ANDREW JOHNS – NINEMSN COLUMN

Wests Tigers are embarrassing themselves

I really don’t know what is going on at Wests Tigers, but the whole thing is becoming an embarrassment to them and their fans. Benji Marshall posted a video of himself in an Auckland Blues jersey during the week in what must be a slap in the face to all at the club, including the sponsors who are still paying his bills. Benji is a nice enough bloke but I think he is receiving some really bad advice from somewhere.

The Tigers’ loss to the Eels on Friday night, coming after the Melbourne v South Sydney clash, was like watching a game in slow motion. The Tigers were horrible and I can’t really see how sacking a coach who is in his first year at the club is going to help. The Tigers can’t afford to be paying three coaches next year anyway, so the speculation is obviously media driven. Now that they are out of finals contention, it would be nice if coach Michael Potter could take these last few rounds to blood a new halves combination for the future. With Benji’s mind apparently elsewhere, young half Luke Brooks should be in the team working on combinations for next season, but the ridiculous second-tier salary cap restrictions are stopping the club from taking some logical steps to improve their situation.

Penrith are in a similar position with Fijian winger Eto Nabuli. Nabuli is the young talent Brad Fittler and I spotted during our trip to Fiji. He has scored 18 tries in NSW Cup this year and Penrith boss Phil Gould would like nothing more than to see him blooded in the top grade now that the Panthers’ finals hopes have faded. The Panthers had enough trouble trying to have young fullback Matthew Moylan qualify. The NRL really has to have a look at the whole system, particularly at this time of year when injuries are mounting and clubs who won’t make the finals are looking towards 2014 and beyond.

The Rabbitohs have a couple of big stars coming back from injury this week in Greg Inglis and John Sutton. Inglis was close to playing last week, so his return is not really a surprise, but Sutton’s recovery has come from out of the blue. My understanding is that his ankle wasn’t as bad as the scans first suggested and with the Rabbitohs struggling over the past couple of weeks they did everything they could to get him back on the paddock.

Souths take on Manly in Gosford this week and it should be a beauty – a real taste of the semi-final action which is just around the corner. I can’t split them, but the Rabbitohs will really miss Sam Burgess. His replacement, brother Luke, is a great player but not in Sam’s league yet. Sam is one of the best in the business and his absence will definitely help the Sea Eagles, as the big forwards play a vital role in the big matches.

The Bulldogs have lost a couple of their big forwards as well with Sam Kasiano and Greg Eastwood both sidelined through injury. The Bulldogs struggled on Monday night against the Titans; they were very poor and completely off the pace. They pushed a lot of passes and lacked composure under pressure. It’s wasn’t the kind of performance Des Hasler would be looking for at this time of the year as they look to start their run to the finals. This week they face the Raiders in chilly Canberra and they could be in for a tough time. The Raiders bounced back from their humiliation against the Storm to give the Roosters a tough run last week. Blake Ferguson has slotted back into the side and is rapidly regaining the form that saw him picked for New South Wales. The Raiders are just outside the top eight and a win against the Bulldogs could see them level on 26 points.

Newcastle aren’t assured of a final eight spot just yet either and they face a real test of whether they truly belong in the finals when they host Melbourne. I thought the Knights were courageous in the way they fought back last week, beating the Sharks to mark Danny Buderus’ 250th NRL match. It will be a real celebration for the club and Buderus on Sunday, but they’ll have to lift another gear again to match the Storm. I’m beginning to think Melbourne are the team to beat again this year, especially now that the Roosters have lost Boyd Cordner.

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