Tigers pack roars as youngster replaces Tedesco
They've walked the walk, but the Wests Tigers' big boys are continuing to talk the talk.
On the strength of the most in-form forward pack in the competition, the early season surprise packets have first called out, then shot down, grand finalists Manly, premiership heavyweights South Sydney and competition front-runners Gold Coast – all in the past month.
And ahead of another mouth-watering match-up against Kangaroos Test props James Tamou and Matthew Scott in Campbelltown on Saturday night, forward James Gavet now believes his forward pack ranks among the top five in the competition.
"Yeah, I reckon maybe one of the top five," Gavet declared on Wednesday. "I wouldn't say the best. It's always good to have a clean, healthy challenge against these giants that we're going to come up against. Totally looking forward to it."
While the joint venture boasts Origin-calibre props in Aaron Woods and Keith Galloway, the impressive start to the year by lesser known forwards Gavet, Martin Taupau and Ava Seumanufagai have given Tigers fans hopes of a successful season.
Gavet said that their strong start to the season has backed up a pre-season pact to not be intimidated by teams with more established forward packs.
"It started in pre-season and we've all been putting in the hard yards, like every other team has been saying. We just made a pact that we wouldn't take a backwards step this season, and that's been evident," he said.
"[We] just have a good support network. I know who I'm playing for. Fear doesn't come into the question.
"[The Cowboys are] always a good challenge, but we've been playing some big names prior to them and we've been doing a good job, so why not?"
The Tigers now face a new test in the backline without attacking strike weapon James Tedesco, who has been ruled out for up to nine weeks with a nasty ankle injury.
In his place at fullback will be yet another young gun in Kurtis Rowe, who notched a stunning 38 tries in 45 games in the under-20s Holden Cup before moving up to the NSW Cup this season.
A member of the club's premiership-winning Holden Cup team in 2012 – coached by current assistant Todd Payten – the Keebra Park product has been likened to Tedesco.
"They're similar build, they're both terrific athletes. Speed's the biggest asset for both of them. Kurtis glides across the ground whereas Teddy's a bit more stop-start and dynamic in that regard," said Payten.
"Kurtis is a very good support player. He's a tryscorer – I think he scored a big number of tries in that -20s competition. I'm looking forward to what he can do for us."
Teammate Chris Lawrence said Rowe's similarity to Tedesco would help a side that also fields a new five-eighth in Blake Austin after Braith Anasta was suspended for the first time in his 15-year career on Tuesday.
"[He's] probably not as big as Teddy – obviously Teddy's been in the system a year or two longer than Kurtis has – but very similar style and got a lot of speed and footwork," he said.
"Obviously [he's] going to be nervous, he's a quiet young kid. But all the boys had a word to him, congratulated him and just told him to play his natural game. That's why he's been picked. He's got the ability, it's just a matter of him doing it out on the field."
Rowe's selection now takes the number of players to have broken into first grade from that 2012 Holden Cup side to eight – a number that Payten believes will only grow with the likes of Mitchell Moses, Kyle Lovett and Parramatta recruit Brendan Santi now training full-time with the NRL squads.
"There's probably one or two others that aren't too far away themselves. We're a development club, so I think you'll see some more kids from the under-20s system play first grade in the next 2-3 years," he said.