How Packer can get Tigers back on track
The feelings were mutual - Russell Packer missed being on the field over the last month and the Wests Tigers dearly missed their pack leader.
The co-captain's return from a knee injury is a timely boost for Ivan Cleary's men as they look to get back on track against North Queensland at Leichhardt Oval on Thursday night.
The fashion in which the joint venture have lost in recent weeks has hurt Packer most. Two close losses against teams below them on the ladder in Newcastle and Parramatta, compounded with a heavy defeat to the Warriors in Auckland last Saturday, have brought the club back to a logjam in the top eight.
"It's a bit disappointing, everyone is realistic to the fact that the standards we set earlier in the year haven't been held to the same level," Packer said.
"It's always hard watching whether you're injured or haven't been selected. It's one of the challenges when you play in the NRL. It's a struggle to watch because everyone wants to play."
Packer baulked at suggestions the side were back to where everyone predicted them to be after proving to be the surprise packets of the Telstra Premiership in the opening month of the season.
The Tigers remain the second best defensive outfit in the competition but have gone away from their simple methods in recent weeks that saw them knock off premiers Melbourne twice and pre-season favourites, the Sydney Roosters, at ANZ Stadium in their season opener at ANZ Stadium.
"It's irrelevant," Packer responded.
"So if we never get predicted to win, does that mean we lose every game? If we listen to everyone.
"I don't know if this team does use it as motivation but I personally don't. If it was based on predictions, we would fall to wherever the experts tell us.
"I wouldn't say that we overachieved, I would say that we won games. If you want to play semi-final football, you're winning 13-14 games to guarantee your spot in the top eight. Currently we have five.
"On that statistic, we need to win eight or nine more. Over the third of the season is gone. We are where we are. You can't take back games that you've lost and can't win games you haven't played. We've got to play hard.
"The thing about the NRL competition is getting off to a good start matters, but really there is an assessment done on your position after 24 rounds are played."
The Tigers boast a strong record against the Cowboys at Leichhardt Oval, having never lost at the venue since 2000.
Chris Lawrence has been named despite being ruled out with concussion. With a five-day turnaround and NRL rules, it's unlikely the back-rower will play.