Jason Taylor and his Wests Tigers face the biggest test of their new direction and faith in Luke Brooks and Mitchell Moses against NRL title contenders Canterbury on Saturday night.
Tigers management have been forced to make some tough choices over the last 12 months after their decision to invest in young halves Brooks and Moses.
Martin Taupau’s move to Manly in an effort to free up salary cap space and the release of Blake Austin to Canberra has centred around the belief their young halves are the future of the club.
Taylor has been a frequent target of critics but has always maintained that he was acting in the best interests of the organisation.
But the 21-year-olds face a crucial examination against the surging Dogs without senior players Robbie Farah, Aaron Woods and James Tedesco on Saturday night.
“Our halves taking ownership is what we’ve built our last six or eight weeks on,” Taylor said.
“I’ll be disappointed if that doesn’t happen. I want that to continue.
“We’ll miss those guys because they’re quality players but the opposition has got some key players out as well.”
Farah, Woods and Tedesco will miss the ANZ Stadium clash because of State of Origin with JJ Felise, Joel Edwards and Josh Addo-Carr coming in. Fill-in fullback Jordan Rankin suffered a rolled ankle at training during the week but Taylor said he was hopeful of playing.
The Bulldogs will be without NSW stars David Klemmer and Josh Jackson however that’s offset by the return of New Zealand international Greg Eastwood.
The Bulldogs have jumped into the top four for the first time this year following three straight wins, with statistics showing they have been one of the most disciplined teams in the competition this year.
They are second for completion rates (78.5 per cent), miss the second fewest tackles (21.1 per game), while their giant forward pack has been able to make the third most metres per game (average 1510 metres).
“It’s always hard to gauge, we think we can play a bit better than the last outing,” Canterbury coach Des Hasler said when asked if they were at their best yet.
“I just think it’s too early, we’re still just getting through this last Origin patch.
“But what you want to try to do is build momentum and I think that’s pretty important.”
STATS THAT MATTER
* Hooker Dene Halatau will move into equal sixth on the all-time Tigers list for matches played, equalling Keith Galloway with 173 matches.
* Canterbury have been the dominant team in this fixture, winning 19 of 30 matches.
* Wests Tigers downfall this season has been its defence. They have conceded the second most points (25.4 per game), tries (4.4), linebreaks (5.8) and conceded the most offloads (11.2).
Source: Fox Sports Stats