Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
3 days ago
Former Balmain greats Wayne Pearce and Ben Elias are backing the Wests Tigers' inexperienced forwards to get the better of Brisbane's ageing warriors.
The Tigers forwards head into Saturday night's first NRL semifinal against the Broncos under done in age and big-match experience against the oldest pack in the competition.
Four of the Broncos forwards are over 30, with 36-year-old backrower Darren Smith helping boost the average age to just a tick over 30, while they can also boast over 80 State of Origin matches and 50 tests between them.
Conversely the Tigers pack has only one 30-something, former skipper Mark O'Neill, and an average age of just over 25.
Young lock Dene Halatau is the only Tigers forward to have played representative football, having taken part in his second match for New Zealand in the Anzac test against Australia earlier this year.
But rather than look at the Tigers' inexperience as a negative, Elias said the Tigers' youth would be a major plus for the finals rookies.
"Youth is a beautiful thing," Elias said.
"The greatest resource in the world is youth. Our boys have been playing some phenomenal football, their first semifinal and they won by 50 points. You can't buy that experience."
Pearce was also of the view that the ageing Brisbane forwards couldroncos have got a lot of experience but with age also comes potential for lack of mobility," Pearce said.
"The Tigers have certainly got a more mobile pack, whether they've got the power and strength to contain the Brisbane roll-on remains to be seen."
Pearce said the Tigers learnt a lot about finals football in their 50-6 win over North Queensland last Friday night.
"They realised last week the way they've got to defend, and that is to ... use their mobility and relative lack of size in the forwards as far as rushing their defensive line.
"That was frustrating the Cowboys last week."
Broncos veteran Smith, the oldest player in the premiership, rejected the notion that the ageing Brisbane pack would falter in the finals.
"There's a lot of experience there in those forwards and I'm sure a lot of teams would like to have some of the forwards that the Broncos have," Smith said.
"I probably bring that age up a bit. Take me out of the equation we're probably a lot younger."
The Tigers will take the better form into the match, having won nine of their last 11 clashes, which included an eight-game winning streak over the closing rounds of the regular season.
The Broncos on the other hand will take a six-week losing streak into the game, a factor Elias said would be hard to overcome.
"I'm a big believer of enjoying yourself and I think our kids are enjoying themselves," Elias said.
"When you lose six in a row it's very hard to enjoy your football.
"When you lose a game, you come to training on Tuesday, you don't very much look forward to it.
"When you win a game you look forward to coming to training.
"They're under enormous pressure, we've got nothing to lose, no-one expected us to be here this weekend."
Pearce said he couldn't see the Broncos breaking their losing cycle this weekend.
"The Broncos, they're really out of form and relying heavily on Darren Lockyer," Pearce said.
"The whole team is just struggling to really get some momentum and they're down on confidence.
"If the Tigers start well I think they can go on with it."