosters did really earn their stripes. Their forwards stood the ultimate NRL test. Facing the Warriors giant men and coming away with a sharing of the points.
The desperation of the Wests Tigers should see them have enough petrol to outlast the carefree Sydney Roosters. The Tigers not only need the 2 points on offer – they badly need to build a form run into the finals; otherwise they will be cannon fodder in the early weeks to the likes of Melbourne or Manly.
I don’t want to knock the Sydney Roosters; for they have been so impressive in the past month. Their enthusiasm has been unmatched by any other NRL team over the same period, tonight however the individual skills of the Tigers should end the Bondi Boy’s run of wins.