Win and they could be equal third on the ladder, but lose and they could be in danger of missing the Newcastle Rugby League finals series for the first time since 1979.
That’s the situation facing perennial powerhouse Western Suburbs when the Rosellas host Kurri Kurri, who they currently sit alongside in fifth place, in a virtual semi at Harker Oval on Sunday.
Such is the nature of this year’s competition that each of the four encounters in the weekend’s penultimate round have a bearing on deciding first spot, home semi-finals, the top five and wooden spoon.
Wests, the most successful club in the competition’s 109-year history, now find themselves in the thick of it all having lost two on the trot.
The Rosellas have a proud tradition at the business end of the season and have featured in 23 grand finals, won 17 minor and 14 major premierships and on rare occasion, most recently 2009, finished as low as fifth since they last didn’t qualify for the play-offs 39 years ago.
This record alone means the hosts have plenty to play for at the famed New Lambton venue and re-signed coach Matt Lantry knows it.
“There’s a fair bit at stake this weekend, especially with how close the competition is,” he said. “It would be a number of years [since Wests missed the finals] but we haven’t really spoken about it. We’re just worried about putting two good performances on the board.”
Wests, who went down narrowly to ladder leaders Maitland on the weekend, will field their “strongest spine” of 2018 for the crucial clash against the Bulldogs with former NRL pair Luke Walsh and Ryan Stig to link up in the halves.
Reigning player of the year Ryan Walker reverts to fullback and Chad O’Donnell shifts to hooker. Jordan Worboys starts from the bench.
“We will start him [Luke Walsh],” Lantry said.
“It’s a nice spine to have and we’re quite happy with that. We haven’t actually had the same combination for any more than two consecutive weeks all year.”
Rosellas captain Mark Taufua returns from suspension, Warren Schillings was to undergo a fitness test at training while Brad Tighe remains sidelined with injury.
Kurri coach Ron Griffiths said the Bulldogs’ main injury concern was Mitch Cullen (shoulder).
Elsewhere in round 15 and the flow-on affect of the Knights standing down five NSW Cup players this week for missing curfew will be felt at Maitland on Saturday with Jayden Butterfield called up from the Pickers.
Lakes are now missing Jacob Gagai, Junior Roqica and Ben Talty but get back banned rake Chris Randall.
In the other top-four showdown Central’s Callan Richardson (back) is in doubt to play Souths on Saturday in what will be the Butcher Boys’ second straight visit to Townson Oval on the Lions’ ninth annual Sleapy’s Day fundraising event.
And out at Cessnock Sportsground on Saturday the Goannas are at home to last-placed defending champions Macquarie with just three points between the sides on the overall standings.
LADDER: Maitland 18; Central 17; Souths, Lakes 16; Wests, Kurri 14; Cessnock 10; Macquarie 7.
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