5 Things to Watch for Tonight

There's certainly no shortage of storylines to keep an eye on tonight as Wests Tigers take on the North Queensland Cowboys at Leichhardt Oval.

Off the back of three straight defeats, Ivan Cleary's side will be desperate to return to the winners circle and stay inside the top eight while the Cowboys search for back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018.

Playing in the club's first ever Thursday night home game and their first game at Leichhardt Oval all season is certainly a boost for Wests Tigers, with the Cowboys winless at the ground in over 17 years.

Despite the results, these two sides have played out plenty of thrilling contests together over the last few years and tonight's game should be no different with plenty at stake for the respective squads.

We've picked out the five biggest storylines you need to watch out for this evening...

 

1. How much will Wests Tigers enjoy Russell Packer's return?

Having won just once since Packer picked up a knee injury in the dying stages of Round 5, Wests Tigers will welcome back their inspirational leader tonight when he partners Ben Matulino in the front row. While there's no doubting how important his impact on the field will be as he tightens up the middle of the field, simply having him back adds plenty that might otherwise go unnoticed. Packer's inclusion changes the front row rotation and allows Matt Eisenhuth to play big minutes at lock without having to cover in the front row, while it also gives Wests Tigers a boost with his energy and aggression. Coach Ivan Cleary mentioned how crucial Packer's inclusion is for the side with these two things at his press conference yesterday, while the big man has himself commented how excited he is to play a home game at Leichhardt Oval for the first time. Those two things combined should be a huge boost to the home side tonight.

 

2. Will Wests Tigers find their discipline again?

It was said post-game last week that Wests Tigers need to go "back to basics" as they look to end a run of three straight defeats, with the discipline that had been a highlight of their strong start to the season slipping in the past few weeks. Simple errors and missed tackles in defence crept up in the second half of the win over Manly, and really started to rear their ugly heads in the losses to Newcastle and Parramatta before coming out in full last week against the Warriors. North Queensland showed last week that they can hang in there and come out the other side with the two points in hand, and will certainly fancy their chances at doing that again this evening if Wests Tigers continue to turn the ball over cheaply.

3. Can Jason Taumalolo be stopped?

Completely? Probably not. Jason Taumalolo's last month of football reads like some players careers with an average of 17 runs, 183 metres, 30 tackles, seven tackle breaks and a linebreak per game. Yikes. The Tongan superstar was arguably the best on field again last week against the Cowboys and will look to carry that form over in tonight's game, but Wests Tigers will fancy their chances at limiting his impact with their strong forward pack. The likes of the Roosters, Storm and Sea Eagles have all had their share of big men take on Wests Tigers, and have been handled by the team's commitment in defence, so look for the same thing to happen tonight. As mentioned above, Russell Packer's return is huge for this — as is Elijah Taylor being named at hooker following on from his incredible 57 tackles in just 70 minutes last weekend.

4. What will Benji's return to Leichhardt bring?

Benji Marshall will play his first game at Leichhardt Oval since the end of the 2013 season, in what is sure to be an emotional affair for the former Kiwi international. The iconic suburban ground has seen plenty of highlights from Marshall over the years, and he'll be hoping that tonight is no different. So what will his return bring? Given the past few weeks, you'd have to think that the focus for Marshall will be on controlling the team as he did so well in the opening few rounds, with his long kicking game the key in this. His combination with Esan Marsters on the right also looks a promising attacking weapon for Wests Tigers every week, and if those two can get going, it could be a tough night for the Cowboys' defence.

 

5. Does the streak continue over Thurston's Cowboys?

It's been well-documented this week that  the North Queensland Cowboys (and in particular Jonathan Thurston) have a horror record against Wests Tigers and at Leichhardt Oval. Wests Tigers have won each of the last six games against the Cowboys at Leichhardt, while Thurston remains winless against Wests Tigers in a game played in Sydney — a remarkable 0-13 record that includes the 2005 Grand Final. The two main playmakers from that night will go head-to-head for what could be the final time as he and Marshall do battle, with the Wests Tigers man looking to record his 11th career club victory over Thurston. Will that streak continue tonight at Leichhardt Oval, or will Thurston and the Cowboys finally break through?