NZ Warriors too good for Panthers

NZ WarriorsThe New Zealand Warriors remain in the hunt for the NRL Top 8 but superstar custodian Wade McKinnon could be in hot water for remaining games after being accused of spitting at a touch judge.

The Warriors accounted for Penrith 42-20 on the back of a five tries to one first-half blitz, with burly winger Manu Vatuvei grabbing a double in the space of three minutes.

But the Warriors will be sweating on McKinnon, who was seen remonstrating with the sideline official after Penrith winger Luke Rooney was awarded a second-half four-pointer off a blatant Rhys Wesser forward pass.

The touch judge then claimed that McKinnon had spat at him and the Warriors custodian was duly booked for a second time by referee Ben Cummins.

He was already on report for showing dissent towards Cummins earlier in the match.

The incidents tarnished another fine performance from McKinnon, who forced his way over for a first half try four weeks into his comeback from a serious knee injury.

They also detracted from an exciting all-round display from the Warriors, who were simply too big and too strong for the mountain men.

The Warriors sit just outside the top eight on points differential and need to beat the Eels in Parramatta next weekend and see either Newcastle or Canberra go down to taste finals action.

Warriors skipper Steve Price acknowledged it was a must-win game if his side was to have any chance of making the finals.

“We desperately needed them (the two points), it was quite obvious especially after Newcastle winning (against Melbourne) last night,” he told ABC Grandstand.

“We can’t control that, all we can control is what we do. We didn’t start as well as we wanted to but geez we came back well.

“We had a little bit of last week’s jitters, ran over the sideline and gave away some penalties.

“But then we just got back to the basics … as soon as we got that we got some ball back, started to build some pressure and got some tries.”

Nervous wait

Price said McKinnon was frustrated with some refereeing decisions that went against the home side, but hoped he would be free to play against the Eels.

“Wade was disappointed with a couple of decisions and he spoke to the referee and he felt it wasn’t the right way,” Price said.

“Wade has just got to get back to what’s been working for him, and hopefully nothing will come out of it and he’ll be right for next week.”

The Panthers crossed within five minutes via Rooney but were then swamped by a Warriors onslaught which netted five tries in 14 minutes.

The New Zealand side went into the sheds leading 30-6 and an annihilation looked on the cards before the Panthers stopped the rot with some early four-pointers in the second stanza.

Normal service resumed however when Jerome Ropati crossed unattended out wide and then hooker Ian Henderson capped a fine individual performance by busting his way through some pathetic Panthers defence.

Rooney completed his hat-trick for the Panthers late on.

Any flickering hope the Panthers had of playing finals has well and truly been snuffed out and they suffered the further indignity of losing hooker Luke Priddis to what looked to be a serious shoulder injury late in the match.

Warriors 42 (M Vatuvei 2, M Luck, W McKinnon, M Witt, J Ropati, I Henderson tries; M Witt 7 conversions)

Panthers 14 (L Rooney 3, M Gordon tries; M Gordon 2 conversions)

Broncos give Lockyer a victory

Brisbane Broncos Darren LockyerThe Broncos have outclassed the Bulldogs today 36-22 to ensure Darren Lockyer’s 300th game for the club was a memorable one, the victory giving veteran Lockyer something to smile about, as the Broncos at times struggled to put the plucky Canterbury side away.

Lockyer, who made his debut way back in 1995, set up three of the Broncos’ six tries as they reclaimed fifth spot on the competition ladder from the Dragons and put themselves in the box seat to claim a home final should the Roosters slip up next weekend.

Lockyer copped a nasty knock to his wrist early in the game but recovered to lead the visitors to an 18-12 half-time lead after falling behind 12-0 early to the cellar-dwelling Bulldogs in driving rain.

He said while it was pleasing to get the win in his milestone game, the Broncos would have to lift their intensity for the finals.

“It’s been a wonderful journey and it’s good to get the two points today so it makes it a little bit better,” Lockyer told ABC Grandstand.

