THE headlines may have centred on Lote Tuqiri’s comeback, but Wests Tigers coach Tim Sheens is more concerned about the threat posed by Manly’s big-game players, Brett Stewart and Anthony Watmough.
Fullback Stewart scored three tries when the Sea Eagles beat the Tigers 23-10 at Brookvale Oval in round five last season. Stewart did not play when the two teams met again in round 21 at the Sydney Football Stadium but, although the Tigers won 19-18 on that occasion, second-rower Watmough came up with one of the best individual performances of the season, dominating his team’s attack and scoring two tries.
Asked whether the Tigers would focus on pressuring 19-year-old Kieran Foran, who is succeeding Matt Orford as Sea Eagles halfback, Sheens replied: ''We’ll try to do it with Foran, and they’ll try to do it with [rookie Tigers halfback Robert] Lui. But with [Benji] Marshall and [Robbie] Farah in our side, Lui doesn’t have to play a leading role, whereas young Foran is expected to play a leading role at No.7.
''But I’m not worried too much about picking on him. We’re really focusing on making sure Brett Stewart doesn’t score three tries against us, that sort of thing. Stewart and Watmough have been the two danger people against us, and that’s not disregarding anyone else in the team. Stewart regularly gets his season started with us, particularly at Brookvale. He’s a class player, and he scores plenty of points against other people, too.
‘‘I’m not going to labour on that point too much, other than to say the two key players for them who seem to play well against us - either because of the style of game they play, or the type of people they are, or because they feel confident against us - are Watmough and Stewart, so we’re going to have to really make sure we put plenty of emphasis on shutting them down, or limiting their opportunities as much as we can. That’s part of the game plan, defensively.’’
Stewart didn’t play a lot of football last year because of a knee injury, and he still has sexual assault charges hanging over his head, but that didn’t make Sheens any less wary of his ability to hurt the Tigers.
‘‘He’s still got a bit of a dicky knee and other issues, so he’s got his own concerns, I suppose, mentally and physically,’’ he said. ‘‘But we’ve all seen what he can do on the football field.’’
Sheens said Newcastle’s shock win against the Bulldogs on Saturday served as a timely reminder for his players that anything could happen in this even competition.
‘‘It’s indicative of what we’re going to get all year,’’ he said. '‘People saying you’re going to win and you don’t, and people saying you can’t win and you do. That’s been an element of footy for a long time, but even more so these days. Tomorrow night, for us, is about making sure we start with plenty of energy.’
By Gregg Pritchard
Tigers talk up Tuqiri factor as frequent flyer lands for Sea Eagles clashLOTE TUQIRI’S Wests Tigers teammates aren’t expecting him to be nailed to the sideline in a safety-first bid to ensure a mistake-free comeback to rugby league tonight.
They expect the dual international to have pre-match jitters after an eight-year absence from league, but believe he will aim to blow those away by seeking the ball early against Manly at the Sydney Football Stadium.
Asked at Tigers training yesterday if he expected to see Tuqiri venture in from the wing to try to get his feel for the game back as soon as possible, skipper Robbie Farah said: ''Yeah, I think so. He likes to get involved, and he wants to get his hands on the ball as much as he can.
‘‘I’m sure that in our half you’ll see him in there around the ruck as an extra forward, and in their half hopefully on the wing scoring a few tries for us.’’
Tuqiri hasn’t been at the Tigers for long. He only flew in from England, where he had his final stint in rugby, on Wednesday. However, his presence has clearly boosted the confidence of a team that was already looking forward to this season.
‘‘I think he’s ready,’’ Farah said.
''I guess we’ll find out tomorrow night, but if I was the coach and I had Lote Tuqiri in my squad, there wouldn’t be any chance that I’d be resting him. He’s one of those players, you just get him out on the field. Put it this way: I’m sure Manly would rather he was not playing tomorrow night.
''He’s a pretty imposing figure, having him out there on the wing.
‘‘I can’t wait to get him out there tomorrow. I know he’s going to be nervous, but nerves are sometimes a good thing. I’m sure you’ll see the best of him.’’
There has been speculation that, despite being named in the team, Tuqiri might be rested. But after three training sessions with the side, he is considered ready for deployment against the Sea Eagles, and the only way that would change is if at some stage today he told coach Tim Sheens he didn’t feel right to go after all.
‘‘He was really pleased after the session we did at Leichhardt Oval on Friday night,’’ Sheens said.
''Unless something goes backwards from here, he’s playing.
‘‘We’ll make a final decision tomorrow morning based on how he comes through after today’s session and how he feels mentally and physically, but right now he’s playing.’’
Tuqiri and his teammates got through yesterday’s session, which was conducted at the match venue, without a problem.
