Wests Tigers v Vodafone Warriors
Leichhardt Oval, Sydney
Sunday, 6.30pm (AEST), 8.30pm (NZT)
The Wests Tigers host the Vodafone Warriors this Sunday in the final round of a season both clubs will be happy to see the back of.
That is not to say they will be lacking reason for motivation though, with the Tigers still not assured of dodging the wooden spoon and the Vodafone Warriors staring down the barrel of a ninth-straight defeat, which would set a record for the club's longest losing streak in a single season.
The Tigers footed it with the North Queensland Cowboys for much of their clash last week, but collapsed late to lose 14-22 and make it back-to-back losses.
This week the hosts have a glut of changes, with Luke Brooks back in the No 7 jersey, which bumps Jack Littlejohn to the bench and Ava Seumanufagai out of the 17 altogether.
Both Michael Chee-Kam and Matt McIlwrick are out after copping suspensions but it's a straight swap with Kevin Naiqama returning in the centres and Elijah Taylor back to fill the void at hooker.
After his side fell just short in an eventual 21-22 loss to the Manly Sea Eagles in golden point last Sunday, Vodafone Warriors coach Stephen Kearney named the same squad for the trip to Leichhardt Oval.
Why the Tigers can win: Their record suggests otherwise, but the Tigers have played some quality football over the last three weeks against current top eight sides. After downing the Sea Eagles, they took both the Sydney Roosters and Cowboys all the way, losing by four and eight points respectively. In each of those games Ivan Cleary's men managed at least four line breaks and showed periods of impressive grit in defence. If they play at that level this weekend it's unlikely the Vodafone Warriors will be able to match them.
Why the Vodafone Warriors can win: With Shaun Johnson back from injury their attack got going again last week and on Sunday they face a Wests Tigers side who miss more tackles than any other team in the competition, at an average of 36 per game. In round 25 the Vodafone Warriors broke the line three times and ran for 1708 metres on their way to four tries, with five members of their backline all running for over 100 individually. The Tigers have some major shortcomings off the ball, provided the Vodafone Warriors are good enough to exploit them.
History: Played 27; Wests Tigers 14; Vodafone Warriors 13. The Tigers have owned the last three encounters against the Vodafone Warriors, and when playing in New South Wales, have won seven out of 12 against the Kiwi outfit. There have tended to be convincing winners in games between these two recently, with the smallest winning margin in their last six meetings being eight points.
What are the odds: The Vodafone Warriors, still with just one away win this year, are again outsiders to win. The New Zealand TAB has them at $2.30 in the head-to-head odds with the Tigers paying $1.57. For all the odds go to www.tab.co.nz
Wests Tigers | James Tedesco; David Nofoaluma, Esan Marsters, Kevin Naiqama, Malakai Watene-Zelezniak; Tuimoala Lolohea, Luke Brooks; Aaron Woods (a), Elijah Taylor, Tim Grant; Joel Edwards, Josh Aloiai; Matthew Eisenhuth. Interchange: Alex Twal, Sauaso Sue, Bayley Sironen, Jack Littlejohn, Ava Seumanufagai, Jeremy Marshall-King, JJ Felise, Watson Heleta.
Vodafone Warriors | Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c); David Fusitu'a, Blake Ayshford, Solomone Kata, Ken Maumalo; Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson; Ben Matulino, Issac Luke, Sam Lisone; Bunty Afoa, Ryan Hoffman; Simon Mannering. Interchange: Mafoa'aeata Hingano, Charlie Gubb, Isaiah Papali'i , Jazz Tevaga, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Chris Satae, James Bell, Mason Lino.
Match officials: Referee: Adam Gee. Assistant referee: Peter Gough. Sideline officials: Dave Ryan and Phil Henderson. Review official: Steve Chiddy. Senior review official: Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live coverage from 6.30pm (AEST). SKY Sport – Live coverage from 8.30pm (NZT).
NRL.com predicts: A meeting of two unpredictable sides who look set to finish next to each other on the ladder means this one is hard to tip. But the Tigers have played the better football over the past month and the Vodafone Warriors have a terrible away record, having won only once away from home all year. Tigers by eight.