NRL Round 26 - Sunday Preview

NRL Round 26 - Sunday Preview

Wests Tigers v Canberra Raiders @ Leichhardt Oval

The Wests Tigers play for a spot in the finals at a sold out Leichhardt Oval against a rampant Raiders side looking for 10 wins on the trot. The Raiders won't be short of motivation themselves, with a home final and 2nd spot on the ladder up for grabs after Cronulla lost in Melbourne last night. It's the first time the Tigers are likely to run our to a sold out crowd since in 5 years since they hosted the Roosters in 2012 at the same venue. Earlier this year Canberra gave the Tigers the mother of all hammering's dishing out a 60-6 shellacking with Jordan Rapana snaring 4 tries. 

The Tigers welcome back Chris Lawrence and Kyle Lovett with Curtis Sironen and Michael Chee Kam making way. After the Tigers horror show in Canberra dropped them to 2-6 you would have been laughed at if you suggested they would be playing for a finals in Round 26. However this side has shown an unlikely resolve and togetherness under Jason Taylor to rally and win 9 from their last 14 matches. Defensively though they are still very suspect with the Warriors putting up 24 points last week and having 3 tries knocked back. A big, strong and fast team like Canberra at their best can cause Wests all sorts of problems, however with a baying home crowd behind them you would expect the Tigers to push everything on the line. 

The Raiders have named an unchanged side despite rumours that Ricky Stuart might rest some of his jaded stars. The Raiders have been up for a long time and their were signs of fatigue in last weeks 44-30 win over Manly. While the Raiders pilled on the points they did give up some soft tries in the process. When the teams met in Canberra earlier this year the Raiders physically demolished the Tigers and their forwards will be licking their lips at the opportunity to do the same here. 

Verdict - Realistically if both sides play near their best the Raiders should be far too good, especially considering the Tigers are missing their best player James Tedesco. The Tigers defence is suspect at best and the Raiders have the sort of team that can create second phase and quick play the balls. However you do have to factor in the Tigers record at Leichhardt Oval and the fact they are playing for a finals berth. I am sure they won't go out there and get demolished like they did in Round 8. I still think Canberra will be too strong through especially now the door has been opened for a home final. Raiders by 12.

New Zealand Warriors v Parramatta Eels @ Mount Smart Stadium

Both the Warriors and the Eels will be playing for pride when they meet in their final match of the season at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday. The Warriors season was ended last week with a shock 36-24 capitulation at home against the Tigers. The Eels have been battling a way for weeks with little to play for however they still managed to register their 12th win of a season with a 30-18 win over the Dragons in their farewell to Parramatta Stadium game last Monday. 

The Warriors lose Manu Vatuvei to injury and Solomone Kata to suspension with Jonathan Wright and Ken Maumalo earring recalls. will still be reeling from the fall out of having a 3rd straight late season fall out when their destiny was in their own hands, They were sitting pretty on 24 points, with 4 rounds remaining and home games against likes below them in the ladder in Souths, Wests and Parramatta. However like previous campaigns when things heated up the Warriors went missing especially defensively. In the past 3 week the Warriors have conceded an average of 35 points per game which is staggering when you consider their season was on the line. Coach Andrew McFadden will be sweating on his future going into an off season of uncertainly across the Tasman. 

The Eels remained unchanged for the clash with David Gower being added to an extended bench. It is notable that if the Eels had not been docked 12 points they would have made the Top 8 and would be sitting on 28 competition points. Parramatta have had the year from hell in many respects however their performances on the field have been the one shining light. Credit must go to head coach Bred Arthur for keeping this playing group focused and motivated with the circus that has surrounded them all season.

Verdict - I know the Warriors are favourites but I just can't tip them anymore. There is a good chance that Parramatta will just be more motivated for this clash given the trends in these teams. Expect plenty of points and some wild footy in this one. Eels by 6.