Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
3 days ago
Benji Marshall has played 2nd fiddle to the genius of Darren Lockyer twice this year, but Wests Tigers skipper Scott Prince doesn't believe the Kiwi youngster will be overawed facing the Broncos five-eighth in Sunday's NRL semifinal.
Lockyer's teams have walked away victors on the two occasions the superstar five-eighths have clashed this season - firstly in Australia's 32-16 ANZAC test win over New Zealand, and more recently in Brisbane's 40-22 victory in June.
Marshall outscored Lockyer two tries to one in that last clash, and Prince was not expecting his halves partner to take a backwards step when round three gets underway at Aussie Stadium.
"Benji's not overawed by anything," Prince said today. "He's very confident which is good and it shows the way he plays his game."
Prince said 20-year-old Marshall had begun to tame his prodigious talent with patience.
"Last week Benji played very patiently," he said. "As he plays more games he'll understand the game a lot more.
"In games when he hasn't played that well he's not patient with his selection of pass.
"When Benji starts to learn his patience he can be one of the best players in the NRL."
The Tigers won't get a better opportunity to test the experienced Broncos and extend their fairytale ride into a preliminary final showdown against St George Illawarra.
Brisbane have lost six games in succession, including last Saturday's qualifying final against the Melbourne Storm, and Lockyer is playing only his second game since returning from injury.
After losing to the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium in June the Tigers bounced back to record eight straight wins, and come into the clash off a 50-6 demolition of the North Queensland Cowboys last Friday.
On top of that, the Tigers are the only Sydney club in action this weekend and the joint venture between premiership battlers Balmain and Western Suburbs carries an underdog tag that will find a soft spot with plenty of Sydneysiders.
Speculation this week has centred on whether the smaller and less experienced Tigers forwards will be able to match it with a Broncos pack dripping with finals, Origin and test experience.
But Prince said his forwards had proven themselves against the Cowboys big men last weekend.
"I just think (we need to be) applying the same effort and the attitude as we did against the Cowboys," he said. "The Cowboys forward pack is a reasonable size as well.
"It's very important from our point of view that our forwards hunt together as a pack and get numbers in tackles and really try to slow the play-the-ball down."
It may have been a sign when the Tigers forwards broke their tackle bag off its swing at training today, even with rugged prop John Skandalis' right thigh heavily strapped.
"They had a picture of Shane Webcke's face on it and they just pulled it down," Prince joked.
The skipper said he expected the Broncos to try and dominate the middle of the ruck, but the Tigers would not be changing the flamboyant game, styled largely around Marshall's brilliance, that has got them to week two of the finals.
"We've played that game all year and we're certainly not going to change anything."
Coach Tim Sheens said his side was nursing a few "bumps and bruises" and he would finalise his line-up on Saturday, with prop Todd Payten, who trained on Thursday, a possible late inclusion.