Two former teammates and international counterparts will go head-to-head this Friday night as Wests Tigers’ Aaron Woods and Brisbane’s Adam Blair face off.
Having played together from 2012 to 2015 at Wests Tigers as well as against each other on the international scene many times, there’s no denying that both players know the ins and outs of the other’s game — making for a very intriguing matchup indeed.
Blair will take to the field this week for his 250th NRL appearance — 71 games of which were with Wests Tigers before the Kiwi international left for Red Hill in 2015.
The 31-year-old has continued to grow his game in a new-look Broncos pack this year following the departures of Corey Parker and Jarrod Wallace, combining with Korbin Sims to form a strong front row rotation that has led the Broncos to four straight wins.
They’ll come up against a Wests Tigers pack this week desperate to put behind them last week’s disappointing loss to the South Sydney Rabbitohs, with captain Aaron Woods making a timely return tonight from a hamstring injury suffered against the Sharks.
Woods has not featured for Ivan Cleary’s side since Round 9, and his return tonight cannot be understated — no player in Wests Tigers forward pack has made more metres, runs or offloads than the New South Wales and Australian international.
With Origin selection just around the corner, the 26-year-old will no doubt be looking to return with a big performance and put his name back in to contention, having seemingly missed out on a Game I spot with what was expected to be a long-term injury.
Other intriguing key matchups to watch for this week include young gun Moses Suli v speedster James Roberts, Elijah Taylor v Josh McGuire and James Tedesco v Darius Boyd.
ALL THE NUMBERS
Despite playing one less game than Blair, Woods actually leads the two in terms of minutes played this season — averaging upwards off 55 minutes per game. Woods also leads the pair with 121 hit-ups compared to Blair’s 83, and 1408 metres compared to Blair’s 956 metres. Woods has also recorded over 150 more post-contact metres than Blair this season, but the former Wests Tigers man does have a slight edge over Woods when it comes to defence. Blair has made 240 tackles in total compared to Woods’ 217, but Woods’ effective tackle percentage (91.9%) is superior to Blair’s (88.7%).
Having played together for three seasons, Woods and Blair have come up against each other at Club level on two occasions — one when Blair was with the Storm (Round 15, 2011) and one when Blair was with the Broncos (Round 19, 2015). On both occasions, it was the Kiwi enforcer who came away victorious. The pair have also met four times at an international level; in 2014 it was Blair’s Kiwis who produced two wins from two games to win the 2014 Four Nations, before Woods’ Kangaroos bounced back with two wins in 2016 to take back the trophy for the green and gold. All up, Blair leads 4-2.
BLAIR’S MILESTONE MATCH
As mentioned, Blair will play his 250th first-grade game this Friday night — a remarkable achievement for any player in the game. Having lost his debut game (ironically against Wests Tigers in 2006), Blair would go on to win his 50th (v Sharks) and 100th (v Titans) games, before losing his 150th (v Dragons) and 200th (v Cowboys). So that’s win-win, loss-loss. Will that record turn around this Friday night at Suncorp?
WOODS’ BRONCOS HOODOO
Despite an impressive resume including State of Origin and Kangaroos appearances, Aaron Woods has always found playing against Brisbane a tough ask. In fact, the Broncos remain the only NRL team in his career he hasn’t won against — losing all five of his clashes against the men from Red Hill. Three of those games even happened to be with Blair from 2012 to 2013. What’s more, however, not only is Woods winless against the Broncos in his career, the powerful prop has also gone winless at Suncorp Stadium in his international career (0-2) and just 1-4 at the venue in his State of Origin career. That’s just one win in nine games at Suncorp — can he make it win number two tonight?
WHAT HE SAID
“He’s ticked every box so we’re pretty confident he’ll play. We’re looking forward to that and I know he is. We definitely missed him [last week], no doubt. Last week was a poor performance for us and we’re not hiding from that, so it’s great to get Aaron back.” — Wests Tigers Coach Ivan Cleary