It’s now or never, says Sheens - we’re ready
Glenn Jackson
September 9, 2011

‘‘IF THESE blokes don’t believe in themselves now, they’ll never believe in themselves.’’

With that, Wests Tigers coach Tim Sheens set the scene for a stirring first qualifying final, against St George Illawarra at ANZ Stadium tonight.

The match pits teams with not only different players but also different philosophies; the Tigers are the entertainers of the competition while the Dragons, the premiers, are clinically brutal, preferring to strangle the life out of their opponents rather than dazzle them to death.

Both sides are in form and generally produce a spectacle when they meet. And there is little between them: each has won four of their past eight encounters and there have been a total of just five points between them.

Their clash in the preliminary final last year resulted in a 13-12 win to the Dragons, who went on to claim the club’s first premiership, against the Roosters. Sheens was adamant last night: his squad had not only learnt from that experience but they had also grown from it.

‘‘We need to play with composure, and I believe we have played with composure [this season],’’ he said.

''There’s been a bit of flightiness but there’s also that X-factor that worries sides. There’s a balance.

There’s no doubt you have to have some football in you to win these games, but you also need to know when to unleash it.

‘‘We had some chances last year and we took them down to the wire. We were done by a point by a very good football team, who went on to win the grand final. There’s no disgrace in that.’’

The Tigers will take more out of their meeting with the Dragons in round 22 this year, which resulted in a two-point victory. ‘‘Our short-term memory is still one that’s full of confidence,’’ Sheens said. ‘‘And they were at their best then.’’

But Sheens said he considered that the Dragons were the toughest possible opponent for his side out of all the finalists, backing up star five-eighth Benji Marshall’s assertion early this week that Wayne Bennett’s side was ‘‘still No.1’’.

‘‘They’re the hardest side to play this weekend,’’ Sheens said. ''I don’t care what anyone says. Have a look at their roster. They’ve won their two to steady the ship. And they’ve got their full complement of players available.

''For us to win this game, it’s going to be a big effort. But it’s also going to be a major step in the right direction. And we’re not going to be overawed by the occasion.

‘‘We’re really enjoying the moment and we’ve worked hard to get here.’’

The Tigers have reached the finals despite losing their way midway through the season, as internal ructions surrounding the exit of a number of players threatened to ruin their year. Skipper Robbie Farah said the players always had the belief they would come good.

‘‘A couple of months ago we were struggling,’’ Farah said. ''If you said we were going to be in the top four, I’m sure a lot of people would have laughed at you, but we always had that belief in ourselves. I’ve always said, ‘judge us at the end of the year’. We’ve come good, we’re playing some good football.

''They went through a tough time, as we did in the middle part of the year. But class teams always bounce back. Form is temporary.

‘‘Every team goes through their rough patches. They’ve been good enough to get back into some form. Over the last couple of weeks, they’ve got back to somewhere near their old selves. This is going to be a big-crowd semi-final - and they’ve got a lot of semi-final experience. They know what it’s about and they’ll be up for it.’’

The Tigers were still sweating on the fitness of centre Chris Lawrence last night. He was named to make his return from a hamstring injury, and trained last night.

‘‘If he does play it’s a bonus,’’ Sheens said.