Mounties (1st) v Wests Tigers (3rd)
Leichhardt Oval, Sunday 18 September
Broadcast LIVE on Fox Sports 501
They’ve been neck and neck in their two meetings this year, but the Wests Tigers will be out for their maiden win of the season over injury-ridden Mounties when they meet in the first Preliminary Final.
The first encounter, back in Round 12, saw Mounties play out a 27-20 victory at Aubrey Keech Reserve, with Intrust Super Premiership NSW Player Of The Year Sam Williams having a hand in all five of his team’s tries to keep his side on top of the ladder. It was a different story in Round 21, when the Tigers set up a 28-6 half-time score – only for one of the comebacks of the year to result in a 32-28 Mounties victory at Campbelltown Stadium. It was not the first time the men from Mount Pritchard have clicked into gear to steal victory in the second half and the Tigers will know a complete defensive performance is needed to avoid a repeat at Leichhardt Oval.
Only one of the teams in this match-up still have an NRL team in the finals and despite enjoying last weekend off, Mounties will be feeling the pressure with a number of injury concerns. A devastating ankle injury to Josh Hodgson against the Sharks could have some effect on Mounties’ playing roster, despite the English hooker being named to play again this week, while there must also be some concern over the return of Blake Austin – which could decide whether Mounties are with or without skipper Sam Williams. A mid-week broken ankle to prop Clay Priest, who was initially named for the Raiders, will also force one of Mounties’ stars into the NRL, with Paul Vaughan the most likely to get the call-up. Finally, Mounties themselves will have to play on without the competition’s leading try scorer Kato Ottio, who was carried from the field a fortnight ago.
It has been a case of Murphy’s Law in Mounties camp recently, but if any team is capable of overcoming adversity to make the Grand Final it is the Minor Premiers. Coach Steve Antonelli will be all too aware that his side fell at the same stage last year – Mounties, also the Minor Premiers in 2015, suffered a major upset at the hands of eventual premiers Newcastle – but with just four players remaining from that team, it is unlikely to be a mental barrier to the side’s chances on Sunday. Antonelli has been successful in pushing for continuous improvement all year and this will not change this week; if he can get an 80-minute performance from his men they should still be favourites to close out the Preliminary Final.
For the Tigers, the same 17 from last week’s victory over Wyong have been named, which is of vital importance at this time of year. The Semi Final win was a lot closer than the score line indicates, however, with the sides achieving similar tackle counts, run metres, possession and completions, so improvement will be necessary to take down the competition favourites. Big efforts from the likes of Jack Littlejohn, Josh Addo-Carr and Jordan Grant set up the victory and they will want to be on song again at Leichhardt.
Injury concerns for Mounties can’t be discounted but the Minor Premiers sit where they are for a reason; they haven’t won 20 of their 23 games without more than a few challenges along the way. Expect them to show their class in what should be thriller on Fox Sports 501, while the Tigers will also have plenty of belief that they can take them down at one of their home grounds.
Where it will be won:
Both sides boast class across the park, but if there is one area that will go a long way to determining the result it is the second-rowers of Mounties and the Tigers respectively. For Mounties, injuries are unlikely to affect their second row unless Shaun Fensom beats out Paul Vaughan and Jeff Lima for the vacant NRL bench spot, while Scott Sorensen and Jarrad Kennedy will be as consistent as they have been all season. The Tigers’ second-row includes Jackson Williams, Joel Edwards and the experienced Curtis Sironen, who will want to improve on their combined 264 metres against the Roos. These link players will be vital to both sides breaking their opposition apart on the edges, while Sam Williams can also help Mounties in this regard.
Two NRL-standard edge forwards face off in the shape of Sironen and Kennedy – a match-up that will ensure an encounter worthy of a Grand Final Qualifier at Leichhardt Oval. The pair have combined for 114 first grade appearances and at 25 and 27 years of age respectively, are senior figures in their own teams. Both bring significant attacking and defensive qualities and are sure to perform under the added pressure of the Preliminary Final.
Assuming Sam Williams pulls on the boots, his game against Littlejohn will be another key one in determining who goes through to the decider. Littlejohn’s 12 points helped set up victory against the Roos while Williams also had a terrific performance in his last Intrust Super Premiership NSW meeting against the Warriors.
- Mounties: Alofi Mataele, Sam Williams, Paul Vaughan, Patrick Mataele,
- Wests Tigers: Manaia Rudolph
- Mounties: Kato Ottio
- Wests Tigers: (none)
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.