‘‘People have been saying he’s only got four days to get ready after coming in on a long flight, but it’s really about six days when you consider he came in on Wednesday morning and we play Monday night,’’ Sheens said.
''It’s more about understanding the plays, and the defensive patterns, and his positional play that he’s got to come to terms with.
''His physical condition isn’t an issue - he’s been playing in England.
''People say ‘oh, it’s rugby, he doesn’t have to do much’, but he’s still playing and he got through 14 or 15 games over there.
''That’s match conditioning, no matter which game you’re playing.
''As far as his flight was concerned, it was in first class.
''It wasn’t cattle class. I think he came home in pretty good shape. ‘’
Farah said he and fellow Tigers playmaker, five-eighth Benji Marshall, had not worked on any special moves with Tuqiri at this stage, but did not expect that to stop him from making an impact.
‘‘I’m sure that, over the year, we’ll work on some combinations there,’’ Farah said.
''But hopefully instinct will bring out the best in him tomorrow night.
‘‘He’s a pretty instinctive player, so I’m sure he’ll pop up in the right place at the right time.’’
By Gregg Pritchard
SourceDavid ‘Wolfman’ Williams prepares to take on Lote Tuqiri in Wests Tigers v Manly NRL matchHE IS big, strong, fast, a former Test winger and a genuine crowd-pleaser. He will play on the wing tonight when Wests Tigers tackle Manly in front of 20,000 fans at the Sydney Football Stadium. But, no, it isn’t Lote Tuqiri.
We are talking about the “other” winger this evening, the forgotten flanker called David “Wolfman” Williams, who could rightly be saying: “Hey, don’t forget me.”
Williams will mark-up one-on-one on Tuqiri, who has received an enormous amount of pre-game publicity since flying in from England last Wednesday.
Sitting back quietly watching and listening to the hype has been Williams, himself a player who can match it with the world’s best.
Williams is long-time fan of Tuqiri but sentiment and history will count for little when the two teams come together at 7.30pm.
“I watched him play when I was a kid growing up,” said Williams. “He is big, fast and strong. I consider it a real challenge opposing Lote.”
Tuqiri is unfazed by talk Manly will target his left side this evening. In fact, the former Bronco and Wallaby wants the Sea Eagles to pressure him.
Tuqiri made Manly bristle last week when he claimed that he did not know who the Sea Eagles’ wingers were.
Asked was he offended, Williams said: "No, I don’t take any offence. Lote has played a different game for seven years.
"He wouldn’t know that ‘Robbo’ [Michael Robertson] and myself are the Manly wingers.
"I’m not worried about that.
"Lote will add a lot to the Wests Tigers.
“They love to throw the ball around and I know I’ll have to be at my best to contain him.”
Manly’s chances might rest with rising halfback Kieran Foran, who has replaced former skipper and Dally M Medal winner Matt Orford.
Foran is tough, willing and about to announce a new four-year deal with the Sea Eagles.
“Kieran is lucky to have a guy like Jamie Lyon outside him [at five-eighth],” Williams said.
“Jamie is very experienced and will be an enormous help.”
Manly have no late changes. Recruit Joe Galuvao is still unavailable after being concussed in a trial match against the New Zealand Warriors in Auckland.
Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler has named winger Tony Williams at centre.
Williams has a massive frame and can be highly destructive, but he is also inconsistent.
Williams, though, is searching to play regular - and consistent - footy in 2010.
“It was a disappointing season last year and it wasn’t helped with injuries,” Williams said.
"I am starting from scratch now and hopefully will have a big year. I want to try and play harder and do that as much as I possibly can this year.
“I’m against Chris Lawrence and he’s really a fast player. I have to adapt to that. It’s a privilege for me to get a start.”
Williams will play centre with Ben Farrar out injured. He has a pectoral issue and is not due back until round three.
Wests Tigers start favourites with TAB Sportsbet although Manly fans are rushing to back their side tonight.
There have been question marks over Wests Tigers halfback Robert Lui.
Benji Marshall has huge wraps on Lui but the halfback is yet to cement his place in the NRL.
Manly boast a handy bench that includes rep props Brent Kite and George Rose.
The Tigers won’t announce until this evening whether Tuqiri will play tonight, but if he does it will be his 100th NRL match.
Earlier this week, Tuqiri admitted he never thought he would be notching up triple figures in the NRL after switching to rugby union after the 2002 season.
The dual international is expected to need a settling-in period after being out of the game for so long and he’s still finding his feet after returning to Australia from London.
Tuqiri’s new teammate Keith Galloway is adamant the 30-year-old will be a sensation in the gold, black and white.
“It’s awesome - he’s a great player,” Galloway said.
By Dean Ritchie