Tedesco hits new dimensions in attack
Wests Tigers fullback James Tedesco says he is enjoying the responsibility of being the attacking focus at his club, where his devastating running style is now being complemented by an increased focus on ball-playing.
Before this year a series of major knee injuries restricted the speedster to a maximum of eight games in any one season, but he has so far not missed a game for his club in 2015 and that consistency in terms of fitness is enabling him to rack up some frightening numbers – even in a side that is languishing near the bottom of the ladder.
Tedesco has a whopping 116 tackle breaks in 16 games this year, 30 clear of second-placed Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and an amazing 50 clear of the NRL's third best, Newcastle's Dane Gagai, and the rest of the pack.
His seven try assists are third best for a fullback too, behind only talented Penrith ball-playing custodian Matt Moylan (11) and Rabbitohs skipper Greg Inglis (eight).
Ahead of a challenging road trip up to Suncorp Stadium to face ladder-leaders Brisbane, Tedesco was just happy to be injury-free and playing consistent football.
"I think it's been 18 games in a row I've played, that's a near record for me," Tedesco said of his rare injury-free run.
"I feel like I need to create something and do something when we have the ball, but that's the role of any fullback in the game at the moment. There are a lot of fullbacks out there who are playing that consistent footy, and carving up week to week.
"There is a bit of responsibility on me to do that as well, and I'm enjoying the challenge of doing it week to week. Even though we're not getting the results, I'm enjoying my footy.''
Tedesco said he felt like he had regained all the pace he had lost after last year's ACL rupture and knee reconstruction following an off-season of hard work with the club's strength and conditioning coach Marcus Kain and rebuilding his running style.
"I don't think my technique has really changed, but power-wise in my legs and my speed, it's back up to where it was before," he said.
Tedesco said the huge number of tackle breaks he is racking up comes down to playing with confidence.
"Knowing I can do that [break tackles], having those stats where I can beat the first player... It's definitely on my mind when I'm getting the ball," he said.
His ball-playing skills – Tedesco has produced some sublime passes to set up tries this year in what is an underrated facet of his game – were also improving as he bids to match the NRL's elite fullbacks.
"I always struggled with that in my game. I was always more of a runner, but I'm trying to develop that passing game. Billy Slater, when he came in, he was more of a runner, but the he developed that passing game over the years. [Brett] Stewart is one of the best at it. [I've been] watching those guys and getting a few tips about their ball playing. Matty Moylan is awesome at it, too.
"I'm just trying to add to every little part of my game, running, passing or trying to set up the other boys."
Tigers coach Jason Taylor, a former halfback, has been helping Tedesco work on those skills since arriving at the club last year.
"'JT' has been helpful; at the start of the pre-season when I couldn't do much running or much of the team stuff, I was on my own with the strength and conditioning and some of the injured boys, and just got the quick hands going, and working on passing skills," Tedesco said.
"I think that helped, when I couldn't do other stuff like running or tackling, I was just working on the ball skills.
"All the fullbacks these days have every attribute, be it passing or running or kicking. I need to continue to work on those skills to make me a better player."
Wests Tigers prop Aaron Woods also praised the form of the club's No.1.
"He's been good, we wouldn’t score as many points [without him], he's been real consistent," Woods said.
"It's really good for Teddy. He's looking after his body really well and we're seeing the results of it now."