Tim Sheens spotted a gap in his side’s finals performance last season and knows what it will take to fill it, writes Greg Prichard.
Patience and awareness. Two things we would all like to think we have and two areas in which Wests Tigers need to improve if they are to develop from a team that threatens to go all the way to a team that does. And that comes from the man who knows the Tigers better than anyone - their coach, Tim Sheens.
Sheens agreed to sit down with the Herald and watch the closing 10 minutes of last season’s grand-final qualifier between the Tigers and St George Illawarra. So much happened in that period. It was a like a game on its own, starting with the two teams locked at 12-12 and producing the field goal that ultimately won the Dragons the game, 13-12.
The Tigers gave the Dragons easily the best run for their money of any of the three teams the eventual premiers met in the finals series, so it is not unreasonable to describe the desperate, final stages of the Dragons-Tigers clash as the 10 minutes that effectively decided the premiership.
That is what makes it so important for the Tigers, who open their season against Canterbury at ANZ Stadium tonight, to grasp what it is that can take them that extra step.Sheens does not cry over spilt milk or [censored] about things he can’t control. Like any coach worth his salt, he will occasionally seek to privately address refereeing issues with the NRL but he hasn’t won four premierships as a coach by wasting energy stewing over things.
Some key things went against the Tigers in those 10 minutes. A pathetic attempt at a play-the-ball by Dragons fullback Darius Boyd was allowed when it could have easily resulted in play being halted and the Tigers getting a scrum feed, and winger Lote Tuqiri was injured when hit by Dragons forward Jeremy Smith’s knees in a tackle. Smith was not penalised but was later charged by the league’s video review committee.
But those matters are for the Herald to note. Sheens is about working on what he can control, getting his team to learn from things that happened and focusing on the positives.
Tigers playmaker Benji Marshall put a clearing kick out on the full that gave the Dragons the good field position from which they started the set of six that ended with the match-winning field goal by five-eighth Jamie Soward. But only a fool would hold that against Marshall and Sheens is no fool. ‘‘What he was doing was right,’’ Sheens said. ‘‘His execution was just astray.’’
When the Tigers were at their most desperate, it was Marshall’s ability to weave in and out of traffic and then fire a long ball away that allowed the Tigers to raise one last crack at the Dragons, in a move that finished with winger Beau Ryan receiving the ball in space on the right.
‘‘That bit of free-flowing football in broken play is something that [Marshall] and the [Matt] Bowens and [Preston] Campbells and all of those sort of free-flowing, quick players thrive on and do so well,’’ Sheens said. ''They’re waiting for a hole to appear and when it does, they take it. You don’t try to take that out of their game.
‘‘Benji played a good structured game. I thought we played a very good game, given that we were well down in the penalty count in the first 15 to 20 minutes. That took a bit of sting out of us later in the game. I was disappointed with a few of the calls that went against us but we still had our chance to win the game. Losing Lote didn’t help but we needed to execute a bit better in the last 10 minutes.’’
It was early in the set of six with 30 seconds on the clock when Ryan kicked the ball infield. The Dragons killed the ball and the clock from there. Had Ryan taken the tackle, the Tigers would have been left with a couple more plays.
Sheens said it would have been difficult for any player trying to keep mental time while the play spread from his side of the field to the other and then back again before he got the ball, as was the case with Ryan. But it is ultimately the best example of what the Tigers need to learn from.
‘‘You’ve got to have an awareness about you and you’ve got to be patient,’’ he said. ''I think the key thing the Dragons showed was patience. They put the ball into touch for that scrum near the end and they took the field goal before that. In the last 10 minutes, they kept putting it down on to our goal line, making us work 100 metres to get to theirs.
‘‘The referee had put the whistle away as far as penalties were concerned so you have to play with poise and patience.’’
Sheens says that while the more attack-natured Tigers had a different style of play to the Dragons, there was no reason the Tigers could not match them - or any other team - for patience and awareness.
‘‘I think, in big games, you need to be able to play both,’’ he said. ''You need to have patience in your game and you certainly need to have the ability to take your chance when it comes.
''I think patience is something you can teach. Experience helps a lot, and those experiences, like the game against the Dragons, you would like to learn from. You look at it on video and you talk about it.
‘‘It’s about not panicking, so that if there is an opportunity there, you don’t miss it. The game against the Dragons was a crucial one in which we had the chance to make it to a grand final. For us to take it to another level this year, we have to learn from what happened in that last 10 minutes.’’