Wests Tigers' cubs must grow up
Almost 50 seasons worth – or 884 games, to be precise – of first grade experience walked out the Concord doors over the summer, and very little came in the opposite direction.
So these prodigious kids that everyone is banging on about, need to grow up says Curtis Sironen. Fast.
"The onus is on us because we have to," Sironen said.
"With no senior players, there's no excuse. We can't just be a team of young guys anymore."
The sudden departure of reborn lock Adam Blair to Brisbane a fortnight ago further depleted the Wests Tigers back-row stocks, which were already reeling from the exits of Liam Fulton (retired), Braith Anasta (retired), Cory Paterson (Super League) and Bodene Thompson (Warriors).
Thompson took out the Coach's Player of the Year award last season, while an improved Blair played a prominent role in the Kiwis' Four Nations triumph last month.
"I was a bit shocked because you just expect everyone to be back,” Sironen said.
“You forget the business side of everything, because you become mates with people and you form friendships and then they can be gone just like that.
"It was a bit of a reality check. Bodene was a big one too, because I was pretty good mates with Beauy, so it was a bit hard. But that's the way it is now and you do the best you can without them."
Unless the club hits the player market before the start of the season, new coach Jason Taylor is likely to begin the season with a back row of Sironen, Sitaleki Akauola and Jesse Sue. The trio combine for only 84 first grade games between them.
So if the club wants to avoid a fifth straight post-season strike out, Sironen says their entire batch of youngsters must ditch the L-plates.
"Especially in my position as well, where I [used to] feed off Fulton, Braith and guys like that, I guess everyone has to take up a bit of the slack," he said.
"If you want to play first grade, there's no experienced players here, [so] everyone has to take up some responsibility. If you're going to be in the team, you're going to need to share the load.
"You don't necessarily have to be a leader but be out there and do a job - not just be a younger player who's just happy to be there.
"I think that'll be a big thing for a lot of us players this year, with guys like Blairy and Fults and the guys who've had a few years under their belt gone. It's definitely going to be different."
And that means the likely graduation of under-20s rookies Salesi Funaki and Lamar Liolevave, the latter of whom re-signed for two more years last week.
"Both those two could handle it, they've been training unreal. And then we've got Asipeli Fine, he played a couple of games in the centres, he could play there," Sironen said.
"We've got Sita, he could play there too. We do have depth and we have lots of competition because everyone's fighting for spots now. And we've still got Deno [Halatau] there, who's the only bloke in that position who has played more than 50 games."