Schick Hydro Preview: Wests Tigers v Canterbury Bulldogs
What a difference three weeks make in rugby league.
Cast your minds back to Round 4 when the Bulldogs were on the end of a scoreless effort against Manly and the Wests Tigers had interim coach Andrew Webster at the helm.
Coaching speculation was ripe for both sides but with Ivan Cleary now two rounds into his coaching career at the Tigers and Des Hasler re-signing for a couple more seasons, suddenly both clubs seem to have got some stability at the top – albeit at least in the coaching box.
The Wests Tigers are still a work in progress with player retention continuing to make the headlines and drowning out the side's overall performances. An upset win over the Cowboys in Townsville was followed by a 4-point loss against the Parramatta Eels on Easter Monday – a game they should've won leading 22-10 with 20 minutes to go.
Canterbury have secured three straight wins against the Broncos, Knights and Rabbitohs to sit inside the top eight after seven rounds following a bumpy start to the season. The visitors will wear their first ever Anzac jersey to commemorate the special occasion.
Cleary has been forced to make one change to the Wests Tigers line-up for the Anzac Round clash with Jamal Idris ruled out due a hamstring injury with Michael Chee Kam named as his replacement, while Kevin Naiqama has been shifted to the wing with Moses Suli named in the centres.
With speculation building that Mitchell Moses would depart the club for the Eels this week, Cleary resisted his request for a release and named the 22-year-old for the clash with first-choice halves partner Luke Brooks named in the reserves and a chance to make a return for the home side.
For the Bulldogs, they welcome back Australian international David Klemmer in the No.13 jersey with Adam Elliott moving back to the interchange bench. Klemmer's return will see Greg Eastwood shift into the second-row and rookie halfback Matt Frawley back into the reserves list.
Why the Wests Tigers can win: James Tedesco. The Blues fullback did everything he possibly could to get the Tigers over the line last weekend but just needed some more help. While you don't want to place all the onus on one player, Tedesco is the key to his side's chances after racking up over 248 with a line break and two try assists. Tedesco has five tries from three appearances against the Bulldogs but missed both fixtures with Hasler's men in 2016 with the joint venture losing both matches. Cleary's men are making metres up-field with 1610 per game to rank fifth in the NRL and lead the competition in offloads (92). If they can create second phase play and keep the ball alive, the Bulldogs forward pack could be run ragged.
Why the Bulldogs can win: Their defence is on song. Take away the 36-point loss to the Sea Eagles and the Bulldogs have been in every game they've played to start the season. Hasler's outfit have missed the fewest tackles in the Telstra Premiership (averaging 21.7 per game) with the Dragons – who are leading the competition – closely followed behind them. Their second halves are most impressive in defence, conceding just the five tries compared to the Tigers' 20 four-pointers after seven rounds. Bulldogs fullback Brett Morris has 12 tries from 15 appearances against the Tigers while five-eighth Josh Reynolds has scored nine tries from his last 11 appearances at ANZ Stadium including one in each of his last five games at the ground.
The history: Played 31; Wests Tigers 11; Bulldogs 20. All signs point to the Bulldogs with the visitors having the wood over the Wests Tigers in the last six years, winning eight of 10 clashes between the clubs, while Cleary has a terrible record against Hasler with just five wins from 18 as coach of the Warriors and Panthers.
Canterbury have won 16 of their last 20 games at ANZ Stadium, but the Wests Tigers also have a healthy record at Sydney Olympic park having claimed victory in six of their last 10 fixtures at the venue.
Match officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton; Assistant Referee: Peter Gough; Touch judges: Kasey Badger and Rohan Best; Review Officials: Luke Patten and Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Fox League & Channel 9 – Live from 4:00pm.
NRL.com predicts: It's going to be a lot closer than it probably looks. The game slipped away at the death for the Wests Tigers last week and they now face a six-day turnaround for the clash, while the Bulldogs have enjoyed an extra three days off to prepare for the contest. We'll play it safe and stick with the Bulldogs based on the history and odds favouring them but wouldn't put it past the Wests Tigers to sneak home in a close one. Bulldogs by 10.