“We’re probably not happy with the way we played, the (wet) conditions didn’t help, but at the same time we can’t really start big games in that fashion because it’s going to be too hard to dig ourselves out of those holes.

“We’ve been a bit scratchy the last couple of weeks, it’s just a matter of putting it together.

“I think not having Mick Ennis there today didn’t help, our combination around the ruck suffered early, we just didn’t gel real well.

“In the end we got the two points but our defence just needs to be a bit better too.”

The win held extra significance for the Broncos as it marked Wayne Bennett’s 350th NRL win as he prepares to depart the club he has coached since its inception in 1988.

While it was good news for the Broncos, it was a poor send-off for two Bulldogs veterans – coach Steve Folkes and hooker Corey Hughes – who were involved in their last home game for the club after years of service.

The match was played in front of a sparse crowd, and Lockyer admitted the lack of atmosphere was not conducive to a good performance.

“It’s not a great ground for rugby league, obviously there’s reasons why we play here but I think it should be reserved for the big ones,” he said.

“It does lack a bit of atmosphere and I just think the fans probably come here and go home wondering what could be better.”

After watching the Bulldogs cross for the first two tries, including an intercept to Heka Nanai against the run of play, the visitors finally snapped into action with three tries in the space of 15 minutes in the opening stanza.

A brilliant ball from Lockyer to Justin Hodges in the 31st minute put the loping centre on the outside of his opposite man Tim Winitana, and the Broncos soon went ahead with David Stagg’s try five minutes from the break.

Hodges secured a double just three minutes into the second half when he ran around Bulldogs skipper Andrew Ryan on the right edge, and despite some late consolation tries the Bulldogs never really threatened.

Sam Thaiday also crossed for a brace for the Broncos but could be in trouble after being put on report for a lifting tackle late in the game.

Brisbane 36 (S Thaiday 2, J Hodges 2, D Stagg, J Moon tries; C Parker 6 conversions)

Canterbury 22 (H Nanai 2, C Hughes, J Hickey tries; H El Masri 3 conversions)

Cowboys fight outta spoon land

North Queensland killed off Canberra’s chances of a top four NRL finish with a 22-10 win in Townsville tonight.

With injuries decimating their line up, Canberra were always going to be up against it facing a Cowboys side inspired by the chance to offload the wooden spoon with a victory in their last home game of a forgettable 2008 campaign.

Canberra were further weakened when lock-cum-halfback Alan Tongue was forced to take over the kicking game with star pivot Terry Campese nursing a hamstring injury.

But handling errors and a lack of defensive muscle were the visitors’ main problem.

Incoming North Queensland coach Neil Henry would have been impressed with what he has to work with next year but his immediate concern will be re-energising the green machine’s playoff hopes, the loss tonight ending their chance of earning a home final.

The Raiders can still miss the eight but would have to lose to the lowly Bulldogs in Canberra next week in the last round of the home and away season.

Aaron Payne was the Cowboys’ best, the Townsville junior turning in one of his best performances of the year, having a hand in two first half tries while constantly probing Canberra’s ruck defence.

The Cowboys stunned the high flying Raiders early with three first half tries to Johnathan Thurston (9th minute), Travis Burns (27th) and Ben Harris (32nd) for a 16-0 halftime lead.

North Queensland continued the assault shortly after the half when Carl Webb crashed over carrying four defenders, before Canberra finally crossed in the 60th minute when Adrian Purtell latched onto a Glen Butriss bomb to reduce the deficit to 16.

The Cowboys enjoyed the majority of the possession and field position in the second half but Canberra continued to reduce the margin when winger Brett Kelly crossed in the 71st minute.

Cowboys coach Ian Millward credited his side’s defence as the catalyst behind the 22-10 victory.

“Defensively we were very good, we were strong, contact was great, we got forward pretty well,” Millward said.

“The try they got from the kick probably highlights the only way they were going to score tonight.

“Probably the score line was flattering to them.

“We created a lot of opportunities in the second half but it was probably the final pass that went astray.”

Henry was left to lament his side’s inability to control the ball.

