Round 25: Wests Tigers v Raiders preview
Leichhardt plays host as Canberra look to cement remarkable finals berth.
On the fourth of September, Father's Day, 2016, the Wests Tigers hosted the Canberra Raiders at Leichhardt Oval with eighth place on the line. This Sunday, exactly six years later, the final game of the NRL regular season will see the same fixture, except this time it's the Raiders playing for a spot in the finals.
In round 26 of 2016, it was the Raiders who ended the Tigers finals dream, winning by an impressive 42 points. Despite all but securing the spoon for 2022, the Tigers will be eager to exact revenge on Canberra for that fateful afternoon, and give their home supporters some hope heading into 2023.
After finishing tenth last year, and sitting in eleventh less than two months ago, the Raiders are on the verge of an unlikely finals berth. Going through plenty of hardships this season, most notably the suspension of their coach Ricky Stuart, the Raiders will expect themselves to seize this chance to return to finals football.
Canberra will come into this one with lots of confidence and momentum. With their season on the line, the Raiders have put together a three match winning streak over the past month, pulling off narrow wins over the Dragons and the Knights, as well as piling on the points against Manly last weekend. They've shown plenty of grit, but they can't afford to become complacent now, with the Broncos breathing down their necks. Nick Cotric is back following a groin injury, and Albert Hopoate is out of the seventeen. Zac Woolford remains starting hooker, with Tom Starling on the bench. Charnze Nikoll-Klokstad is named in the reserves as he hopes to play one final NRL game with the Raiders before he moves across the ditch for the 2023 season.
The Wests Tigers' ‘anti-dynasty' of the past decade has been a long and painful one, especially for their fans. Since 2011, the Tigers have never progressed past the regular season, and this season they appear to have hit rock bottom. Following the mid-season sacking of Michael Maguire, the appointment of interim coach Brett Kimmorley has seen no positive change in the team.
But despite this terrible period for the club, they have never, not once in their 24 year history as a joint venture, finished last. Now they find themselves in 16th, two competition points behind the Titans, and significantly behind in for & against. To avoid the dreaded spoon, the Tigers will need to run in an unlikely huge score, and hope that the Titans get beaten comfortably when they meet the Warriors on Saturday.
The Tigers are on the dawn of a new era, supposedly, with Tim Sheens taking the reins of the club before Benji Marshall takes over the top job in 2025. There is plenty of uncertainty around
Last meeting: Round 1 2021 - Raiders 30 Wests Tigers 12
Who to watch: Not getting a shot at starting fullback until round twelve, Xavier Savage has managed to hold off an injury-ravaged Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad to hold onto the number one jersey for the back end of the season. After a long-term shoulder injury ruined his season in 2021, Savage has shown the NRL world what he can do this year. Having recently signed a contract extension with Canberra until the end of 2025, he will want to cement himself as the club's long term fullback.
Tigers halfback Jock Madden has been in the news a lot this week. Reports are suggesting that he will leave the club at season's end, with Canterbury, Penrith, and the Dolphins all showing interest. He has been with the Tigers since 2019, making his NRL debut in 2021 and appearing regularly this season in the first grade side. Madden has shown a lot of potential over this time, and at just 22 years of age, there is plenty of time for the right club to uncover it. He'll want to put on a show in what will likely be his last game for the Wests Tigers.
The favourite: Canberra Raiders are the comfortable favourites to beat the Tigers at Leichhardt this Sunday
My tip: With nothing to play for, and heading into the game as massive underdogs, it would be a very Wests Tigers thing to do to pull off an upset this weekend, a few weeks too late to avoid the spoon. Tigers by 8.