Wests Tigers host Manly Sea Eagles at Campbelltown Stadium this Thursday Night, holding on to the slimmest of finals hopes.
The Tigers need to win by big margins against Manly this week and South Sydney in the final round while hoping that either the Broncos or Warriors fall in a heap and lose their last two games.
It could have been very different for the Tigers in their 20-10 loss to St George Illawarra at Leichhardt Oval last week. Ivan Cleary’s team enjoyed a mountain of first-half possession but dropped the ball 4 times while attacking the Dragons line in the first half. The Dragons regained confidence with their defence and came over the top of Wests in the second half.
Manly produced an embarrassing second-half display at home to Gold Coast Titans, letting a 22-6 lead slip to lose to 42-34. On top of that speculation on Coach Trent Barrett’s future has been far from ideal for the Sea Eagles players as they try to find another win to end any threat of getting the wooden spoon.
2018 Tigers def Sea Eagles 38-12 at Lottoland
2017 Tigers def Sea Eagles 30-26 at Leichhardt
2017 Sea Eagles def Tigers 28-16 at Lottoland
2016 Tigers def Sea Eagles 36-22 at Leichhardt
2015 Sea Eagles def Tigers 30-20 at Lottoland
Manly have won 15 of their 26 encounters against Wests Tigers since 2003. The Tigers have enjoyed good recent success, winning 3 of the past 4 clashes. Back in Round 6 and in form Tigers outfit thrashed the Sea Eagles 38-12 at Lottoland, racing to a 26-0 lead at halftime. Star half Benji Marshall was in commanding touch that afternoon, scoring two tries and controlling the game along with halves partner Luke Brooks.
Manly Sea Eagles
The Wests Tigers have suffered a blow, losing experienced lock Elijah Taylor with a corked thigh. Matt Eisenhuth will replace him in the Number 13 jersey and Chris Lawrence returns to the starting side in the second row. Alex Twal and Josh Aloiai come on to the bench with Jacob Liddle dropping to the reserves bench, but coach Ivan Cleary may well still include him in the 17 on gameday.
Coach Trent Barrett has made just one change following Manly’s capitulation to the Titans, with Jack Gosiewski replacing Frank Winterstein on the bench.
The facts that matter
The Wests Tigers come into this Round 24 clash holding on to mathematical hopes of making the top 8 and Ivan Cleary and the playing group certainly haven’t given up on pulling off a miracle. If they are going to be a chance they need a big win against Manly at Campbelltown.
Despite the Tigers considerable improvement in 2018, they have struggled to score points averaging just 15.17 per game. It has been their defence which has impressed much more, conceding just 17.17 per game.
On paper at least the Tigers have a spine capable of producing plenty of points with fullback Moses Mbye proving a good mid-season signing, experienced campaigners, Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah, back together and halfback Luke Brooks on his day has dominated games with an astute kicking game. If Tiger props Ben Matulino and Russell Packer can get over the top of their Sea Eagle counterparts, the joint venture outfit will have every chance of winning and winning well on Thursday Night.
The Tigers early season success was based on low errors, field position and strong defence but they will have to be prepared to flex their attacking muscles, if they want to be any chance of making the top 8.
The Sea Eagles late-season form was looking quite encouraging until they appeared to completely switch off in defence in the 2nd half last week and leaked 36 points to the Titans.
Conceding quick points has been an all too familiar habit for Manly in 2018. They were blown off the park by the Sydney Roosters in Round 19, conceding 34 first-half points and they squandered a 24-6 lead with 13 minutes to go against Penrith to lose 24-28 in Round 20.
Starting props Martin Taupau and Addin Fonua-Blake certainly cannot be blamed for the Sea Eagles poor results. Taupau leads the NRL with 66 offloads and both him and Fonua-Blake are among the competition’s Top 5 for post-contact metres.
Even in such a disappointing team effort last week the Trbojevic brothers were in brilliant form for Manly. Fullback Tom Trbojevic is second only to Cronulla’s Valentine Holmes in line breaks this year with 19, while losing hurts no Manly player more than lock Jake Trbojevic, who has been giving his all through the middle every week.
The Sea Eagles need halfback Daly Cherry-Evans to stand up and be counted in these final two games. Cherry-Evans has shown his class in some games, notably in Manly’s golden-point win at Cronulla in Round 21, but in other games, he’s had little impact when the team has desperately needed him to control the game. It will be fascinating to see how the much-maligned ‘DCE’ performs against Wests Tigers halves Benji Marshall and Luke Brooks.
Realistically the Wests Tigers finals hopes were dashed by their loss to the Dragons last week and Brisbane’s 38-18 win over South Sydney. However since the Tigers are kicking Round 24 off, they should come into the game full of belief and with the intent of a delivering a really good performance.
As disappointing as they have been, Manly are a dangerous team with numerous talented individuals, so the Tigers need to be much better than they were against the Dragons. If the Tigers can settle their nerves and complete high, then the likes of Marshall, Brooks, Farah and Mbye should have the class to guide the Tigers to victory against the Sea Eagles.
Wests Tigers by 8 points.
Who will grab the points when the Tigers host Manly in the season’s penultimate round? Let us know in the comments below.
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