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Tigers look to take one step closer to securing finals berth as Dragons rally to restore pride
There's plenty to play for on Sunday for the Wests Tigers. Not only would victory see them draw ever closer to a top-eight finish, it would be their first finals appearance since 2011.
It would be a just reward for dedicated fans who have stuck with the club in lean years which saw them part ways with James Tedesco and Mitchell Moses. It would also be the perfect vengeance if they can qualify and former coach Ivan Cleary's side, Penrith, cannot.
With so much on the line, even against the lowly Dragons you would think complacency shouldn't be an issue. After suffering a string of injuries and a disappointing defeat to Manly, many expected belief to be too low for the Tigers to topple Newcastle last week.
But they proved their critics wrong, running out 46-4 winners in their most dominant performance of the year. Benji Marshall and Luke Brooks were simply sensational, setting up six tries between them and using their precise kicking game to strangle Newcastle out of the contest. A similar performance here against a Dragons side still searching for its identity should guarantee victory once more.
Tristan Sailor's debut last week signalled that Paul McGregor has an eye on the future and is using the few remaining games of 2019 to test out new potential combinations. With Matt Dufty reportedly on the outer, Sailor was handed the number one jersey last week against the Roosters and impressed, scoring a try. He has a similar show of speed to Dufty but combines it with the flair and skill that the former fullback hasn't always been able to produce.
After falling away to a 28-0 deficit at the break, the Dragons had every right to complete collapse against the defending premiers. But they came out and won the second half two tries to one and will look to build on that second-half effort this week.
Last meeting: Round 23 2018 - Wests Tigers 10 Dragons 20
Who to watch: Three years ago, on August 24, a young Luke Brooks made his NRL debut for the Tigers in their victory over the Dragons at the Sydney Cricket Ground. So it is only fitting that in Round 24, Brooks returns to the hallowed turf where he made his debut. At that point the Tigers season was done and Brooks was the future. This time, their season is on the line and he, along with halves partner Marshall, are expected to deliver. Brooks has come a long way since being unfairly likened to Andrew Johns off that one performance alone. It was a comparison that would see him cop unfair criticism throughout his short career. But recently he has shown the leadership qualities required to make it as a consistent first-grader. He knows what kick is needed when and has improved in his defence close to the line. Guiding the Tigers to a finals appearance on Sunday will be the perfect full circle.
Just as Brooks made a name for himself at the SCG, young fullback Tristan Sailor has also just started his career in similar circumstances. Part of a struggling Dragons side, Sailor like Brooks is seen as a key prospect in their future. However, unlike his Tigers counterpart, there is little pressure on Sailor to succeed on Sunday with his team's season already over. The 21-year old is already expected to be the club's fullback come opening round next year and can just use the next fortnight as an important learning experience. Sailor plays an up-tempo game and it is up to his teammates to do their best to get him involved as much as possible.
The favourite: After last week's big win the Tigers are big favourites here.
My tip: Wests will be riding high after last week's effort and should do this comfortably as long as they stand up in defence. Wests Tigers by 14.
1. Tristan Sailor 2. Zac Lomax 3. Euan Aitken 4. Timoteo Lafai 5. Jonus Pearson 6. Gareth Widdop 7. Ben Hunt 8. James Graham 9. Cameron McInnes 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Jackson Ford 12. Luciano Leilua 13. Tyson Frizell 15. Korbin Sims 16. Blake Lawrie 17. Patrick Kaufusi 19. Josh Kerr
1. Corey Thompson 2. Robert Jennings 3. Paul Momirovski 4. Esan Marsters 5. David Nofoaluma 6. Benji Marshall 7. Luke Brooks 8. Thomas Mikaele 13. Ryan Matterson 10. Oliver Clark 11. Luke Garner 12. Chris Lawrence 14. Matt Eisenhuth 9. Josh Reynolds 15. Elijah Taylor 16. Alex Twal 17. Michael Chee-Kam
Referees: Matt Cecchin, Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski; Sideline Officials: Rickey McFarlane, Mark Bohan; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy, Bryan Norrie;