Taming the Wests Tigers might have proved easy in 2012, but Balmain legend Steve ‘Blocker’ Roach believes there are great things on the horizon for the improving club, particularly one with the luxury of being able to build around “future Australian representative” and “best young front-rower in the game” Aaron Woods.
Roach believes the Tigers, who finished 10th last season and face the Eels on Friday night, have the up-front strike power to challenge the best teams in the NRL in 2013 – even considering the recent shock long-term sidelining of front-rower Keith Galloway with a pectoral injury.
“[The injuries] don’t help but every club in the NRL is going to go through that at some stage of the year. It’s just unfortunate it happened to the Tigers this early,” Roach tells NRL.com.
“It’s a huge blow for the Tigers and a huge blow for [Galloway] – he was going well, too. Poor old Keith has struggled with injury in his time.
“I was impressed with some of their [forwards against the Panthers] – I was impressed with (Eddy) Pettybourne, and Aaron Woods I think he will play for Australia as long as they don’t put too much burden on the kid… he’s only 22 and [he can’t] carry the whole side himself all year.”
The Tigers take on the Eels’ formidable front row of Tim Mannah, Darcy Lussick, Fuifui Moimoi and Mitchell Allgood after Woods ripped apart the Panthers up the centre last week, leaving the arena with 20 hit-ups plus 144 metres of territory and five tackle busts – and an all-too-rare tries.
Roach, a veteran of 185 games for the Tigers from 1982-1992, says Woods is the ideal candidate to help coach Mick Potter’s pack roll forward following Galloway’s expected four-month layoff and uncertainty surrounding 21-year-old Matt Groat’s return from injury – but, he stresses, Woods needs on-field assistance… from outside the club.
“They’ve got to go out and get at least one more front-rower to help [Woods] now Keith Galloway’s gone,” Roach says.
“Now that Keith Galloway is out I’d go out and buy another experienced front-rower to help him more so he doesn’t have to play 70 or 60 minutes a week.”
Roach, a 20-Test and 17-Origin veteran, believes Woods is ready to both help lay a winning platform that will ultimately take his club side to the finals as well as claim a spot in the front row for the Blues and Kangaroos ¬– provided the Tigers don’t overwork him as he continues to develop.
“It’s extremely difficult [playing prop in your early 20s] – I remember my first years were about survival, not about playing,” Roach reveals.
“I’m just a bit worried about the burnout factor for them. I want to see Aaron Woods being like Robbie Farah, a 10-year player, you know? I want to be talking about him in glowing terms not shouldering the load, too.
“I think he’s ready [to play rep football]. I think he’s got the capabilities to make the (Kangaroo) tour at the end of the year and the capabilities to play Origin this year. He’s another big body, he’s hard to put on the ground, he’s got great late feet, he’s quick across the ground for a big bloke and I think he’s the best young front-rower in the game.”
Woods’ team-mates and the Leichhardt and Campbelltown faithful are still getting used to new coach Potter’s style of play. Roach, however, predicts the Tigers’ trademark flamboyance will remain, but the defensive screws will be tightened, too.
“It was always going to be a bit hard (for Potter) because Tim Sheens had been there for a decade nearly and they were used to the style of what he did,” Roach says.
“I was so happy they bounced back last week against the Panthers – they played some good footy – and they’re on the improve and I think they’ll get better and better.
“I think it all comes down to the attitude and the style of play – [attack] is the emphasis on the way they play and Mick Potter is trying to change that now. They’re flamboyant, they thrill the crowds and they love to throw the ball around, but they need to concentrate on their defence a bit more too.”
Roach, however, isn’t worried about the statistics that show the Tigers are way down the list in metres gained. He questions the statistics-gathering procedure and believes the Tigers make up for any inadequacies in other areas, anyway.
“They might be 14th in metres gained but have a look at the long-range tries they score – they probably score more long-range tries than any other team in the NRL,” Roach says.
“I think it’s the style of play they implement – they play more laterally than other sides. They shift the ball around more than any other team in the NRL, and people judge yardage from up the middle… and they don’t play that style of football.”
On Thursday, hooker and captain Robbie Farah, integral to that unique attacking game plan and structure, agreed to terms for another four years at the club, ensuring he’ll remain a Tiger until at least the end of the 2017 season. Roach says it’s a huge moment in the club’s history.
“[Farah] is their number one priority for sure,” Roach, who still consults for the club across a range of disciplines in a ‘bitsa’ role, says.
“He’s a great player and he’s going to be a great player for the at least another four years, we hope. Along with Benji, he’s the backbone of the club. I’m so proud he’s signed with the Tigers and he’s going to be a one-club player. He’s shown loyalty – he would have had plenty of other opportunities to go other places – but I’m that stoked… [he’s joining] ‘Sirro’ (Paul Sironen), ‘Junior’ (Wayne Pearce) and those sorts of players playing for the one club.”
Roach believes the club, buoyed by the news of Farah’s re-signing and the crop of young talent emerging at Concord, will qualify for the finals.
“Everyone’s expectation, every team in the league wants to make the eight – it’s a different competition – and I’d be disappointed if they didn’t make the eight,” he says.
“It wouldn’t be a good year for them if they didn’t make the eight – a good year for them is to make the eight and do some damage once they get there.”