Ben Blaschke,, NRL.com
Veteran Sea Eagles back-rower Anthony Watmough has issued a stern warning to Cronulla ahead of Sunday’s Heritage Round clash at Brookvale Oval, revealing that he is finally back to full fitness after a painful rib injury hampered his contribution during the early rounds.
Watmough has been taking weekly pain-killing injections as well as cortisone to ease the pain and get him through each game, with the Manly enforcer admitting at the start of the season that he expected the problem to persist all year.
Instead, the 29-year-old made it through last week’s win over Canterbury without a single injection for the first time in 2013 and said he was feeling good as the representative season nears.
“It’s good, I didn’t have to get a needle for the first time on the weekend so hopefully I’m done with that part of it,” Watmough told NRL.com. “It was just one of those things that took a bit of time but it’s all good now.
Asked if he had been pleased with his performances given his restrictions, he replied: “In bits and pieces. There is obviously stuff I can still work on but I’ve been working hard with Brad Arthur our assistant coach and doing a heap of extra video and working on the things he thinks I need to work on.
“There are some areas I’d like to improve on from here but it’s starting to pay dividends across the whole club – not just me individually.”
While Watmough has at times lacked a touch of the game-breaking impact he is known for during the early rounds he has been far from poor, with an average 137 metres and 33 tackles per game. And he has played a significant role in Manly’s impregnable defence which has seen them keep two clean sheets and conceded a total of just five tries during the opening five rounds. At this rate their 7.2 points conceded per game is significantly better than the 8.7 of the famous 1996 steel-defence unit that went on to win the title.
“We’re working hard for each other,” he said. “The 1996 team was a great team and there is no way we can compare ourselves with them. It’s only Round 5.
“But we’re taking a lot of pride in our defence this year and if we can keep teams to zero we’re going to go a long way towards winning games.”
Watmough said he had been aware at the start of the year that some extra responsibility would rest on his shoulders in the absence of injured duo Glenn Stewart and Jason King as the Sea Eagles looked to make amends for their inconsistent start 12 months ago.
“Look, I don’t try and do anything different than I do any other game. I always try and let my actions speak louder than words and if I’m doing that, great,” he said. “Having said that it always does motivate you to step up a little bit when the other guys aren’t there but you know, it’s just something I try and do anyway.
“Every club wants to get off to a good start to the year but we haven’t done that for a few years. Really we just wanted to get out there and play good, consistent footy. We knew we were going to do it tough in the first few weeks without a couple of key players but I think the boys have really stood up and excelled where we didn’t necessarily expect them to excel. We’ve set a standard for ourselves now.”
Although fully fit now, Watmough rejected suggestions that he would be a walk-up start in the Kangaroos squad to be named this weekend and said he needed a big game against Cronulla’s sizeable pack on Sunday to ensure his name remained prominent at the selection table.
“You can never be confident, you’ve got to be performing” he said, insisting the embattled Sharks would inevitably lift for Sunday’s clash. “Look, they’re a bit of a sleeping giant I think. They’re not far off firing and it would be a shame if that happened against us – but that seems to happen usually. When teams come up against us they seem to rise that little bit extra so we’re going to have to be on our game.”
Both Manly and Cronulla will have members of their 1973 grand final sides at the game to commemorate the 40th anniversary of what is widely considered to be the most violent decider of all time (won 10-7 by the Sea Eagles).
“You definitely have to appreciate the history behind a game like this,” Watmough said. “There were a lot of great players that played in that game and there were some good battles. I know that a lot of the old boys will be there to spur us on. It’s a great game, to have these Heritage rounds really makes you think about the history and the guys that came before you.”