Tedesco v Barba a dream match-up
Fri 01 Apr, 2016, 6:00pm
By Martin Gabor, National Correspondent , NRL.com
Saturday night’s showdown between the Tigers and Sharks will be full of salivating storylines, from Robbie Farah v Michael Ennis and Aaron Woods v Andrew Fifita, to Cronulla’s brick-wall defence up against the black and gold’s scintillating attack
But the evening’s main event will undoubtedly be between James Tedesco and Ben Barba – two of the competition’s in-form fullbacks who have both been garnering plenty of State of Origin support.
For Tigers backrower Chris Lawrence, trying to stop Barba will be one of the keys to trying to contain the visitors.
“He’s really come back into some of the form that he showed a couple of years back,” Lawrence said of the Sharks No.1.
"He’s always been a dangerous player, and he’s the type of player that you don’t want to give an inch of space, because he can run the length of the field which he showed on the weekend.
“He’s definitely someone we’ll need to stop if we’re going to get the win.”
Barba was back to his brilliant best in Monday night’s win over the Storm, his game highlighted by a 50-metre solo effort that saw him slice straight through the heart of the defence.
Lawrence said it’s that sort of room that the Tigers must not allow. Shutting down Cronulla’s imposing pack – which will include a fit-again Paul Gallen – will be crucial.
“That sort of space and go-forward is created by the forwards, so we have to try to nullify the space that Ben Barba’s in by limiting their forwards and trying to stop them up the middle,” Lawrence said.
“But in saying that, he’s such a dangerous player and they’ve got plenty of dangerous outside backs, so if they get a sniff then I’m sure they’ll make their presence known as well.”
While it won’t be an easy task trying to shut down Barba, the Tigers know they have their own star fullback to call upon should they need some inspiration.
James Tedesco has been one of the game’s best in 2016, scoring an NRL-high five tries, making a competition-best 29 tackle breaks, and saving three tries as well.
And it’s that desperate defence that has his teammates smiling from ear to ear. Tigers centre Kevin Naiqama has been the beneficiary of some of Tedesco’s genius in attack, but it’s what his fullback has done without the ball that has been most telling.
“When he’s saving tries, it definitely lifts the team,” Naiqama said.
"You see when he’s making tackles that the team gets around him straight away. When he’s doing stuff like that, it makes you want to do something as well. It brings something out of you to make you want to do something for the team.
"When he’s doing special efforts like that he’s getting a lot of respect from the team because he’s definitely putting the team first by putting his body on the line.
“If he’s not playing Origin then he’s definitely slamming the door down. I don’t know what else he can do to get picked in the team.”
Fellow teammate Robbie Farah knows a thing or two about State of Origin, but was slightly more cautious about his predictions for his fullback’s future.
“His performances will speak for themselves. If he keeps playing the way he is then it won’t matter what I say or what anyone else says,” the NSW No.9 said.
“He’s going great, but we’re still another seven or eight weeks away [from Origin]. He needs to keep playing well and keep producing what he’s doing. And if he does, it’ll make it very hard for them not to pick him.”