Wests Tigers are perfectly positioned for an NRL premiership tilt in 2011, and they know it’s a chance they must seize.
Their preliminary finals finish last year provides valuable experience in the big games and they possess a talented and well balanced squad led by arguably the game’s best player, Benji Marshall.
The challenge for the Tigers is to cast the lofty predictions and expectations aside and make sure they get their hands dirty in the season proper.
“We’ve worked really hard to get to a point where we think we will make a noise this year, and we will … I believe we will,” said coach Tim Sheens.
"We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves and say `yeah, we’re ready to win the comp’.
“What we’re saying is we’re going to put ourselves in a position to win the comp.”
It would have taken some weeks for the Tigers to shake the nightmares of last year’s finals losses to the Roosters and Dragons from their minds.
But Sheens says the Tigers have put the disappointment of falling seconds short of beating both grand finalists behind them - and Marshall adjusted quicker than anyone.
He piloted the Kiwis to their Four Nations final triumph over Australia, and seemingly matured as a player in the process.
As with the Tigers season, Sheens is confident Marshall’s prospects are on the rise.
“I still think Benji’s best football is in his next five seasons,” said Sheens, who wants Marshall to improve his goalkicking success rate to 80 per cent.
“He’s nearly 26, he’s got enough games behind him now to understand the game, he’s physically mature, mentally mature.”
Sheens knows his two stars Marshall and Robbie Farah still have a tendency to push things too hard on attack on occasions.
He wants them to pull back a little, and has set his side the challenge of becoming `Dragons-like’ in not giving up back-to-back losses.
“Benji and Robbie have that want to win the game attitude and unfortunately that can sometimes lead to overplaying your hand a touch,” he said.
"What I’m looking for is you’re not trying to win the game on every play.
“The two kids are playing good footy, they’re both on the verge of big things I believe, and I’m pleased I’ve coached them and we’ve got them in our team.”
If there’s a position where the Tigers lack experienced back-up, it’s in the front row.
However, Sheens said if injury strikes front rowers Keith Galloway, Bryce Gibbs or Todd Payten, he’ll show faith in young bucks Andrew Fifita, Aaron Woods and 20s star Matt Groat.
Wests welcome back young star Tim Moltzen from a ruptured knee, and although Sheens isn’t sure whether to play him at halfback or fullback, the 22-year-old should add the icing to the Tigers’ attack.