Unheralded Tigers pack builds belief from Cowboys win
Wests Tigers players say the belief they gained from not only matching it with, but getting the better of, North Queensland's all-star pack last week will benefit them in what they hope will be the run home to the finals.
Run your eyes over the 16 NRL squads to gauge who has the best pack; Brisbane, Canterbury, North Queensland, Canberra and Melbourne certainly jump out. Most probably wouldn't nominate the Tigers pack any sooner than they would this weekend's opponents in the Titans.
But both packs share a common trait: plenty of players who aren't household names who are playing to the best of their ability and helping their less-vaunted side match it with the big boys week-in week-out.
Whether it's Sauaso Sue, Ava Seumanufagai, Josh Aloiai and Chris Lawrence at the Tigers or Agnatius Paasi, Leivaha Pulu, Zeb Taia and Chris McQueen at the Titans, both these clubs are getting value for money out of blokes who don't attract the sort of attention – or in most case, the salaries – of players like Matt Scott, James Tamou, Corey Parker, Sam Thaiday and Jesse Bromwich.
Having edged the battle in the middle against Scott, Tamou, Jason Taumalolo and Co. last week though, the Tigers forwards are ready to do it again at Campbelltown on Saturday, led by irrepressible skipper Aaron Woods.
"I think it's massive for the confidence, particularly the younger guys, it gives them that belief that you can do it," back-rower Chris Lawrence told NRL.com ahead of Saturday's game.
Lawrence is in his second year – but his first full season – as a back-rower after making the shift from the centres and last Sunday's effort at Leichhardt was arguably his best ever in the pack. His defence and particularly the job he did cutting down Johnathan Thurston's time and options was the standout feature.
"But that (last week) was one game and we need to learn now we can do it, it's about backing that up. There's going to be an odd game or two where we're a bit off but if we're consistently around the mark we'll win more games than we lose," Lawrence added.
"The Titans have been playing really good footy and they're the type of side that don't beat themselves, they really make you work hard to beat them so they're always going to be in the game.
"They've got a great forward pack and some strong outside backs that can finish the job so we'll have to lift again on what we did last week."
Lock and mid-season recruit Elijah Taylor has added serious starch to the Tigers pack since his arrival from Penrith two months ago and the fact the Tigers were able to achieve what they did last week despite Taylor being concussed inside 20 minutes speaks volumes for the job the rest of the pack is doing.
"Especially against a big pack like the Cowboys, and to have me going off then stress our bench so some forwards had to play longer than they usually do," Taylor told NRL.com. "Losing a forward puts a lot of stress on your props.
"As soon as I got here the big focus was on getting our team defence better; we worked really hard at it for the last two months.
"You're starting to see results from that hard work in our wins. We kept Parramatta to a low score, we kept Dragons to a low score. It's pleasing to know your hard work is paying off somewhere.
"I just think it's our attitude towards our defence and our willingness to help your teammate and doing the little things to help the team. As long as we continue that selfless attitude it's put us in really good stead to win games but we have to start over against the Titans."
Hooker Dene Halatau – a somewhat reluctant dummy half who finds himself filling in at No.9 through a combination of injuries (Matt Ballin), second-tier salary cap issues (Jacob Liddle) and most obviously coaching preferences (Robbie Farah) – also recognised a growing belief within the budding Tigers pack.
"It gives us that belief in ourselves that we can match up against a well-recognised forward pack and play for the full 80 minutes," Halatau said of the win over the Cowboys.
"There's a couple of performances this year where we've done that; we played Brisbane up there and even though they were minus their Origin players they're still a grinding tough forward pack and I think that was probably the start of where we knew we were capable of grinding away for the full 80."
Halatau saw the comparisons between the two underrated packs who will meet at Campbelltown on Saturday afternoon.
"The names might not be big names and representative players but I'm sure in their group they have that faith in each other and they're playing that way and for us that's a challenge," Halatau said.
"Our middles get together every week and talk about how the opposition is going to be trying to come through us.
"They've been a hassle for most teams this year. At the start of the season they weren't given much hope of doing anything with young halves and young [Kane] Elgey going down in the pre-season.
"Obviously they've done better than everyone expected and they've played some really good football. They beat us earlier in the year and [Ashley] Taylor's going really well.
"Their forward pack's playing really solid and consistent, they're scoring tries in the middle, defending well and they're really muscling up so we're expecting a really tough game from them this week."