Former Premiership winning forward Mark O’Neill believes the Wests Tigers players are better now than when they won their maiden premiership with him in 2005.
The Wests Tigers head into Friday night’s semi-final against the Warriors at the Sydney Football Stadium on the back of a nine-match winning streak and O’Neill says the players he played with in the club’s only title win back in 2005 have improved dramatically since then.
“They are far better players today than six years ago,” O’Neill told NRL.com.
“You look at guys like Liam Fulton who is in career best form, he doesn’t get a lot of the raps in the back-row for the Tigers, because they tend to go to Chris Heighington and Gareth Ellis who are exceptional players.
“There is no doubt Heighington is a better player now than six years ago, Robbie Farah is another who has taken his game to another level.
“Benji Marshall is not only perhaps the Tigers best, he is arguably the game’s best. He was the golden boot winner last year. The consistency he has got in his game now is fantastic.
“All these guys were just pups a few years back with the exception of Todd Payten who has been at that consistent high level throughout his whole career.”
Confidence is high at the club with comparisons being drawn to their famous Premiership win in 2005. That year the Tigers put together a 10-match winning streak late in the season before losing the final two games of the regular season.
The current incarnation has won nine-in-a-row heading into the knock-out game with the Warriors.
O’Neill played 223 games for his beloved Tigers, making his debut for Balmain in 1994. But there is no question the memory of the ’05 Premiership is his fondest.
“It was the best day of my life up to that point,” he said.
“[It was] something I dreamed of as a kid, being a Balmain junior coming through and winning a Premiership with your childhood club, it was fantastic.
“Talent will take you to the top but the hard work keeps you there. We had the likes of Robbie Farah, Benji Marshall, Pat Richards and Scott Prince and all those guys back then; we had a lot of strike-power across the park.
“You have to be playing confidently, and that year we were, we had won 10-in-a-row, before losing the last two games of the season, but the first final, fourth v fifth, we played the Cowboys who we went on to beat in the Grand Final and we put 50 on them that night.
“We were very confident and our key players in key positions were all in great form.”
O’Neill can see the similarities between his Premiership winning side and the won playing now. He is adamant they will not be complacent heading into Friday night’s blockbuster.
“They are going to be up for the game,” he said.
“One of the key factors is confidence and they will certainly being going into the game with that.
“They played some big games last year, and whilst they did get beat in a couple of those games it was only by one point and it took the Premiers and Grand Finalists to beat them, so they will be very confident.”