Following a disappointing result on Sunday against the Penrith Panthers, Wests Tigers won’t have long to turn their form around, with a difficult trip down to the nation’s capital to face the Canberra Raiders on Sunday next up on the schedule.
It’s shaping as an intriguing clash for both sides given their mixed starts to the year — the Raiders still winless heading into Round 3 and Wests Tigers with a win and loss.
What are the biggest storylines and questions to watch for heading in to the game?
Here’s the top five.
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1. How will both teams respond to last week’s losses?
It certainly hasn’t been an easy start to the year for the Raiders — facing the Cowboys in Townsville before returning home to take on the defending premiers. Ricky Stuart’s men battled hard but came up empty in both games, and after Saturday’s tough loss to the Sharks, will certainly be keen to turn it around this weekend. 0-3 is not where any team wants to be sitting after three rounds, particularly given just five teams in the last 10 years have made the top eight after starting 0-3. For Wests Tigers, a strong performance in Round 1 was undone in disappointing fashion last week, and they’ll be determined to rectify that 34-point defeat this week. Execution, in particular, was poor from the hosts as they ended up on the wrong side of a heavy loss, and with fixtures coming up against the Cowboys, Storm and Eels, responding with a positive performance is a must.
2. Will we see any changes to Wests Tigers team?
Coach Jason Taylor made just one change last week to the team that won in Round 1, with Joel Edwards replacing Tim Grant on the bench. However, speaking after the game, Taylor said the planned bench rotation and changes didn’t work as they would have liked, which could lead to some changes for the hosts — even just subtle ones. Grant is expected to return for Sunday’s game, while hooker Matt Ballin made a successful return from injury last weekend in the Club’s Intrust Super Premiership team. Matt McIlwrick was strong in the opening half before going off the field, and his rotation with Jack Littlejohn could possibly see changes, while Michael Chee Kam’s role will be interesting to see come kickoff, given the utility is coming off the first 80 minute game of his career. Should Grant return, how the likes of Sauaso Sue, Josh Aloiai and Jamal Idris will be used against the Raiders could make for some interesting decisions.
3. What impact will last year’s defeats have on both teams?
2016 was a year to forget for Wests Tigers when it came to the Canberra Raiders — comprehensively beaten 60-6 at GIO Stadium in Round 8 before going down 52-10 at Leichhardt Oval in the final game of the year. Outmuscled and enthused by Canberra’s forwards, Wests Tigers will no doubt be using last year’s defeats as motivation for an improved performance on Sunday, but it’ll also be interesting to see how the Raiders approach the contest. Complacency isn’t a thing Ricky Stuart teams are known for and, after a slow start to 2017, they’ll be keen to deliver in front of the GIO Stadium faithful.
4. Will Wests Tigers return to their clinical best?
Down 18-2 at half-time against Penrith, it could easily have been a different story for Wests Tigers had they taken their chances —Aaron Woods and Taylor confirming as much post-game. Young gun Moses Suli lost the ball over the line, David Nofoaluma had a try disallowed with a forward pass, James Tedesco narrowly missed a kick back on the inside from Suli and Sauaso Sue was trapped just short on a number of occasions — all inside the opening half hour of the game. Having not taken those chances, the hosts were made to pay with the Panthers running in three tries in eight minutes to blow the game open at the break. In the second half, chances were there again for Wests Tigers — Tedesco knocking on over the line, Jack Littlejohn going close and Kevin Naiqama dropping a short ball from Tedesco over the line. In the end, Wests Tigers were made to pay for their defensive lapses, but had they had points on the board, there’s no telling how different the game could have gone. The best way to rectify those errors last week is to return with a clinical performance on Sunday, which they’ll certainly need to beat the Raiders — a model shown by the Sharks and Cowboys already to start the season.
5. How much will a Sunday afternoon suit both teams?
After two big night games to start the year for Canberra, the Raiders will play their first Sunday afternoon game of the year, with a sunny 28 degrees predicted for the game. How that will suit both teams is an underrated storyline to follow on Sunday; Canberra’s big men prefer the cool of night while good conditions will help Wests Tigers move the ball around. Wests Tigers have won four of the last six Sunday afternoon games against Canberra, while the Raiders have lost their last three Sunday afternoon games against Wests Tigers at GIO Stadium. Against all teams, Canberra has won just five of their last 16 Sunday afternoon games played at GIO Stadium. Possibly watch this space.