A more calculating Benji can again lead his unfancied side to title decider
September 19, 2010
ON the eve of the Wests Tigers’ 2005 preliminary final against the seemingly unstoppable St George Illawarra, Robbie Farah wrote a poem that encapsulated the rawness - and innocence - of a youthful team that had captured the league world’s attention.
‘‘Too young and too small, no one gave us a chance,’’ the then 21-year-old Farah wrote. ‘‘They’ve all changed their minds now, 80 minutes from our grand final dance.’’
Farah danced and screamed after the Tigers beat the Dragons 20-12. Five years on, and with the two teams facing off in another preliminary final, veteran prop John Skandalis has suggested Farah uses the maturity and menace of Benji Marshall as the next poem’s theme.
Skandalis, who will train as a shadow player, pinpointed Marshall’s ascent from helter-skelter excitement machine to calculating pivot, as the major difference between the Tigers of 2005 and now.
‘‘Benji is more experienced, he’s learned to grind out some of our great wins,’’ Skandalis said.
‘‘He’s pulled the flair in just a little bit, and while I don’t want to sound like I’m taking anything away from him because he’s a great player, it’s been good for the team.’’
St George Illawarra are again raging favourites, but they’ll face a Tigers team that, on paper at least, is much stronger than 2005 with four internationals, Benji Marshall (NZ), Farah, Lote Tuqiri (Australia) and Gareth Ellis (England) playing.
They also have seven players who played in that preliminary final, eight if you include Skandalis.
The Dragons have five players from the team that self-destructed at the SFS, yet they again cart the weight of expectation. They inherited the ‘favourites’ tag when Melbourne were stripped of their premiership points and there’s been stages when their right to that title - even by default - was questioned.
It’s reasonable to question too whether they’re a better outfit than Nathan Brown’s team when they boasted six Australian players - Trent Barrett, Jason Ryles, Shaun Timmins, Mark Gasnier and Matt Cooper - at the peak of their powers.
Our tip: Wests Tigers to win by 7