It’s shaping as a fascinating and blockbuster battle in the middle as Wests Tigers take on the St. George-Illawarra Dragons this Saturday afternoon at ANZ Stadium.
One of the biggest surprises in the competition this season, the Dragons have rocketed their way up the competition ladder off the back of their impressive forward pack with Russell Packer, Paul Vaughan, Jack De Belin, Joel Thompson and Tyson Frizell all in form.
Wests Tigers will have their hands full stopping the home side’s big men this weekend, and in particular, the individual Key Matchup between Ava Seumanufagai and Vaughan.
Returning to the team this week after a stint in the Intrust Super Premiership in Round 11, Seumanufagai is a welcome replacement up front for Wests Tigers, who will head into the match without Sauaso Sue (suspended) and with Aaron Woods backing up from Origin on Wednesday night. A regular starter in the team this weekend, those two factors could see a rise in a minutes for the Auckland-born big man, and he’ll no doubt need to be at his best again if Wests Tigers are to spring an upset tomorrow afternoon.
Arguably the most in-form prop in the competition this season, Vaughan was somewhat unlucky to miss selection in the NSW Blues team for Game I on Wednesday night, and will certainly be looking to prove his case to Laurie Daley ahead of Game II on June 21.
Vaughan currently leads all Dragons forwards with 1729 metres from 167 runs this year, and has missed just seven tackles all season — making an impressive 322 tackles.
Seumanufagai and Vaughan have faced off against each other on eight occasions throughout their respective careers — seven times while Vaughan was with Canberra and just once since the big man made the move to Wollongong. Vaughan holds a 5-3 advantage over Seumanufagai, but on only two occasions have both players started the match. In both of those, Vaughan emerged victorious by a combined score of 88-12.
MILESTONE MOMENTS FOR SEUMANUFAGAI
Closing in on his 100th NRL game (scheduled to take place in Round 15 when he takes on the Cronulla Sharks), Seumanufagai will also celebrate a special milestone on Saturday with his 26th birthday. It’ll be the first time that the prop forward has played footy on his birthday. Looking back, Vaughan has also played one game on his birthday before — a 60-6 demolition of Wests Tigers while at the Canberra Raiders in 2016. Not only that, the big man scored a try that too! And while we’re talking tries…
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BIG MEN SCORING TRIES
It’s been a remarkable try-scoring year for both Seumanufagai and Vaughan, who have combined for five tries between them in the opening 12 weeks of the season. Vaughan has scored at least four tries in the past two years, while Seumanufagai has never scored more than one try in a year — until now. In fact, only two props in the competition have scored more tries than Vaughan (3) this year — Korbin Sims and Jake Trbojevic — while Ryan James and Leivaha Pulu have also crossed for three tries throughout the season. In every game Seumanufagai has scored in this year, Wests Tigers have gone on to win.
WHAT THEY SAID
“Both their front rowers have been really strong for them in leading the way. Those two big boys allow them to get good dummy half runs and they’ve been going really well off the back of them. Their bench is solid too so we’re going to have a tough job containing them. Hopefully it’s a chance for me to step up with Woodsy [Aaron Woods] backing up and Jesse [Sauaso Sue] out. It’s a big job for all of us in the middle this week, but we’re looking forward to do it.” — Wests Tigers forward Ava Seumanufagai