THE ultimate proof of how brutal a game rugby league is comes in the fact the replacement for 21-year-old Wests Tigers halfback Tim Moltzen, who will undergo a reconstruction of his left knee next week, is another 21-year-old - Blake Lazarus - who has already had two reconstructions of his left knee.
Lazarus, who probably would have played first grade before now had his development not been interrupted by tears of his anterior cruciate ligament, was last night named by coach Tim Sheens to make his first-grade debut against Canterbury at the SFS on Friday night. Moltzen is out for the season. The other player to have worn the number seven jumper for the Tigers this season - Robert Lui - remains out for another couple of weeks with an ankle injury.
The Tigers were running out of options, as Arana Taumata is also unavailable because of injury. Sheens could have moved the versatile Daniel Fitzhenry from wing to five-eighth, and Benji Marshall to halfback, or second-rower Liam Fulton to five-eighth, but decided to go with a specialist. Lazarus, the nephew of former Test prop Glenn Lazarus, has been in good form for Balmain Ryde in the NSW Cup.
Scan results yesterday confirmed Moltzen’s fate. He appeared at Tigers training at Concord Oval, and, as hard as it was, tried to find a bright side.
‘‘Look, it could be worse,’’ he said. ‘‘I could be never playing again. So I’ve got something to look forward to, I suppose, that’s next year. I’ll have the op on Tuesday and get into the rehab side of it.’’
Moltzen’s injury was a classic case of how major damage can occasionally be done innocuously on the field. His knee simply collapsed under him as he went in to make a tackle against North Queensland at Dairy Farmers Stadium on Saturday night.
‘‘It happened from nothing,’’ he said. ‘‘I just sort of popped up to brace myself to tackle little Shannon [Gallant, the Cowboys fullback] and, yeah, someone shot me and I was down. I was in a fair bit of pain, and I knew straight away that something wasn’t right. I went in to the dressing-room to see the doc, and got the news that it was probably a season-ending injury, so it was pretty hard to take at the time. I had a little sook to myself in the sheds.’’
Moltzen began the season at fullback, but moved to halfback after Lui got hurt. Winger Beau Ryan is playing fullback now. The Tigers have a growing injury toll, with second-rower Todd Payten also on it as a result of the game against the Cowboys. Props Keith Galloway and Jason Cayless are also on the injured list, while winger Taniela Tuiaki is out indefinitely.
Tigers captain Robbie Farah said that while the loss of Moltzen was ‘‘massive’’, at least the club was better positioned to cope than it has been in recent years.
‘‘He’s a player who has come a long way,’’ Farah said. '‘He’s a big part of our team, and I thought he was going to play rep footy this season. It isn’t easy to replace him, but while we wouldn’t have been able to cover for the loss of someone of Tim’s calibre in the past, we’ve got a bit of depth there this year.’