“It was pretty messy. I’m disappointed with our lack of control of the ball but full credit to the Cowboys,” he said.

“They played a bit of footy. They were offloading the ball and the bounce went with them.

“We had to defend a lot. I think they had 60 per cent of the possession for most of the game and we didn’t utilise ours too well.

Henry said Campese entered the game with a slight hamstring strain but denied it would prevent the five-eighth from taking on the Bulldogs next week.

“He had a tight hamstring from last week’s game,” Henry said.

“We have got an eight-day turnaround so we will work overtime on a couple of players to get them up for our last game.”

NORTH QUEENSLAND 22 (T Burns B Harris J Thurston C Webb tries J Williams 3 goals) bt CANBERRA 10 (B Kelly A Purtell tries J Monaghan goal) at Dairy Farmers Stadium. Referee: M Cecchin. Crowd: 14,981.

Dragons hammer sorry Eels

St George Illawarra showed it will be a force to be reckoned with come finals time, dismantling finals aspirants Parramatta 40-14 in Saturday night’s round 25 NRL match-up at Sydney’s Olympic stadium.

The Dragons ended the Eels’ three-match winning streak and dealt their finals hopes a huge blow in the blow-out result, which was highlighted by a hat-trick to former Broncos and Wallabies star Wendell Sailor.

The win assures the Dragons a spot in the top eight and moves them ahead of Brisbane into fifth place, but the Broncos can reclaim their position with a win over the Bulldogs on Sunday.

In tonight’s other fixture, North Queensland notched consecutive wins at home with an upset 22-10 result over an injury-hit Canberra side in Townsville.

The Cowboys snapped the Raiders’ three-game winning streak with a four-tries-to-two display spearheaded by Johnathan Thurston and hooker Aaron Payne.

Thurston scored a try and made another while Payne tore Canberra up down the middle of the ruck as the home side raced to a 16-0 half-time lead that was rarely threatened in the second half.

The loss leaves the Raiders vulnerable in a tie for seventh with one round remaining and a host of teams in with a shot of making the eight.

St George Illawarra started the match with a bang, racing to an 18-0 lead after just 20 minutes courtesy of tries to Dan Hunt, Ben Creagh and Mark Gasnier.

Sailor’s first try three minutes before the break handed the Dragons a 24-0 lead at half-time, and Nathan Brown’s men went on with the job in the second half despite letting in soft tries with the result sewn up.

Brown it was a strong performance in the lead-up to the semi-finals.

“We came here obviously pretty confident if we played some good hard tough footy and we ran the ball in the right spots we could create some chances – and to the guys credit we put a couple of reasonable halves together,” he said.

Hunt and Creagh had huge games for the Dragons with 16 hit-ups each to go with 13 and eight tackles respectively.

The loss leaves Parramatta on the outside looking in to the top eight, and needing a win against the Warriors and results to fall its way next weekend to have any hopes of making the finals.

The Dragons play in a mouth-watering clash against the Roosters next weekend, with the boys from Bondi needing a win to secure fourth spot, while a Dragons victory could see them get a home final.

Dragons 40 (W Sailor 3, D Hunt, B Creagh, M Gasnier, M Cooper, J Morris tries; M Gasnier 4 conversions)

Eels 14 (L Burt 2, F Mateo tries; L Burt conversion)

Knights rattle Storm at home

Newcastle has surged towards the NRL finals, upsetting reigning premier Melbourne 17-16 at EnergyAustralia Stadium on Saturday evening.

An enthusiastic Knights outfit overcame the loss of inspirational captain Danny Buderus for the rest of the season to stun the Storm, who missed a chance to put one hand on a third straight minor premiership with one round remaining.

The Storm ran in three tries to two but two penalties and a field goal ensured Newcastle will stay in the top eight for another week and will secure finals footy with a win over Brisbane at Lang Park next Friday night.

“You’ve got to give the Knights credit, they’ve certainly come here to play and played a tough game and they just had a better attitude than us tonight,” Storm captain Cameron Smith told Fox Sports.

