What's 'left' for the Tigers?
Wests Tigers captain Robbie Farah has insisted that serious injuries to left-side pair Chris Lawrence and Lote Tuqiri won’t impact upon the side’s attack – despite figures showing that the Tigers score almost 41 per cent of their tries down that side of the field.
The Tigers paid a heavy price for their 34-24 win over Canberra on Saturday night with Tuqiri expected to miss eight weeks with a broken arm and Lawrence out for around three months after dislocating his hip.
Star back-rower Gareth Ellis – who also stands on the left side of the field – is already sidelined with an ankle injury.
But Farah said the absence of all three left-side players wouldn’t force the Tigers into changing the focus of their attack.
“I don’t think it will affect us too much,” he said. “With the guys that come in – as long as we can keep doing the work in the middle and create some opportunities, I don’t think too much will change at all to be honest.
“On the weekend, when Lote went off, we changed things around a bit and [Blake] Ayshford scored a good try on the left so we’ve still got people capable of finishing the opportunities we’ve created.”
However, Farah was quick to admit that the Tigers had typically preferred to attack down their left side in the past, with the loss of Lawrence and Tuqiri a huge blow to their short-term premiership aspirations.
Figures supplied by NRL Stats show that the Tigers have scored 49 of their 120 tries since the start of last season down the left edge, with just 32 scored through the middle (27 per cent) and 39 (32 per cent) on the right.
Tuqiri and Lawrence also topped the club’s try-scoring lists in 2010 with 18 and 15 respectively.
“I guess we do like to attack that way with Benji standing on the left but Gareth is usually there as well and that hasn’t stopped us so far,” Farah said. “I think we’re capable of handling it this year. With the squad we’ve got there is a lot more depth there now. It’s not ideal to be losing all of these key players but the positive is we’ve had some good young kids coming in like Aaron Woods and Andrew Fifita.
“Guys like Mitch Brown and Geoff Daniela will get their chance this week to fill in for Lote and Chris. It’s not ideal but hopefully we can get through this stage of the season and start to get guys back when it matters most.”
Farah said that although statistics suggested the Tigers heavily favoured their left, it often came down to their opponents in any given week, rather than the weapons at their disposal.
“To be honest it actually depends on the team that we’re playing,” he said. “We look at which side we would prefer to attack in the game and then try to exploit the other team’s edge. So we’re just as confident in going to our right and we’ve got some handy players out there as well.
“It depends on where we think we will get the most success.”
Ironically, the Tigers may well have an opportunity to head right this Sunday anyway when they face a Sydney Roosters side boasting the Dally M Centre of the Year Shaun Kenny-Dowall where Lawrence and Tuqiri would normally attack.
Conversely, youngster Kane Linnett will line up on the Roosters’ left edge (the Tigers’ right) and the Tigers will take some heart from the impressive performance of newcomer Matt Utai on the right wing over the opening three rounds.
Seemingly on the NRL scrap heap, former Canterbury star Utai was thrown a lifeline by the Tigers this season and has proved a shining light with an average 115 metres per game.
“He has probably surprised us all to be honest,” Farah said. “He didn’t join us until after Christmas and he only played park footy last year so we thought it would take him a bit of time.
“But from day one he came to us in good shape. With Beau Ryan being out with injury he has made the most of his opportunity and has been great for us.
“As I said, we’ve got a lot more depth these days and we’ve got just as much faith in the guys on our right as we do Lote and Chris on the left there.”
The Tigers have been one of the hardest hit sides by injury so far this season, with Liam Fulton and Bryce Gibbs also sidelined in recent weeks. But with two wins from their opening three games, Farah said he was confident that his side could weather the storm.
“It’s been tough because of the disruptions that we’ve had and so many senior guys out but we’re improving,” he said.
“I’ve been really impressed with the young guys that have come in. They’re getting some good experience and hopefully we will continue to improve once we start to get those experienced guys back.
“We’ve also got an established halfback there now, which is a luxury we haven’t really had since Scott Prince left. Robert Lui now has established himself as a top-line halfback and he and myself and Benji are really working well together.”