Braith Anasta has seen a fair bit in his 279 games at the top level.
Fourteen years and counting in the toughest competition in the world, four Tests for his country, 10 Origins and a 2004 premiership with the Bulldogs do make for an impressive résumé.
The veteran five-eighth is not usually one prone to those trusty circulation boosters, hyperbole and sensationalism. You don’t come this far in rugby league without learning a thing or two.
But an eyebrow is inevitably raised when he compares the current Tigers pack to one of the best of the past decade.
“I’ve played behind some good packs and I think the way the boys are playing at the moment you can compare them to any of the packs I have played with, and that includes the Dogs [of 2004],” said Anasta after the Tigers big men had emphatically overpowered a Manly outfit renowned for its aggression, laying the groundwork for a 34-18 win over last year’s grand finalists.
The 2004 Belmore vintage featured the likes of Mark O’Meley, Steve Price, Roy Asotasi, Andrew Ryan and Willie Mason, with future internationals Sonny Bill Williams and Reni Maitua coming off the bench just for good measure, and Anasta declared the Tigers’ forwards bore a striking resemblance to his former teammates.
“I think Woodsy (prop Aaron Woods) reminds me of O’Meley actually, but he’s probably a bit bigger and a bit more mobile. But they’ve got the same mentality; I love the way they both play.
“And (Martin) Taupau and (James) Gavet, they’re probably like the likes of Roy Asotasi and even Sonny Bill (Williams) and Reni (Maitua) off the bench, so you can definitely compare them.
“They’ve been the big difference for us this year. We have got one of the smaller packs but it has got bigger from last year… and we’ve got a bit more size and much more aggression and impact, that for me has been the biggest improvement.”
With their demolition of Manly’s big men following a Round 3 assault on the much-vaunted South Sydney pack, the Tigers young forwards are fast earning themselves a reputation as the NRL’s street fighters, that small kid in the schoolyard everyone eyes with caution because you heard he does karate and he has a mean roundhouse kick.
Leading the assault is home-grown hard man Woods, who continued his stellar start to the year with 144 running metres up the middle, 29 tackles and a try at the ground he grew up five minutes down the road from.
As the form prop in the competition and the club’s forward leader at the ripe old age of 23, captain Robbie Farah says it is just a matter of time before Woods adds to his two NSW appearances from last season, with next month’s Test against New Zealand the first chance the young Tiger will have to push for a cherished Kangaroos jumper.
“He’d be in the mix,” said Farah when questioned on his teammate's push for national selection.
“He was outstanding for us today and he’s been outstanding for us the last 18 months.
“As I said last year when he got his first jumper it was going to be the first of many, and I still believe that.
“I think he’s a rep player for the next 10 years. It won’t be long before he’s wearing the green and gold as well.”
While much has been made of Woods’ powerhouse start to the season, Farah also reserved praise for Taupau and Gavet, who have averaged almost 200 running metres per match between them and been able to continue the onslaught when Woods and front row partner Keith Galloway take a breather.
“Our bench has been outstanding,” said Farah. “Last year with all due respect to the guys we had there, Woodsy was shouldering the load there and when he went off the park the rotation we had probably struggled a bit with that.
“But the guys we’ve coming off the bench we’ve got now with Woodsy and Keith starting the game and James and Marty and Ava (Seumanufagai) and those guys coming off the bench it helps to keep the momentum up.”