Newcastle had the Storm on the hop from the get-go when Billy Slater knocked on from the kick-off and Buderus’s replacement Matt Hilder scored from the ensuing set.

The visitors pulled a try back with a 24th minute intercept to five-eighth Greg Inglis and went to the break trailing 10-6.

The scores were soon level four minutes into the second half when Israel Folau went over for Melbourne, but the Knights kicked clear again when Jesse Royal barged over from close range.

A 66th minute long range field goal from Newcastle half-back Scott Dureau turned out to be the turning point, with Melbourne unable to bridge the deficit despite scoring a late converted try to Sika Manu.

“We’ve got next week we’ve got to get our heads on for Brisbane – another huge game,” Dureau said following the match.

“If we win next week we’re in there so we don’t want to lose next week and wait for other results.”

Melbourne’s defeat has opened the door for Manly or Cronulla to finish in top spot.

The Sharks are level with the Storm at the top of the ladder following their spanking of Wests Tigers last night, while the Sea Eagles take on the Gold Coast on Monday night.

Knights 17 (M Hilder, J Royal tries; K Gidley 2 conversions, 2 penalties, S Dureau field goal)

Storm 16 (G Inglis, I Folau, S Manu tries; C Smith 2 conversions)

NZ Warriors farewell 3 veterans

ruben-wiki.jpgThe New Zealand Warriors will look to ride a wave of emotion tomorrow to keep their NRL finals hopes alive.

Outside the top eight with two rounds to play, they face a virtual sudden-death scenario against Penrith in Auckland, knowing defeat will probably spell the end of their semi-final ambitions.

While the Warriors are battling to keep their season alive, the match will also be the last at home for three club favourites – prop Ruben Wiki, and second- rowers Logan Swann and Wairangi Koopu.

“It would be silly not to use that sort of emotion for our benefit in this game,” back-rower Micheal Luck said.

“Those three guys have been outstanding for this club and it would be sad to see them come off the field for the last time. We have to make sure we play well and bring a bit happiness to the occasion as well.”

A similar situation in late June did produce victory, with the Warriors marking Wiki’s achievement or playing his 300th NRL game by holding out the Wests Tigers 28-26.

Against Penrith, Luck will be making his return to action after two weeks out with a shoulder problem.

The injury ended his streak of 70 successive first-grade appearances since joining the Warriors from North Queensland at the start of 2006.

Luck admitted that being unable to keep the sequence going had been a “pretty big” disappointment.

“In saying that, I had a good run and I was pretty lucky,” he said. “Hopefully, that’s done now and I’m on the field more often than not.”

Penrith are even more desperate for victory, being a point behind the Warriors on the table.

Luck described the Panthers as one of the NRL’s most dangerous sides on attack, pointing to the 46-22 hiding they handed out to the Warriors in Sydney in May.

“They along with Canberra are sides who can put tries on you from anywhere,” he said. 0″Coming from their own end, they can split you open pretty easily.”

Penrith were without skipper Petero Civoniceva for the round-10 clash, with the Kangaroo prop on Queensland State of Origin duty.

Their star that day was Kiwi second-rower Frank Pritchard, who scored two of the Panthers’ eight tries and was also devastating in general play.

Pritchard will likely be missing this time around, after suffering a shoulder problem that saw him leave the field during the 40-6 loss to Melbourne last Monday night.

His early departure against the Storm led to claims, which he has vehemently denied, that he had feigned injury.

The Warriors are also coming off a disappointing loss, beaten 34-6 away to St George Illawarra last Sunday.

After his team’s good run of six wins in seven matches, coach Ivan Cleary blamed poor execution for the defeat to the Dragons.

Cleary wasn’t concerned that there would be plenty of emotion when his players run out at Mt Smart Stadium.

He was confident the occasion of Wiki, Swann and Koopu’s farewell to home fans would be a motivator rather than a distraction.

“You can’t hide from the fact that it’s an emotional game,” he said.

Roosters survive Rabbit raid, just

Braith AnastaThe out of form Sydney Roosters only just managed to get out of jail against a fast finishing Rabbitohs outfit last night, remaining in Top 4 territory on the NRL ladder with a 22-20 win over the Bunnies at Sydney Football Stadium on Friday night.

