Wests Tigers coach Mick Potter knows the rugby league world is waiting for the star playmaker to display improved form.
Under siege and under-strength, the Wests Tigers might well be walking wounded – but the club insists they still have the manpower to claw back their 2013 season and overcome the Cronulla ‘Tiger Sharks’ on Friday night.
Nursing a casualty ward larger than any other team in the competition, the last-placed Tigers have won just two matches this year, but they’re refusing to write off 2013 – even if they’re currently missing seven of their first-choice squad.
Fullback James Tedesco, no stranger to long lay-offs himself, said the injury-stricken unit was focussed on returning to the winners’ circle, not reflecting on their long list of absentees.
“You don’t account for the injuries – especially the long-term injuries which hinder our preparation and performance,” Tedesco, a City representative earlier this year, said.
“We’ve got all the talent in the squad and all the boys are ready to step up. It’s just about getting the confidence and performing out on the field.”
The Tigers have lost their past five matches, in part due to their savage injury toll, but Tedesco insisted the fresh faces in the line-up were ready to answer the challenge of playing NRL football, starting this week against a familiar Cronulla line-up.
“It is tough, especially if you only have a week and key players are injured and you’ve got new players coming into key positions,” Tedesco said of the injury toll that includes Braith Anasta, Tim Moltzen, Blake Ayshford, Chris Lawrence, Lote Tuqiri, Keith Galloway and Matt Bell.
“That’s what we train for during the pre-season so you’re ready for those opportunities and changes, so hopefully we’ll have a better result on Friday.”
Tedesco said the Wests Tigers squad was thoroughly prepared for the clash with a Cronulla side laden with his former teammates – a match that could well make or break both teams’ 2013 seasons.
“[Former Tigers] ‘Beauy’ (Beau Ryan) and ‘Heighno’ (Chris Heighington) were great players and great blokes at the club here and it’s going to be a great test for us playing against them on Friday,” Tedesco said.
“Hopefully we can get a good crowd out there at Allianz because we need the support at the moment and we need the win.”
The Camden Rams junior said the Sharks would prove formidable opponents whether injured skipper Paul Gallen takes the field or sits out the match.
“We expect him to play no matter what,” Tedesco said. “Gallen’s a tough player and he’ll fight through it if he wants to be right for Origin… we know they’re going to be tough with or without him though.”
Meanwhile, coach Mick Potter revealed his squad would not be ‘propped up’ by supplementary front-rowers in 2013. Speculation in recent weeks pointed to the club adding to their forward stocks this season, but Potter revealed the Concord-based team no longer had room under their salary cap to accommodate additional players.
“We’re pretty stuck with how we’re using young guys,” Potter said. “The twist in the tale is once your quota of money in the second tier is full you can’t go and recruit – there’ll be no-one else coming in unless they’re amateurs… and amateur means they’re playing for nothing.”
Potter, though, said his team of inexperienced and underage players would produce better results in the weeks ahead as they grappled with the reality of playing top-level football sooner than expected.
“They’ll learn a few lessons there about not having plays off [relaxing] and how important it is to do everything right for the full time we’re out there,” Potter said of his team that last week lost 40-4 to the Bulldogs.
“It’s very disappointing because we go into every game thinking we can win, and for the fans and that… you can’t help having injuries but the players out there have had a good strong off-season and deserve a chance and we’re just bitterly disappointed with the way we’ve been playing.
“We’re going to work on our tackle technique and our defensive structures. When a team puts 40 past you, it gets to a point where you can’t just say we’re a little young and we’re a little naïve… We don’t want to make excuses. It’s the best team we could’ve fielded at the moment and we got touched up… That just doesn’t cut it.”
While not taking aim at star playmaker Benji Marshall, Potter said this week’s five-eighth knew he needed to ramp up his own form.
“Benji is probably his hardest critic… he knows… he wants to get better,” he said. “He wants to do the right thing for the team – you haven’t seen the best of Benji yet this year.”
Potter said his squad now had the opportunity to prove themselves – and that it was nearing crunch time for them against Cronulla, who broke a four-match losing streak last week against Newcastle.
“The Sharks are probably just as desperate as us to get the two points so they’re a difficult team to play. They’re a physical team and they’ve got a good squad across the park,” he said.
“Right at the moment [the young guys] have to be the ones to step up and this week we have a very tough game.”