Wests Tigers coach Tim Sheens and Eels coach Daniel Anderson play mind games ahead of big match
By Josh Massoud From: The Daily Telegraph August 19, 2009 12:00AM
MIND games have heralded the early arrival of finals football, with Parramatta and Wests Tigers leaving each other guessing over the selection of star players for Friday night’s NRL blockbuster.
The Eels were first to strike yesterday, with suggestions superstar Feleti Mateo could make a surprise appearance at the SFS - even though he was selected to make his long-awaited comeback with NSW Cup feeder side Wentworthville.
Eels insiders claimed the devastating lock was “a big chance” of sneaking into the crucial NRL shootout.
But wily Tigers coach Tim Sheens refused to enter into speculation over Mateo’s availability, and instead let loose some ducks and drakes of his own by casting doubts over the fitness of star trio Keith Galloway, Taniela Tuiaki and Beau Ryan.
After tearing his biceps against Manly in round 10, the super talented Mateo received a medical clearance to resume playing three weeks ago, but a combination of Parramatta’s dynamite form and concerns over his match fitness prevented the Tongan torpedo from regaining his spot.
Daily Telegraph has also learned that Parramatta’s 2010 salary cap benefited from Mateo’s extended absence.
The NRL grants clubs a cap exemption for match payments to substitutes who cover for topliners with long term injuries.
Clubs qualify for the exemption once a player misses 12 games, with Mateo becoming eligible after he endured another football free round last weekend.
Mateo has spent the past fortnight on standby to replace Fuifui Moimoi, who bravely started the past two matches with a medial ligament tear in his right knee. While Moimoi is considered a definite starter on Friday night, an Eels insider said Mateo would likely start on the bench in place of rookie forward Jeremy Latimore.
“There’s been a few concerns over Feleti’s match fitness because he hasn’t played any football for so long,” the insider said.
"A few of the guys who have been out for a while like Kris Keating (broken jaw) have played for Wentworthville, but Feleti’s been on standby for first grade and hasn’t had a game yet.
"But Feleti did an endurance test this week and ticked all the boxes, so he’s ready to go.
“There’s a good chance he’ll be back this week on the bench. It’s a massive game and he’s one of our top players. But it’s also a hard call because the team has played so well winning five games straight and all those players deserve their spots.”
Eels’ coach Daniel Anderson did not return calls last night. It’s understood Mateo will be told tomorrow whether he is playing before a 30,000 plus crowd at Moore Park or a handful of punters at a suburban oval.
Sheens was similarly coy over the nature of injuries to Galloway, Tuiaki and Ryan.
“I’m not too concerned with what grade Feleti Mateo will play, because we’ve got our own things to worry about here,” Sheens said.
“I’ve got three players carrying injuries and we will have our hands full looking at them.”
Asked who the players were, Sheens replied: “Our two wingers and the young prop, Galloway.”
Asked what injuries they were carrying, he answered: “I don’t want to say I’ve already had to rule out John Skandalis, so we’ve got a bit on our plate at the moment.”