After losing their last 3 games on the trot, the Roosters could have slumped to as low as 7th on the NRL Ladder had they lost again and the three teams below them all won.

With playmakers halves Mitchell Pearce and Braith Anasta pulling the strings, the Roosters scored the first five tries to lead 22-0 shortly after the break.

The Rabbitohs, who have produced several stirring, come-from-behind wins in the second half of the season, almost pulled off another miracle.

They piled on 20 unanswered points in the second half after tries to fullback Nathan Merritt five-eight John Sutton, hooker Issac Luke and winger Luke Capewell.

The potential game-tying conversion by halfback Chris Sandow, from close to the left hand touchline, cannoned off the left hand upright.

Roosters veteran Craig Fitzgibbon landed just one of his five kicks, though the one he did make was his 600th for the club.

Desperate to regain some winning form, the Roosters looked well on the way to achieving their aim as they bolted to a 14-0 halftime lead.

They scored three first half tries through winger Amos Roberts, centre Mitchell Aubusson, and second rower Anthony Tupou, though there was a suspicion of a forward pass in the leadup to the first two four-pointers.

Young halfback Pearce, who had looked a little lacklustre in recent weeks, looked more threatening, especially in the first half.

He set up the first try in the 14th minute with a kick which centre Setaimata Sa knocked back to hooker James Aubusson, who passed to Roberts.

The slippery winger was given the all clear by video ref Bill Harrigan after squeezing over in the right hand corner, though it appeared there might have been a forward pass earlier in the move, which also featured some great handling by Anasta and Willie Mason.

Five-eighth Anasta set up both of the Roosters other tries with pin-point passes.

His perfectly floated pass put Aubusson over in the 32nd minute and he then drew two defenders to put Tupou over in the final minute of the half.

The Roosters missed a number of other chances to build an even bigger lead, but poor passing and handling let them down.

The Rabbitohs looked sharp in the early minutes, but couldn’t capitalise on a couple of half chances midway through the half.

The Roosters appeared to have an unassailable lead ten minutes into the second half after further tries to fullback Sam Perrett and Anasta.

By they couldn’t sustain their dominance and tired in defence against an energetic Souths side sparked by Sutton.

He set up Merritt for his 12th try of the season and scored the next himself after Perrett dropped the ball in his in goal area.

Luke scampered through some fatigued defence for a solo try and Capewell crossed inside the last five minutes to set up the dramatic climax.

Souths almost pulled of a 40-20 kick in the final minute to give them possession close to the line, but Harrigan ruled against it.

Roosters coach Brad Fittler was a relieved man after his side almost squandered a 22-0 lead.

“We weren’t at our best but there were better signs. We win next week we’re in a top four position, so we’ve got everything to play for,” Fittler said.

“We worked really hard for the first 50 minutes … we didn’t get much ball for the last 30 minutes.”

Fittler revealed Anasta, who was captain tonight, would hold the position for the remainder of the season and would replace regular skipper Craig Fitzgibbon.

“One of the reasons was I was working on giving the back three a spell, I knew Fitzy was going to be on the sideline at stages,” Fittler said.

He said he wanted Anasta, who captained virtually all of his teams up until he broke into first grade with the Bulldogs, to have a bigger say in the game plan.

The Roosters led 14-0 at halftime following tries to winger Amos Roberts, centre Mitchell Aubusson and second-rower Andrew Tupou.

Further tries to Perrett and Anasta gave the Roosters a seemingly unassailable lead but the Rabbitohs produced another of their trademark comebacks.

Five-eighth John Sutton set up a try to fullback Nathan Merritt and scored one himself, while hooker Issac Luke scampered through some fatigued defence and winger Luke Capewell crossed inside the last five minutes to set up the dramatic climax.

Sandow’s potential match-tying conversion cannoned off the left-hand upright.

“The boys played with a lot of character in the whole game, we really tried hard for the 80 minutes and there was a lot of effort in everything we did,” Taylor said.

