Wests Tigers return to action following their final bye of the season when they take on the St. George-Illawarra Dragons at ANZ Stadium this Sunday at 4:00pm.
With State of Origin finished for another year, the focus for at least six NRL teams is the race to the finals. The gap between the sixth-placed Broncos and seventh-placed Titans is now four points, which shows the competition is tight for the final two positions.
It’s beginning to get to the now-or-never stage for Wests Tigers, who will need to win at least four or five of their last seven games to reach the 26-28 competition points required to give themselves a chance of sneaking their way into the finals series for 2016.
Jason Taylor’s men will play their second of three straight “away” games at the former Olympic venue this week, where they have won three and lost two so far in 2016.
St. George-Illawarra come into the clash in 10th position — two ahead of Wests Tigers. Their last start defeat to the Titans on home turf further exposed their inability to score points in 2016, with their 39 tries scored this year the second fewest in the competition.
Their defence has also been questionable in recent weeks, having suffered heavy defeats in their last two outings against the Gold Coast and Manly — almost 70 points in total.
Recent history suggests an even record of five wins and five losses for both sides in the last ten fixtures, with the Dragons recording a two-point win in Golden Point in 2015.
Milestones reign supreme for the home side, with former Wests Tigers playmaker Benji Marshall set to play his 250th NRL match while Country representative Jack de Belin plays his 100th NRL game — milestones that will no doubt have the Dragons fired up.
Date — Sunday, July 24, 2016
Time — 4:00pm AEST
Venue — ANZ Stadium, Sydney Olympic Park
On-Field Referees — Ashley Klein and Adam Gee
Touch Judges — Jason Walsh and Dave Ryan
Review Officials — Bernard Sutton, Ben Galea and Matt Cecchin
TV, Live Stream and Radio Information
TV — Live via Channel 9 and Fox Sports 1 (subscription required)
Live Stream — Foxtel Go, NRL Digital Pass (subscription required)
Radio — FM 104.9 Triple M, AM 702 ABC, AM 873 2GB (check local guides)
Confirmed Squads and Team News
Wests Tigers are set to make some late changes to the side named on Tuesday with Coach Jason Taylor confirming Robbie Farah will drop back and play in the Intrust Super Premiership against Newtown on Saturday. Farah’s replacement is yet to be named, with the final line-up to be confirmed one hour before kickoff. Origin representatives James Tedesco and Aaron Woods are confirmed to return in the starting line-up with JJ Felise and Josh Addo-Carr dropping out of the side that was defeated by the Bulldogs a fortnight ago.
For the Dragons, Paul McGregor has made several changes to the side that was convincingly defeated by the Titans. Taane Milne replaces Tim Lafai in the centres while Kalifa Fai Fai Loa is out with a cheekbone injury, and replaced by Jason Nightingale on the wing. Adam Quinlan comes in for his second match of the year at fullback. Benji Marshall also returns in place of Josh McCrone, and mid-season recruit Tariq Sims has been promoted to start at prop with Jacob Host moving back to the bench.
WESTS TIGERS — 1. James Tedesco 2. David Nofoaluma 3. Tim Simona 4. Kevin Naiqama 5. Jordan Rankin 6. Mitchell Moses 7. Luke Brooks 8. Aaron Woods 9. Dene Halatau 10. Sauaso Sue 11. Josh Aloiai 12. Chris Lawrence 13. Elijah Taylor (Interchange: 14. Tim Grant 15. Ava Seumanufagai 16. Robbie Farah 17. Kyle Lovett 18. Joel Edwards)
DRAGONS — 1. Adam Quinlan 2. Kurt Mann 3. Euan Aitken 4. Taane Milne 5. Jason Nightingale 6. Gareth Widdop 7. Benji Marshall 8. Russell Packer 9. Mitch Rein 10. Tariq Sims 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Joel Thompson 13. Jack de Belin (Interchange: 14. Mike Cooper 15. Leeson Ah Mau 16. Jacob Host 17. Jake Marketo 19. Tyrone McCarthy 21. Will Matthews)
2016 Recent Results
R13 — Sydney Roosters 32 def. Wests Tigers 18
R14 — Wests Tigers 30 def. South Sydney Rabbitohs 14
R16 — Melbourne Storm 29 def. Wests Tigers 20
R17 — Wests Tigers 34 def. Penrith Panthers 26
R18 — Canterbury Bulldogs 32 def. Wests Tigers 22
St George Illawarra Dragons
R14 — Canterbury Bulldogs 34 def. St George Illawarra Dragons 16
R15 — St George Illawarra Dragons 20 def. Melbourne Storm 10
R16 — St George Illawarra Dragons 30 def. Newcastle Knights 18
R17 —Manly Sea Eagles 36 def. St George Illawarra Dragons 6
R19 — Gold Coast Titans 32 def. St George Illawarra Dragons 12
Last Time They Met — Dragons 32 def. Wests Tigers 30 (Rd.26, 2015)
Wests Tigers last met St George in the final game of the regular season in 2015, and it was all the home side for the first three-quarters of the game with Benji Marshall chalking up three try-assists to give his side a 30-8 lead with just 16 minutes remaining. A try to Pat Richards in the 64th minute sparked an almighty fight back by the visitors with further tries to Aaron Woods and James Tedesco inside the next eight minutes giving Wests Tigers fans a glimmer of hope with three minutes remaining... Enter David Nofoaluma.
The Campbelltown junior took an intercept from a Drew Hutchison pass to sprint 90 metres to score next to the posts. Richards would convert and scores were remarkably level at full time — sending the game into Golden Point at 30-30.
Both sides took a total of eight field goal attempts, but one would prove costly for the Wests Tigers outfit, when Robbie Farah was ruled offside at marker, handing St. George-Illawarra a penalty goal in front to win the game. Josh Dugan converted, with the visitors falling agonizingly short of pulling off what would have been a sensational comeback.
· Against the Dragons — Played 31, Won 14, Lost 17, Drawn 0
· At ANZ Stadium — Played 10, Won 4, Lost 6, Drawn 0
Player to Watch — Benji Marshall (Halfback, Dragons)
It shapes as another intriguing battle between Benji Marshall and his former side, with the experienced half set to play his 250th NRL match against the team in which he debuted and went on to play 201 for. There will be no shortage of motivation for Marshall to prove he is still one of the game’s most dangerous players, and more importantly try and lift the attack of a Dragons outfit that have struggled in recent weeks to score any points. Marshall has just the five try assists for 2016, way down on his total off 22 in 2015, however injury has cruelled his season to date — managing just ten appearances so far.
What They Said
“Every game is a must-win for us from here on in. We don't want to get ahead of ourselves, and we've got to focus first on the Dragons. We're a team that, when we hold the ball and complete our sets, we're a hard team to beat. Consistency is our aim and hopefully we can start that out with a win on Sunday.” — Tim Simona, Wests Tigers
“You never kind of know what you're going to get from the Wests Tigers. They can attack from anywhere on the field and they're not afraid to play footy at you, so you have to make sure you're turning up at every play.” — Jack de Belin, St George Illawarra Dragons
“We know every week is a semi-final — Our September starts this weekend. We know how many games we have to win to make the finals and that starts against the Dragons. It's not going to be easy, but we want to give it a red hot crack.” — Kevin Naiqama, Wests Tigers
Three Final Facts
1. Wests Tigers are averaging eight more points per game than the Dragons (21ppg to 13)
2. Luke Brooks leads the competition with most line-break assists (19)
3. Mitch Rein leads the competition with most dummy-half runs (94)