Group 20 rugby league
THE Griffith Waratah Tigers roared into genuine finals contention on Saturday night with a sensational 42-14 upset victory over Group 20 minor premier Leeton at Exies Oval.
In an opening round statement of intent, the 'Tahs returned to their brutal best, tossing aside an undermanned Greens outfit and running in eight tries to three.
Powerful prop Michael Ioapo was "unstoppable" up the middle, laying the platform for centre Solomone Filimoehala to score four tries, while halfback Chris Tomi crossed for a double in what club secretary Mark Jaffrey described as his best game since switching from the Black and Whites last season.
While Jaffery is keen to keep a lid on the Waratahs' newfound ability after an abysmal 2013 campaign, he told The Area News there is much more to come from the 10-time premiers this year.
"We haven't reached our full potential - I don't think we're fit and there's one or two that are still missing through injury or suspension," he said.
"It's a long season and Leeton, unfortunately, are not going to be a true indication as they've lost a bit of talent since last year.
"All you can do is beat the guys who turn up."
Winger John Lolohea and veteran forward Enoch Tia scored the Waratahs' other tries against a Greens side that was unrecognisable from the team that marched to top spot and a grand final appearance last year.
On top of its off-season departures, Leeton was missing Dave Stevens, Clint Halden, Shayne Roden and Billy Gilbert, while captain-coach Frankie Fiumara has been ruled out for the rest of the season with injury.
That made it, in many respects, the ideal circumstances for new captain-coach Kose Lelei's return to the black and gold.
Jaffrey said the leadership from the likes of Lelei, Tia, Ioapo and fullback Johnny Teleaga has helped bring out the best in last year's underachieving squad.
"The guys who were there have lifted," he said.
"All of a sudden they're a bit happy with Kose there - they know he's been there and done that and they're having a crack.
"We're pretty lucky to have had guys of that quality come into the club."
For the Greens, it was a rough night at the office and one that could set the tone for a lean season ahead.
After an MRI scan late last week, Fiumara was told he has a ruptered ACL in his knee and has also strained the medial ligament, sidelining him for up to 12 months and robbing Leeton of their best on-field leader.
Coaching from the sidelines on Saturday night, Fiumara tipped the Waratahs would become a bonafide premiership threat this year if they can perform consistently.
"I don't know what their depth is like but they could upset a few sides this year," he said.
"Their forwards carved us up the middle and they were dangerous out wide as well.
"They're hard to stop when they've got their tails up.
"Our first 10 minutes was pretty good but they broke the line a couple of times and when you play a side like that, they gain confidence from that.
"They were just too physical for us."