Group 20 rugby league
THE Griffith Waratah Tigers aren’t hiding their ambition on the eve of the Group 20 season with president Ken Wells declaring finals are not out of reach this year.
The ‘Tahs open their season at Exies Oval tomorrow night against minor premier Leeton and will fancy their chances of starting the new campaign by claiming one of the competition’s biggest scalps.
Wells declared new captain-coach Kose Lelei and fellow recruits Moahoni Lelei, Michael Ioapo and Johnny Teleaga are ready to lead the way as the 10-time premiers seek to put a disastrous 2013 season behind them.
“Barring injury I think we can be very competitive with the top teams,” Wells told The Area News.
“The four new boys we’ve got will help with that. The enthusiasm’s there to improve it as well.
“They’re all training well as a team and the club’s looking quite good at the moment.”
Even Greens captain-coach Frankie Fiumara is wary of what the big-bodied Waratahs might be capable of this year.
“They do look very big,” he said.
“It’s going to be a strange game – we’ve got to have a plan and I’ve got a few things in mind that will hopefully help us come up trumps.
“Obviously we’ve got to slow them right down, because big boys don’t like that – they get frustrated.
It’s a stark contrast to the low esteem the ’Tahs were held in just a few months ago, when they finished the season with just one win and 15 embarrassing defeats.
Now they are considered a team on the rise and a genuine top-five contender in a competition that has strengthened across the board.
Much of the turnaround can be credited to the arrival of Lelei, a former junior at the club who has returned after spending time with four NRL clubs to steer what was previously a rudderless ship.
“I played against him when he was younger. He was a very, very good player back then,” Fiumara said.
“We’ve just got to get in his face and cut his time on the ball down.”
In a boost for Leeton, Lelei’s likely halves partner Luke Farmer won’t take any part in tomorrow night’s clash due to a lingering ankle injury that dates back to before the Paul Kelly Memorial Shield.
The Waratahs will also be without Viliami Ngu, who is suspended for the next three games.
But the Greens are also likely to be just as depleted with Fiumara to be restricted to sideline coaching duties because of a knee injury.
Fiumara feared the worst when he went down in a trial match against Albury last weekend but has been informed by doctors he will only be out for two to three weeks.
He said he was happy his Leeton side has flown under the radar this pre-season, with the Greens written off in some quarters after losing a handful of stars including Chris Latu from last year’s squad.
“And that’s good. I want to keep it like that,” Fiumara said.
“We’ve lost people before and still recovered so there’s no reason why we can’t do that again.”