After a last-gasp win over the Sea Eagles, the Wests Tigers can keep their faint finals hopes flickering when they meet the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Bankwest Stadium. Jamie Soward and Matthew Elliott preview the matchup.
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The full moon that rose above round 17 may not have determined South Sydney’s demise, but the chaotic scenes at Lottoland are proof that it reversed the tide on the Wests Tigers’ season.
In what could have been mistaken as the NRL’s Tackle Free Round, a late Tigers hat-trick in a 12 try extravaganza not only ruled a line through Manly’s season but kept Michael Maguire’s pulse throbbing for at least another week.
Still four points adrift of the eighth placed Sharks, themselves a victim of last week’s lunar madness, Maguire knows a repeat of last week’s defensive inefficiencies will have his players eyeing fancy dress two weeks early.
Still grinning like a surfer who just found the ultimate break, Maguire couldn’t turn his back on last week’s 17. So after weeks of skittish selections an unchanged squad will make their way to Bankwest where Adam Doueih’s newfound presence in the frontline will have his former teammates on their toes.
Last week wasn’t as rosy for Wayne Bennett after Souths fell to the Storm. A glum Bennett stopped short of claiming the two competition points when he said the Rabbitohs beat themselves, before going on to back his side against any of the competition heavyweights. And with finals-like intensity to equal the Storm following a fortnight of untouchable bliss, it’s tough to argue.
But now scrambling in seventh place, last week’s thoughts of the top-four have vanished along with the Rabbitohs’ room for error. Now with the Bulldogs and Roosters to follow as Cody Walker and Damien Cook work their charm, Souths can still finish fifth or sixth where they’ll be a week-1 nightmare eyeing a week-2 upset.
With the chocolates split four apiece with the Tigers since 2016, Souths welcome back winger Dane Gagai while Junior Tatola is a big out with Liam Knight to start upfront. Former Panther Jed Cartwright has been named on the bench, from where he looks set to make his Rabbitohs debut.
Tigers: 4. Adam Doueihi 2. David Nofoaluma 19. Tommy Talau 18. Chris Lawrence 5. Asu Kepaoa 6. Benji Marshall 7. Luke Brooks 8. Josh Aloiai 9. Harry Grant 10. Thomas Mikaele 11. Luke Garner 12. Luciano Leilua 13. Alex Twal 14. Matt Eisenhuth 15. Elijah Taylor 16. Jacob Liddle 17. Sam McIntyre 20. Josh Reynolds 21. Russell Packer
Rabbitohs: 1. Corey Allan 2. Alex Johnston 3. Campbell Graham 4. Steven Marsters 5. Dane Gagai 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Liam Knight 9. Damien Cook 10. Thomas Burgess 11. Jaydn Su’A 12. Bayley Sironen 13. Cameron Murray 14. Mark Nicholls 15. Jed Cartwright 16. Patrick Mago 17. Keaon Koloamatangi 18. Jaxson Paulo 19. Ky Rodwell
Before his second career hat-trick sank the Sea Eagles, Benji Marshall had already tagged David Nofoaluma the Tigers’ best. Rising from the back blocks of the NSW Cup just over a year ago to the top of the NRL try-scoring list, the Tigers’ flyer is now just four shy of a club record 21 in a season.
Who to watch: Before his second career hat-trick sank the Sea Eagles, Benji Marshall had already tagged David Nofoaluma the Tigers’ best. Rising from the back blocks of the NSW Cup just over a year ago to the top of the NRL try-scoring list, the Tigers’ flyer is now just four shy of a club record 21 in a season.
On the Blues’ radar and oozing confidence in his eighth season, this week’s match up with Alex Johnston is sure to max the rev limiter.
Campbell Graham is one of several rangy centres who’ve come into their own this season. Big stepping and high flying, the 21-year-old has cashed in on the Rabbitohs’ recent blitz crossing the stripe six times in the past four matches. Already in his fourth season, the Coogee junior regularly tops 150 metres a game and is sure to cause the Tigers headaches either side of the Steeden.
The favourite: Three Dane Gagai tries secured South-Sydney the points when these sides squared off last July. And while every game for Wests is now sudden death, with three more wins already under their belt Souths are clear favourites.