Manly add size to unleash Taupau
Forty tackles. 10 runs for 85 metres. Sounds like the numbers of a defensive workhorse back-rower who takes the odd run in attack, right?
They're actually the Round 1 stats of one of the most destructive ball-running back-rowers in the NRL.
Which is exactly why Trent Barrett has beefed up his bench and moved fiery Kiwi international Martin Taupau to an edge.
After an avalanche 28-6 loss to Canterbury in Round 1, new coach Barrett took little time in getting the red pen out. Some ill discipline with the ball meant a stack of defence, with high-profile recruit Taupau's impact completely blunted.
While Barrett said he expects more from the former Wests Tigers tearaway, he has also shown he will be ruthless when it comes to picking players in form and in their best position as he sees fit.
Hard-working back-rower Blake Leary and bench prop Darcy Lussick have been pushed to NSW Cup. In their place come big men Brenton Lawrence and Josh Startling, fresh off injury comebacks and huge efforts in NSW Cup last week. Impressive young prop Jake Trbojevic takes Taupau's No.13 jumper and Taupau pushes former centre Nathan Green to the bench in what Barrett hoped would be a more dominant starting pack.
"One of the reasons [for those changes] was to give us a bit more size across the field but also, he made 40 tackles last week," Barrett said of Taupau's new role.
"I don't want to nullify the impact that he has and hopefully he won't have quite as much work to do on an edge and when he does get the ball it will have an impact. That's my thoughts behind it.
"He played in the All Stars in the back row and did a really good job. On the back of us getting a little bit more football hopefully they're all a little bit fresher."
The last time Taupau was involved in a Wests Tigers v Manly clash at Leichhardt was explosive. Wearing black and gold for the home side on a dreary day, Taupau set a fire under the home crowd as he destroyed the visiting Manly pack from the bench on their way to a 34-18 win two years ago.
Barrett however wasn't interested in helping create headlines regarding Taupau's return to Leichhardt Oval – "I don't want to make a big deal out of it for Marty; he's got some things to work on out of last week that he wouldn't be happy with," was all Barrett would say about Taupau's first meeting with his former club.
"I don't want to put any undue pressure on Marty, he just needs to carry the ball strong and do all the little things right."
The match will be a first for Trbojevic, starting at lock, but the coach wasn't expecting the Mona Vale junior's role to change much.
"We'll play with three middles. It gives us an extra bigger body, moving Marty to an edge and playing with those three middles. In essence it gives us four big blokes to try and get us to a start which we didn't get last week," Barrett said.
The former Penrith assistant praised the efforts of Starling and Lawrence in returning to the top grade after Starling had off-season surgery to clean out an elbow and bone spurs while Lawrence had major back surgery last year.
"Starling and Lawrence both had really good games in the NSW Cup [in Round 1] and they were both there to play more minutes. BJ's coming off a serious back injury and I thought him playing a lot of minutes in NSW Cup would be good for him.
"Starling had no trial at all due to elbow surgery. They both earned their spot and we're going to have to keep picking the team on form and it may take a little while to get all those combinations right but I'm really happy with the pack this week.
"I've said all along we'll pick teams on form and I'm really happy for BJ and Starlo - they've both worked really hard. It is a challenge for everyone. The better you play the more chance you are of retaining your spot and making the team."