Group 20 rugby league
IT'S the biggest game of the season but the Waratah Tigers have openly admitted concerns about their preparation for tomorrow night's blockbuster against Group 20 pacesetters West Wyalong at Exies Oval.
The 'Tahs haven't played for more than two weeks, following consecutive weekends off with the bye and then the competition break for the June long weekend.
Several of the club's key players took that fortnight as an opportunity to escape, with captain-coach Kose Lelei heading to Sydney and star fullback Johnny Teleaga returning to his native New Zealand to see his wife and six-year-old child.
Lelei and Teleaga only returned to Griffith late this week and may have a few cobwebs to blow out after an interrupted training schedule, club secretary Mark Jaffrey admitted.
"They really haven't trained," Jaffrey said.
"That's the one thing that still has been a worry for us - especially since we are prone to fadeouts in the second half.
"Those two weeks off are probably going to be a bit of a hindrance in the short term, but from now on, I think there's only one more bye.
"Hopefully we can build up again and get a run on."
The Waratahs trained on Wednesday and Thursday night in the lead-up to tomorrow night's encounter with the undefeated Mallee Men.
Lelei, Teleaga and the rest of the club's fab four - imposing forwards Mike Ioapo and Moahoni Lelei - are all set to start, and must start well if the Waratahs are to stand any chance.
Only Eddie Rauluni (broken wrist), Chris Tomi (knee) and Alex Litisoni (hamstring) are certain to miss out.
"This will probably give us an indication of where we're really at," Jaffrey said.
"West Wyalong have shown that realistically, they are the side to beat.
"Last year, I really expected them to win two (premierships) in a row but for whatever reason, it didn't eventuate.
"It looks like they've got their minds back on track this year, but playing at home is always an advantage – especially now that it’s starting to get a bit cold.”
West Wyalong captain-coach Rohan Loudon just wants more of the same from his team after a season-best performance against Yenda at the start of the month.
The Mallee Men were simply irresistable, claiming a resounding 56-0 victory at Ron Crowe Oval marked by the full first-grade return of Willy Jones, who scored a hat-trick.
“I don’t think we’ve ever kept Yenda to nil – not since I’ve been playing, because they’ve been so strong for so long,” Loudon said.
“Our defence was the most pleasing thing about it.”
The Mallee Men’s win was Jones’ second senior appearance of the year, following his cameo off the bench against the Bidgee Hurricanes in round six.
The classy centre has now recovered from a shoulder injury.
“We’ve really had makeshift centres all year and we’ve got away with it so far, but obviously Willy is going to be a big part of our side,” Loudon said.
West Wyalong’s Marty Lancaster is the only first-choice player sidelined through injury.
“The Waratahs seem to be going well,” Loudon said.
“They’ve got a big pack and they’re speedy out wide.
“Second phases are massive for them so we’ll try and get numbers in and stopping Mike and Enoch (Tia) from getting the offloads away to Johnny, Kose and those blokes.”