One half of what Wests Tigers prop Aaron Woods had identified as a massive double threat is out of the way now that Penrith prop Tim Grant will miss Sunday’s game at Centrebet Stadium with a broken hand.
Woods had nominated Panthers big men Grant and Nigel Plum as the main thing standing in the way of the Tigers winning the battle of the big cats.
Grant and Plum have been running rampant up front for the Panthers during the three-game winning streak the previously struggling team will take into the match.
The Panthers were already without one of their star props during that time – injured Kiwi international Sam McKendry – but they still knocked over premiers Melbourne, 12-10, the Warriors, 62-6, and St George Illawarra, 19-0.
“I think their big boys up front have been enormous,” Woods said. “Nigel Plum and Tim Grant have been running for 150 metres plus in games, so if we’re going to have any chance of beating them we’ve got to stop the roll-on they’ve been getting through the forwards.
“I’ve watched all three of those wins. You can’t fluke beating Melbourne and putting 60-odd points on another team. And they missed all of their goals against Melbourne – they should have won convincingly.
“They were struggling a bit before that, but now they’ve won three in a row and they’ve beaten three quality teams, too. They’re all there together, to play for each other. They’re a good side at the moment, playing as a team. They’ll be very hard to beat.
“They’re doing it all without big Sammy McKendry as well. [Halfback Luke] Walsh has got a good kicking game, so it’s up to us to put pressure on him as well as stop their big boys.
“Plum’s been running for 200 metres – that’s enormous.”
Woods certainly knows his statistics.
Against Melbourne, Grant made 18 runs for 206 metres in his 68 minutes, while fellow prop Plum made 16 runs for 129 metres in 49 minutes. Grant made 18 runs for 162 metres in 51 minutes against the Warriors, while Plum made 15 runs for 146 metres in 40 minutes.
The game against the Dragons saw Plum register 203 metres from 24 runs in 57 minutes, while Grant came up with 138 metres from 18 runs in 58 minutes.
It is a double act that has been hard to top at the moment – and Grant and Plum have been getting great support from their fellow forwards, including starting back-rowers Sika Manu, Matt Robinson and Adam Docker, and the bench men.
“Docker’s been enormous as well,” Woods said. “And their backs are playing good football off the back of that, so we’re really going to have to stop they’re big boys up the middle.
“I don’t know too much about Docker. I really only started hearing about him this year. I haven’t played against him before, but he’s got one of the best tackle techniques in the competition. You wouldn’t run at him straight, would you?
“They’re working as a team, they all want to be there for their mates.”
But now the Panthers are going to have to do it without Grant, on top of McKendry already being out for an extended period, if they are to make it four wins in a row.
Plus, selected Panthers fullback Matthew Moylan has also been forced out of the game because of a second-tier salary cap issue.
The Tigers had lost seven straight games before getting a hard-fought, 22-20 win over North Queensland at their last start. The Tigers and Panthers each had the bye last weekend.
Woods said the victory was a great relief for everyone at the club.
“It was huge,” he said. “We were coming to the bye as well, so it was good to go into that with a win. It’s been good to come to training knowing you’ve won a game – it had been seven weeks.
“It was good that we kept at it for the full 80 minutes against the Cowboys, and that we didn’t just play for 60 minutes, which we’ve been doing all year and which has been our problem.
“I think our young guys coming through – like Marika Koroibete and David Nofoaluma –have been killing it, and that helps all the boys on the park.
“We’re in a good mood. You can see it here at training – all the boys are happy – so we’re going into this game in a good frame of mind.”
Woods has been in terrific form himself for the Tigers this season. Forced to take a leading role because the Tigers have had so many forwards out injured, the 22-year-old has excelled.
Statistics show Woods has run for more than 100 metres in nine of his 11 games, and topped 150 metres in four of those.
It should be an absorbing battle up front on Sunday.