Wests Tigers v Sea Eagles preview
3 hours ago | Tim Costello
No second prize: Tigers and Sharks face off in finals qualifier
80 minutes is all that stands between the Wests Tigers and the Cronulla Sharks clinching a place in the finals as the two sides face off in a do-or-die match at Leichardt Oval on Sunday afternoon.
Hoping to qualify for the play-offs for the first time in eight years, the Wests Tigers will have an additional source of motivation as they strive to send club legend Robbie Farah out a winner in his final appearance at the Tigers' spiritual home ground.
Sitting in ninth position following a dominant second half showing in last Sunday's 42-14 win over the Dragons at the Sydney Cricket Ground, the Tigers will rate their chances in front of a sold-out home crowd where they have won five of their past nine appearances.
Naming Robbie Farah in jersey 21 less than a month after breaking his tibia, coach Michael Maguire will have a massive call to make in reconciling the sentimentality of Sunday afternoon against the need to field the strongest possible line up.
Fielding an unchanged line up with Farah and captain Moses Mbye listed as part of the extended squad, replacement hooker Josh Reynolds is set to make his 150th first grade appearance after impressing in his new role over the past fortnight.
Unable to confirm a finals finish after going down 15-14 in an absorbing golden point loss to the Raiders last Sunday, the Cronulla Sharks will be determined to make amends in order to secure a club record fifth consecutive top eight appearance.
Holding a dominant record over the joint venture in recent times with five straight wins dating back to 2015, the Sharks have managed three wins from eight visits to Leichardt Oval this century - including a 22-16 win in their last appearance two years ago.
Set to join Sandy Pearce as the equal-fifth oldest player to appear in first grade at 38 years and 25 days old, retiring captain Paul Gallen will be hoping to surpass Henry Porter by extending his career by at least another week in order to rank as the outright fourth oldest player in premiership history.
After losing Shaun Johnson moments before kick-off last Sunday, the New Zealand playmaker has been named at five-eighth, while Sosaia Feki and Jack Williams have been preferred ahead of Sione Katoa and Jayson Bukuya. Matt Moylan remains a chance of playing after being included on the extended bench.
Last meeting: Round 14 2018 - Sharks 24 Wests Tigers 16
Who to watch: Shifting to the fullback role on a permanent basis midway through 2019, Corey Thompson has proven to be one of the Tigers top performers under Michael Maguire. Returning to the NRL last season following a prolific stint with Widnes in the English Super League, the 29-year-old speedster has averaged over 150 metres since moving to the number one jersey to put the joint venture in prime position to qualify for the finals for the first time in eight years. Penning a two-year extension with the club back in June, look for Thompson to stand up and deliver in a season-defining match on Sunday afternoon
Capable of producing a tour de force performance unlike any contemporary in the game today, Cronulla forward Andrew Fifita will be out to rise to the occasion on Sunday afternoon. Returning to Leichardt Oval for only the third time since beginning his career with the Tigers at the start of the decade, the 30-year-old representative enforcer has taken to his new role as an impact player with style averaging well over 100 metres and multiple offloads per game. Coming up against an inexperienced pack of forwards, look for Fifita to take it upon himself to ensure the Sharks qualify for their fifth consecutive finals appearance.
The favourite: Coming into the match as slight favourites as a result of their experience on the big stage, the Sharks are expected to clinch the final place in the top eight.
My tip: While a draw would see both teams qualify for the finals should Brisbane lose the night earlier, look for the Sharks to lift to victory in the presence of their inspirational skipper. Sharks by 7.
3. Paul Momirovski 2. Robert Jennings 17. Michael Chee-Kam 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. Robbie Farah
1. Josh Dugan 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Bronson Xerri 4. Josh Morris 5. Ronaldo Mulitalo 6. Shaun Johnson 7. Chad Townsend 16. Andrew Fifita 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Matt Prior 11. Briton Nikora 12. Wade Graham 13. Paul Gallen 8. Aaron Woods 14. Kurt Capewell 15. Jack Williams 17. Braden Hamlin-Uele
Referees: Ben Cummins, Peter Gough; Sideline Officials: Nick Beashel, David Munro; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Ben Galea;