“The scoreline at halftime didn’t reflect the commitment that we played with.

“There was one soft try just before halftime which was disappointing, but the other tries, there was a bit of luck in them, I felt the first try should have been given no-try and there was a clear knock-on before they got to that position.

“I felt we were unlucky to be 14-0 down at halftime and then in the end we were unlucky not to get it to at least extra time.”

Taylor said he didn’t get a look at the possible 40-20 kick from halfback Sandow in the closing seconds, but thought as there were only about 15 seconds remaining at the time, that the Rabbitohs would have needed a “miraculous” play to win the match.

Fittler was relieved the 40-20 ruling had gone in his side’s favour.

“It was hard to think at the end of the game whether I was happy or cranky but I think I was happy when he (referee Steve Lyons) called it a non 40-20.”

SYDNEY ROOSTERS 22 (B Anasta M Aubusson S Perrett A Roberts A Tupou tries C Fitzgibbon goal) bt SOUTH SYDNEY 20 (L Capewell I Luke N Merritt J Sutton tries I Luke C Sandow goals) at Sydney Football Stadium. Referee: S Lyons. Crowd: 18,127.

Sharks put Tigers season to bed

cronulla-sharks-wests-tigers-round-25.jpgThe Sharks quickly put the Greg Bird saga behind them and marched on to deliver a 32-6 flogging to the rudderless Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval on last night.

Cronulla pivot Brett Seymour adapted well and stood out in Bird’s absence, scoring a try and having a hand in several others as the Sharks ran roughshod over a team they had not beaten in nine previous encounters.

“We had a good chat this week about what’s got on, (coach) Ricky (Stuart) got us together,” Seymour told Fox Sports.

“We’re a really tight unit here and that’s what makes us play good footy, so we’re happy with the way things are going at the moment.”

In the evening’s other encounter, the Sydney Roosters were given a hell of a fright when they survived a South Sydney fight-back to win 22-20.

The Roosters led 22-0 when Braith Anasta crossed four minutes into the second half, before the Rabbitohs scored the next four tries to almost snatch an unlikely victory.

Chris Sandow’s conversion attempt to level the scores hit the upright and then a 40-20 attempt with seconds remaining was ruled to have fallen just short.

The Roosters’ win puts them three points clear of fifth-placed Brisbane in the race for a top four spot, although the Broncos have a game in hand.

Across town, the Sharks held a commanding 20-6 advantage at the break against a Tigers outfit missing injured playmaker Robbie Farah.

The visitors went on with the job in the second half, with Seymour gifted a saloon passage to the line after Ryan O’Hara dropped the ball cold in his own half.

Six minutes later Seymour fed the ball to Brett Kearney who danced around some tired Tigers defence and streaked away to dot down.

The Tigers went into the match needing victory to keep their season alive but were never in the contest.

The writing was on the wall early in the piece when Fraser Anderson was held up over the line by a desperate Stuart Flanagan.

Anderson did however atone for the missed opportunity, forcing his way over later in the first half to add to tries from Misi Talaupapa and Luke Covell.

It is the third season in a row the Tigers have missed the finals since winning the premiership in 2005 and coach Tim Sheens has signalled there will be changes.

The match was also Tigers’ captain Brett Hodgson’s final game in front of a home crowd before he heads to the English Super League next season.

He will finish off his NRL career against the Gold Coast at Skilled Park next weekend.

Sharks 32 (M Talaupapa, L Covell, F Anderson, B Seymour, B Kearney tries; L Covell 5 conversions, penalty)

Tigers 6 (B Harrison try, B Hodgson conversion)

Wests Tigers in wastelands again

Wests TigersWhats happening over at the Wests Tigers?

Since grabbing their fairytale premiership in 2005, the once exciting and entertaining side has rarely provided their fans with anything else to cheer about.

2008 will be the third straight year the Tigers miss the NRL Top 8, a worrying trend – but also just as concerning is the rate that Wests are falling apart at the back end of seasons.

