International forwards ready to rumble
It's almost as if Friday night's clash at ANZ Stadium is a United Nations call to arms.
Some of the league's best big men from all four countries that participated in last year's Four Nations tournament will feature at the Olympic venue in what shapes as a bruising battle between the Wests Tigers and the Bulldogs.
Should Australian representative Aaron Woods overcome a knee problem in time for the clash, he'll join fellow Kangaroo Josh Jackson, Kiwi monsters Greg Eastwood and Martin Taupau, British bulldog James Graham, and Samoan warhorses Frank Pritchard and Sauaso Sue on the pitch for this weekend's blockbuster.
Woods was named by coach Jason Taylor on Tuesday, and the opposition forward pack say they're preparing for the NSW Origin front-rower to take the field.
"We'll be preparing like he's going to play," Bulldogs skipper James Graham said.
"Until we get the team sheet on Friday an hour before kickoff, I guess we'll be preparing like he's going to play. Even if he isn't, I don't think we'll look at it as a bonus. Not one bit."
And that might be because the kids from Concord are led by a forward pack brimming with some experience gained from last year's international end-of-season tournament.
Sue has been a revelation since starting at second row for Taylor in the post-Mick Potter era, while Taupau has made a similar impact as the side's starting lock.
Asked how they planned to limit the impact of Kiwi enforcer Taupau, Graham replied: "With great difficulty. When I first came to the club, he was a young lad coming through and despite him leaving the club, I'm really pleased to see that things have started to come good for him.
"I know how hard he trained when he was here. To see him progress onto international honours, he should be really proud of himself. And he's really, this past 18 months, been a standout for them. Credit to himself for the amount of work he's put in."
Eastwood was equally effusive in his praise for his international teammate, and pointed to Taupau's impressive performance in New Zealand's win over Australia in the Four Nations final.
"I came off the bench with Marty and what he did in that final showed what he could do. He's really big up top and he's strong. He's going to be a handful," he said.
"I guess he's going to prove that we should've kept him here. We're just looking forward to a big hit-out.
"He's played international football now, [so] I guess he's come a long way since he left here. He's really proven a handful for sides. We're going to have to get stuck into him, cut out all the niggle stuff because we don't want any part of it."
Jackson is another who made his first foray into the international arena at the Four Nations with a call-up to Kangaroos duty, and paid tribute to his clubmates for helping him reach that level.
"I suppose you can take confidence out of that, and the experience. I'm not too sure if it's made me a better player. I just go out there every week and do my best," he said.
"The players around you help a lot there as well. We've got a really good group of players here. I'm just trying not to let them down and they bring you up to their level. I was really fortunate to be in that position."