PREVIEW | Illawarra v Wests Tigers
Illawarra Cutters (2nd) v Wests Tigers (3rd) – Qualifying Final
UOW Jubilee Oval, Saturday 3 September
The second and third-placed teams open the first week of Intrust Super Premiership NSW Finals with a bang – but the Wests Tigers will need to overcome any past demons if they are to defeat the Illawarra Cutters.
The Tigers are on par with the Cutters with the ball, but are far worse without it; their 522 points conceded this year is just the ninth-best in the competition, while the Cutters’ 445 pits them at first. Both teams will be aware of this clear mismatch, but how they respond could be a different matter. With wet weather likely to affect all Saturday matches, defence will be paramount if the game descends into a typical grind at Kogarah.
Also playing on the minds of the Tigers will be their previous efforts against Illawarra. The men from Concord have been unable to take two points off the Cutters this year and have been beaten comprehensively; a 31-18 loss back in Round 6 was their third of the season, before the Cutters piled on 44 unanswered points to win 44-14 in Round 14.
The Tigers are a quality side, of course, and deserve their place in the top four, but several mental challenges arise when previous meetings have been so one-sided. On the Tigers’ side, they need to believe that they can execute a plan to open up the Cutters’ defence – and having scored three tries against them in the opening 20 minutes last time, the potential is certainly there. Illawarra, meanwhile, will have to combat complacency, but in a big finals match against the third-best team in the competition, this shouldn’t be much of an issue.
With their previous record and in front of a vocal crowd, the Cutters must be marginal favourites to take out this Fox Sports Match Of The Round. The finals are a new competition, however, and with neither side in particularly dominant form the result could swing either way at Kogarah.
Where it will be won:
Both forward packs – including cousins Damian and Curtis Sironen lining up against each other – appear to be evenly-matched, while both sides have had to adjust to several new halves combinations throughout the year. As with the other two matches in Sydney, the halves battle will be integral in deciding the result in the wet; the Cutters have plenty of talent in Shaun Nona and the returning Drew Hutchison, while the Tigers have skipper Jack Littlejohn, Justin Hunt and Jeremy Marshall-King on an extended bench. The kicking game will be on show in the wet and if the Tigers can lift their defensive effort, this will likely decide the contest.
Hutchison and Littlejohn, as the predominant kickers of their side, will of course have a heavy influence on the area described above. Just as importantly will be how they hold up in defence, direct their troops around the park and play a low-risk game in general. After his NRL call-up last week, Hutchison will be primed to book a spot in the Preliminary Finals, while Littlejohn will look to cap off what has been a fantastic first year for the Tigers.
- Illawarra: Mitch Porter, Drew Hutchison, Tyrone McCarthy
- Wests Tigers: Watson Heleta, Curtis Sironen, Jeremy Marshall-King, Manaia Rudolph
- Illawarra: Eric Newbigging, Fraser Alcock
- Wests Tigers: Luke Sharpe, Leighton Tali, Taniela Paseka
Witness history this September at the 2016 NSWRL Grand Final Day. On Sunday, 25 September the Intrust Super Premiership NSW decider, along with the Ron Massey Cup and Sydney Shield Grand Finals, take place at Pirtek Stadium, with tickets just $10 for adults and kids under 12 free. Click here to secure your seat.