Tigers v Dragons: this is the one we’ve been waiting for
September 19, 2010
I love watching the Wests Tigers. The skill, unpredictability, excitement and emotion – it seems that every time this team plays football, there’s a different story to be told.
When you go to the video store to hire a movie, they sort them into groupings of action, drama, thriller, comedy, educational, R-rated, fiction, non-fiction, documentary and new releases.
I bet you could find a Wests Tigers DVD in every one of these categories. I love them because every time I think I know what I’m going to get, they find a new way to entertain.
Regular viewers of Channel Nine’s rugby league coverage certainly agree. Television ratings confirm this is the most popular team in the NRL when it comes to lounge-room entertainment.
Their magnificent semi-final victory against Canberra on Friday night averaged just over 600,000 viewers with a peak audience nudging 800,000.
To give you a comparison, last week’s epic match between the Roosters and the Tigers averaged around 500,000 viewers with a peak audience of 700,000. The further the Tigers go, the more people jump aboard.
I also love watching St George Illawarra – but for completely different reasons. When the Dragons play there are no surprises; you know exactly what you are going to get.
They take an old-fashioned, no-frills approach to getting the job done. No team has done it better this season.
I love their defence. I admire their discipline. I really appreciate the mental and physical toughness it takes to play your football this way every week of the year. This is a team that would make a coach proud.
It goes without saying, therefore, that next Saturday night’s preliminary final between the Dragons and the Tigers will be a clash of two very different styles.
The Dragons are the most consistent team in the premiership, with a defensive system that defies all-comers. They are up against the Tigers, the team that believes it can destroy any defence any time.
The different styles of the two teams are even more intriguing when you consider they are coached by the two most experienced coaches in rugby league history.
Wests Tigers coach Tim Sheens has coached 618 premiership matches and Dragons coach Wayne Bennett is close behind at 605.
It’s remarkable to think these two men have come so far but their present-day teams play the game with vastly different mentalities.
Then again, maybe the differences are an indication of their great experience. Bennett coaches his players in a manner that best suits their skills. Likewise, Sheens has tapped into the talents and personalities of his men to determine their style.
Neither man is locked into a paradigm. Neither suffers the insecurity of having to copy other teams to make it look like they know what they are doing. They go with what they know; they trust their instincts.
Neither will admit to being master motivators. They downplay their role in the mind games. But don’t be fooled, my friends. Every look, every stare, every shake of the head, a smile, a pat on the head, a sharp rebuke – every step they take, every move they make, every word said or left unsaid has a purpose. They waste nothing. They influence – and they know it.
Prepared to the minute, these two master coaches will have their troops ready for battle and prepared to do whatever it takes to win. After all, there is no second prize.
For the NRL, this is a promoter’s dream. I expect the people of Sydney to rally. Last year at this time the all-Sydney final between the Bulldogs and the Eels attracted about 75,000 fans. I see no reason why this match should not eclipse that mark.
What Benji Marshall does for rugby league is priceless. You cannot put a figure on it. I don’t know what he earns from the game but I bet it isn’t anywhere near enough. I hope the game is looking after him.
The Raiders were courageous in defeat and no doubt disappointed to lose.
If Terry Campese hadn’t suffered that terrible knee injury at such a vital stage in the game, it might have been the Green Machine heading into next week’s final against the Dragons.
But that’s football.
I thought the Raiders’ captain, Alan Tongue, showed great maturity and leadership in his comments after the match.
He acknowledged they were gutted at the narrow loss and the fact that their season was now over.
"But there is so much to look forward to with this team,” he said.
Tongue talked of the youth and talent in his side and how this experience would play an important part in their development.
The skipper also made special mention of Jarrod Croker, the young man who missed the late penalty goal that could have levelled the match and sent us into golden-point extra time.
Tongue described Croker as a great kid and a great player who had kicked plenty of crucial goals for the Raiders during the season and would kick plenty more in the future. He said the young bloke would be shattered but shouldn’t be. Tongue predicted this was just the start of a great career for this talented centre.
I agree with him on both scores. This team is headed for great things. They have so much talent and are all so young that it’s a bit scary how good they will be in a few years if the club can afford to keep them all together. Their Toyota Cup team also won on Friday night, advancing into the preliminary final. So many talented kids. This club is a credit to the perseverance of management, the expertise of the coaching and the smarts of their junior recruitment team.
As soon as the first betting markets go up on next year’s premiership winner, I am taking the first price on offer for the Raiders.