Tongue dissects Raiders' start to the Holden Cup
Having played 220 games for the Canberra Raiders over a storied 11-year career, Alan Tongue knows a thing or two about the Green Machine.
And while he could talk about the host of NRL stars doing the jersey proud in the nation's capital, Tongue was just as excited to discuss the form of Canberra's Holden Cup side when he chatted to NRL.com on Wednesday morning.
Tongue has called all but one of the Raiders' games in 2016 in his duties as a Fox Sports commentator, and says there a stack of players making a name for themselves in the early stages of the season.
One of the key players for the Raiders in 2016 has been their skipper and No.9 Zak Woolford who leads the Raiders with six try assists and 206 tackles, and also boasts the second best goal kicking record in the NYC at 79.3 per cent (minimum 10 shots at goal).
"Zac Woolford just seems to keep developing, and it's great to see," Tongue told NRL.com.
"He did a bit of [goal-kicking] work in the pre-season with Daryl Halligan, Aidan Sezer and Jarrod Croker, so that boosted his confidence.
"I think he's going to be a really handy footballer. He's really smart with the way he directs his team around, and he's forever jumping down short sides and getting players in behind the ruck.
"He's continuing to grow and I think to have that composure in key times at his age is really important."
The loss of talented halfback Lachlan Croker to the NRL – and subsequently Mounties in the Intrust Super Premiership – could have derailed their season, but Tongue has been mightily impressed by the form of the current halves pairing, particularly the unheralded Zeik Foster.
The young No.7 has four tries and three assists, and has also procured a plethora of repeat sets with his short-kicking game, and according to Tongue, has quickly developed a sparkling combination with Lachlan Lewis who has three tries and just as many assists.
"We didn't know too much about him until a couple of weeks in," Tongue said when describing Foster.
"He's a guy that came across from Wagga for a trial, he got an opportunity and I must admit he has improved with every game he's played. He's really grown in confidence, he's light on his feet and he's got a handy kicking game.
"Lachlan Lewis is one of the most experienced [NYC] players at the club and he's really starting to step up into the role as leader.
"He was probably used to playing second fiddle because he'd always had Croker inside him. They're both guys who when they play their best footy, they're great players."
While the playmakers have received most of the plaudits, Tongue paid special mention to front-rower Daniel Dole, who he says has stepped up in the absence of injured teammate Kalani Going.
Dole leads the Raiders with 129.3 metres a game and has also barged over for two tries in 2016.
"Daniel Dole has been fantastic for Canberra," the Fox Sports Holden Cup commentator said.
"He plays big minutes for a front-rower. He's as strong as an ox when he carries the ball, and defensively he has plenty of rattle in him. He's got a great little combination with Zak Woolford close to the ruck as well."
The Raiders are currently 9th on the ladder following a 3-3 start to the season and yet to string consecutive wins together it's that inconsistency that has halted their momentum for a top-four push.
Brett White's men have given up double digit leads in all six of their games to start the season, but Tongue says that their unpredictability in form can be seen as a positive as well.
"It's about developing that maturity and that patience that you need to have as an NRL player, so it takes a little time," the former Raiders skipper said.
"The Raiders have been really slow out of the blocks in most of their games and they've actually had to claw down sides, so you can look at that negatively but there's also a real positive that they've got that focus and they've got the ability to come good at the backend of games and hold their nerves."
Tongue added that injuries and players being promoted to the NRL had taken their toll on the Green Machine.
"They've had some injuries too which has been tough for them," he said.
"Lachlan Croker just started for them and got pushed up to the NRL. Kalani Going got hurt a few weeks ago which was a real loss, because I heard Brett White say he was their spiritual leader in the forward pack, so that was tough for them.
"When you lose a couple of players in the NYC it really hurts your side."