Take last year for example, the Tigers only needed to get over last-placed Newcastle in their last game to make the Top 8, the Tigers were ahead 24-12 with 7 minutes left. And they somehow somehow dropped their bundle and lost.

The Tigers sat lost on the ANZ Stadium turf, looking a little similar to the Cowboys players they belted in a grand final 2 years prior at the exact same venue.

This was the 2nd time that Wests had thrown away a finals position in the final month.

The media has seemingly gone easy on Tim Sheens and the Wests Tigers since 2005; does the NRL Premiership victory for Wests give them a ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card for the next 5 years? Regardless, the Tigers began putting in the big ones prior to the kick-off for 2008.

So keen were they to make amends in 2008, Sheens prevented mercurial playmaker Robbie Farah from joining Lebanon for represenatative matches.

Coach Tim Sheens’ contract was also due for renewal in 2008, the joint venture club if they didn’t make the Top 8 this year would be the first premiers in 17 years to miss finals football 3 seasons in a row after winning the Premiership.

With 2 NRL rounds to go, it looks set to happen. The once magical Tigers have again gone missing at a crucial stage. After flashes of brilliance and the chance to secure a lower order finals spot just 3 weeks ago – the Tigers seem to continually bring a knife to a gun fight in the closing rounds.

Facing plenty of heat over the last 2 weeks, with heavy losses to Parramatta and Manly, Sheens threatened sackings.

“This season was a watershed year,” Sheens says.

“A watershed year is a watershed year. If players can’t answer the challenge, then it’s time for people to grow up. If it doesn’t happen then early next year we’ll have to look at changes.

“We’ve already got a handful of changes in mind. There’s a couple of under-20s kids who will be in our fulltime squad and the Englishman (Gareth Ellis).

“The big issue will come in the first three or four months of next season when there are quality players on the market. Some of our guys will have to improve or they will be moved on.

“That doesn’t mean they will be tapped on the shoulder today. We’ve invested very heavily in junior development. A lot of these players have now had more than 50 NRL games and it’s time for some of them to grow up.”

Sheens has yet to say which players are in the gun sights, but some believe that prop Bronson Harrison is being offered on the open market. Fullback and Captain Brett Hodgson leaves for the UK in a couple of weeks – leaving just a few players in the squad from the original winning team of 2005.

Some were let go with time still remaining on their agreements. The Tigers believe they had to offload some squad members due to intense salary cap figures, but others say it’s through mismanagement and possible back-loaded contracts.

On a positive note, the Tigers players remaining have agreed so far to move a percentage of next year’s salary around to keep books clean in 2009.

The problem now, is that Wests don’t have a whole lot of leverage in the player market place, tight budgets and a losing side don’t make for an attractive home for potential new recruits.

“We are not a club that has money to be in the top end of the market,” Sheens says.

“We develop lots of juniors and we’ll always look to them first. I’m not talking about changing that policy. I’m talking about guys who have not fulfilled their potential.

“If they don’t take the next step, then we’ve got to look at the kids coming through. I’ve been watching for the players who have gone to another level this season – Chris Lawrence is one.

“But there’s guys who’ve been in the system for three or four years who have not gone as far as I thought they would.”

As Time Sheens puts his players in the firing line, the players too are questioning the head coach. Regardless of appearances, it’s hardly the talk of a happy home.

Sheens’ stats read – since taking the 1994 grand final with Canberra, he has since only reached the NRL Finals once – with the 2005 Tigers fairytale.

Apparently when it came time to reappoint Sheens, some elements in the joint venture club were keen for new blood at the top to revive the mindset and feel.

Some Magpie-aligned directors pushed for John Dorahy to get a run at coach, but eventually were outvoted – Sheens getting 2 more years on his deal.

“Everyone at the club has to look at their performances,” he says. “I am not isolating myself from that.”

Again the blow torch turns on the Wests Tigers tonight. They have a tough task ahead, with players, coach and fans disgruntled – plus little if any money to run the broom through the place properly.

But for the disheartened, don’t worry – there is always 2005 to look back on.