Robbie Farah’s 300th game celebrations get a hometown encore on Thursday night as Wests Tigers host North Queensland at Leichhardt Oval.
It’s an interesting match-up between 11th and 13th. If the Cowboys weren’t already too far behind the finals chasing pack, a loss to Michael Maguire’s men guarantees a second straight bottom eight finish since making the grand final in 2017.
The Tigers’ stirring 28-26 win over Newcastle last Friday kept them alive on 18 points, one behind eighth-placed Brisbane and two behind seventh placed Penrith. It was a much needed victory which broke a run of three straight losses.
Wests’ 66-point deficit is the worst of the finals contenders, so nothing less than victory will do from here on in if they want to extend their season.
North Queensland dropped a 14-4 lead at Cronulla to go down 16-14, all but ending their chances of making eighth place. It was a hard luck loss but still a loss, their fifth in six starts. Two missed conversions from rookie halfback Jake Clifford proved critical in the end.
Last time these teams met, Wests took a golden point win 27-26 off the boot of Benji Marshall. They’d needed to fight back and got out of jail after blowing an 18-0 lead up in Townsville. It’s 6-4 Wests’ way in the last ten match-ups, including five of the last six.
There’s a much needed boost for the Cowboys with five-eighth Michael Morgan cleared to play after three weeks off recovering from the savage concussion he copped in the State of Origin decider. With Morgan back, the athletic inspiration for all husky gentlemen John Asiata will come off the bench.
Winger Kyle Feldt has also come through concussion protocols and will take his place the side.
For Wests, Maguire has decided to stick to a winning formula with an unchanged side. Josh Reynolds was cut from the squad on Wednesday night.
There could (and maybe should) be at least one late out for the Tigers. Forward Michael Chee-Kam has been named in the squad less than one week after his head was introduced to Kalyn Ponga’s shoulder last Friday.
If Chee-Kam is cleared and good to go it will be amazing, but with concussion protocols in play don’t be surprised if there’s a late addition to the bench. Head knocks are not to be trifled with, as the Cowboys have shown by keeping Morgan out for an extended period.
Both teams have decent forward packs who make good metres, helped by hookers who like to get on their bike and get play moving as fast as they can. Number nines Jake Granville (78) and Robbie Farah (74) sit fourth and fifth for dummy half runs respectively.
A more concerning statistic is that both teams are in the bottom three for conversion accuracy, the Cowboys on 70 per cent accuracy and the Tigers 67 per cent. Jake Clifford has had to take over for North Queensland with Jordan Kahu injured, but Kahu was hardly setting the goalkicking world on fire to begin with.
For Wests, their problems front of goal sit squarely on the toe of kicker Ersan Marsters, who has spent 2019 missing kicks at an alarming yet consistent rate. His wayward boot has cost the Tigers badly on more than two occasions. It’s these small but important things that contribute to playing finals or missing out.
Tigers fullback Corey Thompson is on track for career high numbers for tries, line breaks and run metres. Thompson has scored nine times and has been a handful for any opposition.
On paper, this is a pretty good match-up across the park. Victory or defeat may come down to a game changing moment from Jason Taumalolo, Benji Marshall, Thompson or Morgan.
Don’t expect an offensive explosion – these teams average a combined five tries per game and there’s absolutely nothing in their recent form lines that suggests they’ll blow that out tonight.
Hopefully Tigers fans can set aside the Thursday night fixturing inconvenience and turn out in good numbers to join the (continued) celebrations for their favourite son Robbie Farah.
Tigers by 6.
1. Corey Thompson, 2. Paul Momirovski, 3. Moses Mbye, 4. Esan Marsters, 5. David Nofoaluma, 6. Benji Marshall, 7. Luke Brooks, 8. Josh Aloiai, 9. Robbie Farah, 10. Oliver Clark, 11. Luke Garner, 12. Michael Chee-Kam, 13. Ryan Matterson
Bench/Reserves: 14. Matthew Eisenhuth, 15. Thomas Mikaele, 16. Alex Twal, 17. Chris Lawrence, 19. Tommy Talau, 20. Chris McQueen
1. Scott Drinkwater, 2. Kyle Feldt, 3. Coen Hess, 4. Tom Opcacic, 5. Murray Taualgi, 6. Michael Morgan, 7. Jake Clifford, 8. Josh McGuire, 9. Jake Granville, 10. Jordan McLean, 11. Gavin Cooper, 12. Shane Wright, 13. Jason Taumalolo
Bench/Reserves: 14. John Asiata, 15. Matthew Scott, 16. Scott Bolton, 17. Francis Molo, 19. Tom Gilbert, 20. Gideon Gela-Mosby