Wests Tigers players insist a recent virus that caused skipper Aaron Woods and veteran Dene Halatau to be quarantined hasn’t hampered preparations for Sunday’s NRL showdown.
The Tigers need eighth-placed Gold Coast to lose to North Queensland on Saturday night, and then defeat Canberra at Leichhardt Oval the following day to steal the Titans’ finals spot.
But their build-up has been rocked by a virus that ruled out Kyle Lovett from last week’s win over the Warriors, and left Woods and Halatau bed-ridden early this week.
“It’s not ideal, but at the end of the day, we’ve got plenty of guys here that can fill in,” second-rower Chris Lawrence said on Thursday.
“These guys, particularly the ones away, are senior guys. They know what their role is and what they have to do. I’m sure they’ll be here ready to go for the captain’s run on Saturday.”
Canberra will also be avid watchers of Saturday’s Melbourne-Cronulla game, with a Sharks loss opening the door for the Raiders to jag a home qualifying final.
From there the Tigers will turn into Cowboys supporters for the game in Townsville, where a Titans win would finalise this year’s top eight and render the Leichhardt clash a dead rubber.
Speculation abounds that if Cronulla win, Canberra coach Ricky Stuart will rest some of his players carrying niggling injuries ahead of next week’s finals series.
“To be honest, I hope they don’t because that’s what you play footy for, to come up against the best teams and challenge yourself,” Lawrence said.
“If we do make the finals, we’re going to have to play those types of teams anyway. If we can’t be competitive with a full strength team, then we don’t really deserve to be in the finals.”
Should their cards fall correctly, a near-capacity crowd is then expected at their spiritual ground in Leichhardt, where they stunned defending premiers the Cowboys just three weeks ago.
“It was a pretty important game for us to win back then. And this one is just as, if not more, important,” Lawrence said.