Size does matter for Tigers
Mon 22 Feb, 2016, 12:00pm
By Martin Gabor, National Correspondent, NRL.com
It’s been over a decade since the Wests Tigers won their sole NRL premiership, stunning the rugby league world with an unheralded and undersized pack.
Dene Halatau is one of two players from the grand final winning squad still at the club, but the utility forward refused to buy into claims that there were similarities between that team and today’s playing group.
The 33-year-old looked as fit as ever when speaking to NRL.com after training, prompting suggestions the Tigers would look to replicate their 2005 pack, which included smaller forwards Anthony Laffranchi, Liam Fulton and Ben Galea.
The 2016 back-row is likely to feature similarly dynamic players in Chris Lawrence, Curtis Sironen and Halatau himself.
“I think nearly every year there are rule changes that affect the way the game is played,” Halatau said of the new interpretations.
"Obviously the reduction in interchanges is going to mean, as you said, teams might opt for a smaller pack. But if you look around the Nines and that, you see there are still some pretty big boys running around.
“They [the bigger forwards] are fairly mobile now, so I think it’s more the way the guys are prepared and trained through the pre-season and maybe that sets them up more so than the makeup of the pack.”
Despite losing grunt up front in Keith Galloway and Martin Taupau, the Tigers have recruited well in the off-season, nabbing former Penrith and Souths forward Tim Grant.
“Tim’s slotted in great. He’s got a really good attitude to his training, and he’s very professional, and he loves to rip in. You know he doesn’t take any shortcuts,” Halatau told NRL.com.
"From what the boys are telling me on the field, he’s always 100 per cent in everything he does, which is all you can ask for from anyone in your team.
“His personality is really great, and he’s slotted in really well with the boys, so we’re going to enjoy having him around.”
The Tigers have added to their depth, signing Rod Griffin and Billy McConnachie from last year’s NRL State Championship winning Ipswich Jets.
“He’s a character, he’s always smiling,” Halatau said of the experienced PNG forward Griffin.
“Billy is a bit quieter, but he always rips in at training giving 100 per cent with everything that he does. He carries the ball strong and he tackles hard, so it’s sort of good to have that at training, pushing everyone along and being intense by training the way we want to play.”
The 2005 premiership-winner has been impressed by the younger guys coming through the club; none more so than former Eel Josh Aloiai.
“He had an injury that he came to the club with, and he worked his way through rehab and as soon as he got onto the training paddock, he looked like he hadn’t missed a beat,” the 226-game NRL veteran said.
“He’s got good hands, he’s strong, he’s fast and he’s got a pretty good engine, and he hits like a hammer.”
While the Tigers have teased their fans flashes of brilliance, the reality is they haven’t made the finals since 2011. The club won its first two matches last season, but managed just six more in 2015.
As one of the club’s elder statesman, Halatau knows the onus is on the leadership group to make the Tigers competitive each and every week.
“We’ve got to be more consistent,” Halatau lamented.
"It’s something we spoke about last year. We can really turn on a good game, but last year we sort of did that, and the next week we were really complacent and dropped away.
“We want to be able to keep our performances up there, and that’s a challenge when you’ve got a young squad.”