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4 days ago
Wests Tigers coach Tim Sheens has spent the week downplaying it, but he must be secretly hoping returning stars Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah can provide the attacking spark needed to overcome a Newcastle defence which has kept the NRL's top two sides scoreless in the first half of their last two matches.
Sheens has been at pains to downplay the returns of underdone big guns Marshall and Farah from injury for Sunday's EnergyAustralia clash.
But he'll need the spark to come from somewhere after the enthusiastic Knights kept premiers Melbourne and competition high-flyers Gold Coast to zero in the first stanza of their last two games.
"That's (Knights coach) Brian Smith all over," Sheens said.
"He's got a big strong side so they make their one-on-one tackles, they don't require too many people to help them out.
"They've got a good pattern and they're obviously motivated after a lot of garbage that went around there last year.
"Brian's got them going in the right direction. I think everyone's talking about them being the real deal so in that regard they're showing plenty of courage".
Marshall is back from a knee injury while Farah returns from resting a back problem and will play his first game in six weeks.
"I think I'll be a little underdone obviously," Farah said.
"I've been training pretty hard but, no matter how much training you do, that first game back's always the toughest and I'm sure I'll be blowing out there.
"I'll just be happy to get close to 80 minutes under my belt."
It's definitely a case of "together at last" for the Tigers' attack troops.
The 2005 premiers are only considered a chance of repeating that feat if Marshall, Farah and fullback Brett Hodgson stay healthy, while fans salivate at the thought of the entertainment the trio could provide with some time on the park together.
"We haven't played together in a long time but hopefully we can string a few games together ... and I'm sure that the more games we get under our belt together we're going to be tough to beat," Farah said.
"We won't put too much pressure on ourselves this week. It's the first game back for me and Benji and we're both going to struggling at times with our fitness and I guess our timing in the game."
Sheens, too, is being cautious.
"The biggest mistake you make is counting on certain players to win you games," he said.
"These guys certainly add some direction to our game and some class but it could be another two or three weeks before they're really playing to where we'd want them to play."
The Knights will be without State of Origin representatives Danny Buderus and Ben Cross, while star fullback Kurt Gidley has been sidelined by a fractured cheekbone.
Michael Young is likely to be their hooker after Buderus' back-up Matt Hilder was suspended this week.
Former Test forward Steve Simpson will play his first game for the Knights since round one after recovering from a knee injury.