Wests Tigers v Bulldogs
Sunday, 3pm (AEST)
Only once over the past decade has ANZ Stadium hosted a crowd of less than 16,000 people for a Wests Tigers-Bulldogs fixture but, given what's at stake on Sunday, it wouldn't be far-fetched to expect double that on Sunday afternoon.
The Tigers are aiming to arrest an alarming two game slide – including a 40-8 flop at Brookvale last Friday – that has them teetering outside the top eight on for-and-against.
The home side will certainly be up against it: they lost powerful wingman David Nofoaluma to a season-ending ACL injury mid-week, while their other winger and kick-off master in Pat Richards will have his troublesome groin monitored right up until game day.
Coach Mick Potter named a smiling Tim Simona to make his comeback from tooth surgery a fortnight ago, while the suspended Bodene Thompson comes back from a week on the sidelines.
The visitors, meanwhile, are perched pretty in third spot but need to keep winning to keep pace with fellow NRL leaders Manly and Penrith.
The 'Dogs of War' survived the mother of all attrition battles with a stirring 6-4 victory in Melbourne last weekend, a sterling effort in defence that stamped their credentials as a genuine NRL heavyweight.
And to think they did it without NSW Origin pair Josh Morris and Josh Reynolds – coach Des Hasler gets Morris back this week – made it all the more impressive. Reynolds remains on the sidelines for his lifting tackle in Origin III, giving the adaptable Josh Jackson another game in the halves.
NRL Club ticketed members and fans who buy a ticket to any NRL game this weekend can gain free entry to the Wests Tigers v Bulldogs match at ANZ Stadium – and be treated to a special live performance by The Wiggles before the game.
Watch Out Tigers: Fullback Mitch Brown had arguably his best performance as a Bulldog in last week's thriller against Melbourne. Not only did he rack up a season-high 142 metres, but he came up with a couple of critical try-saving tackles that showed why Hasler has given him the No. 1 jumper until the return of Sam Perrett.
Watch Out Bulldogs: Centre Chris Lawrence has copped some criticism from the locals for some sub-par performances earlier in the year, but the veteran has picked up his game of late. His 110 metres against the Sea Eagles last week was the ninth time in his past 11 games the nine-year pro has cracked the century mark. In the four games prior to that, he had managed a high of just 75.
Plays To Watch: It's no secret that the Tigers are the NRL kings at dummy-half running, and it'll be interesting to see whether coach Mick Potter sticks by the tactic against the Bulldogs. Given the league-low 13.4 runs from dummy-half by opposition teams, it's obvious that sides have tried to tire the big Bulldogs pack by shifting the ball from side to side but clearly, it hasn't worked. So taking it right into the Bulldogs' guts just might prove a tactic worth visiting.
Where It Will Be Won: Unless the Tigers can find the energy and line speed that troubled many teams earlier on in the season, this could be a walkover for a Bulldogs side that makes more runs and metres than every other side in the NRL. They also commit the least amount of errors, too.
What Are The Odds: The money with Sportsbet is running 5:1 to the Bulldogs, who are coming off strong wins over Melbourne and Manly. Bulltogs to win 13+ has also been getting a hammering at $2.35, and no-one is prepared to take the Tigers even with 8.0 start at the line. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
The History: Played 27; Wests Tigers 9, Canterbury-Bankstown 16, drawn 2. Only Brisbane hold a more superior record against the Tigers than the Bulldogs. In fact, the 'Berries have been so dominant over their cross-town rivals that they haven't lost a premiership game to them in almost four years, including a 40-4 beat-down on the same ground in May last year when Benji Marshall was still the halfback and Curtis Sironen was playing five-eighth. Boy does that seem a long time ago now.
Match Officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Adam Reid & Jason Walsh; Video Referees – Jared Maxwell & Luke Phillips.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm (AEST).
The Way We See It: It seems the Tigers are going through some growing pains again and we reckon there'll be some more harsh lessons learnt against a side almost at full strength and buoyed by a courageous effort in Melbourne.