The Wests Tigers burst out of the blocks this year writes John Chelsea, but have they got what is takes to be a consistent force in the 2008 NRL and finally crack the semi-final Top 8 series for the first time since they won the competition in 2005?
If you spoke about them last week, anyone would tell you the Wests Tigers are going to be a force in this years NRL. Knocking off St George and the Cowboys in Townsville, many had thought the Tigers minus Benji Marshall could still be a serious threat and had a perfectly balanced squad.
Fast forward to now. Injuries to key men Robbie Farah, Dean Collis, Taniela Tuiaki and Brett Hodgson have thrown a spanner in the works. While Hodgson isn’t missing any game time, the little fullback has copped such a battering in recent weeks that he could be forgiven for thinking he was cast in the movie ‘Face-Off’.
Farah is no doubt a key player for the Wests Tigers, his metres and creativity from dummy half are well noted. Many speak of him in NSW Origin calculations, but injury has been a demon for Farah and threatens to hamper his and the teams rise in 2008. What makes things worse is that the injury is back related, a part of the body that doesn’t generally heal too fast and it’s an area where you can’t take any risks.
The Tigers have a good balance in their squad, they have some extremely talented young guns coming through the likes of Dean Collis, Beau Ryan, Tim Moltzen and Chris Lawrence and then you have the proven performances of Dene Halatau, Liam Fulton, Todd Payten and Bronson Harrison. Without Benji Marshall in the side, Robbie Farah has quickly become the X-Factor for the Wests Tigers side – quickly rising in the NRL ranks to be regarded as a genuine star, Farah was not only helping the Tigers win games with his skill – his new stature was giving them the belief and that star power they needed to be mentally ready for games.
Thats the unwritten rule of guys like Farah and Marshall. For all their skills, they also provide benefits to their team from the confidence they give their teammates. Young guys like Chris Lawrence and Beau Ryan see a Benji Marshall or Robbie Farah running out with them and suddenly they think they are playing with the harlem globetrotters. It can have adverse effects too, some players feeling that a Farah or a Marshall might be worth 10 more points in a game and suddenly you have teammates resting on their laurels watching the big stars do it alone.
For the Tigers to take the next step in 2008 and regain their finals position this year, they badly need the X-Factor of a Benji Marshall or Robbie Farah on a weekly basis. While they absolutely have the talent and ability without these two big stars, its more a case of belief and mental strength that the side gains when either of these two big names are around. When Wests won the premiership back in 2005, they had several big names to call on. The likes of Scott Prince, Pat Richards and even John Skandalis to some extent – big game players who had experience and confidence in bucket-loads. To be honest, I think the Wests Tigers have even more talent at their disposal now, they just need the X-Factor that the mere presence of a big star brings on a weekly basis.