South Sydney’s fearsome pack should be licking their lips at the thought of facing Wests Tigers’ struggling forwards, but Michael Crocker is refusing to write off their young NRL front-rowers.
Tim Sheens’ side go into Sunday’s clash at the SCG smarting from three successive losses, with props Aaron Woods, 21, and Matt Groat, 20, learning about life in the NRL the hard way.
So the last thing Sheens needs is the prospect of stopping Crocker, Sam Burgess, Roy Asotasi and Dave Taylor, smarting from being dropped to the bench.
Woods and Groat have come up against representative front-rowers Jason King, Brent Kite, David Shillington, Brett White and Michael Weyman in their past three games and really struggled.
However, Crocker, who made his debut for Sydney Roosters at a similar age, believes Sheens is too long in the tooth to expose players to first grade if they’re not up to scratch.
“If the coach thinks they’re ready then they are,” Crocker said.
“But it’s unusual to see such young front-rowers.”
Despite Woods’ recent worries, he has a big fan in the former Queensland star.
“I was impressed with young Woods last year. He’s got very good footwork for a young kid,” Crocker said.
“It’s just a matter of getting his fitness right, building his confidence and he’ll have a long career.”
Burgess refused to admit he was looking forward to the opportunity of facing a Tigers pack weakened further by the loss of skipper Robbie Farah and senior prop Keith Galloway.
However, the England international said Canberra’s 30-16 success over the Tigers on Monday gives Souths food for thought.
“I didn’t see much of the Canberra game, but from what I heard the big guys went OK,” Burgess said.
“We’ll sit down as a team, watch some video and work out where is best to attack them.
“Robbie is a big loss for them as he links up well with Benji and Keith Galloway gives them a lot of go-forward. But they still have the weapons to hurt us elsewhere.”
It wasn’t supposed to be like this for the Tigers.
Beaten semi-finalists last year, the arrival of New Zealand forward Adam Blair was supposed to be the final part of the jigsaw as they assumed the mantle of premiership favourites.
However, after four rounds of the season, only a hapless Parramatta side that’s being labelled one of the worst in the club’s history are below them on the ladder.
Sheens remained bullish after the loss to Canberra, claiming the side have experienced poor runs before and will come good.
Sheens will also know that winning the comp after losing three of their first four games is not an insurmountable task, with the Roosters recovering from a similar start to claim the 2002 grand final.
However, the veteran coach knows his pack must start performing.
Sheens bemoaned the 9-3 penalty count against his against the Raiders, but was forced to concede indiscipline was a problem.
Woods has been one of the worst offenders, being caught offside four times in the past two matches.
Sheens said he needs to work on the issues affecting his side.
“You’ve got to be able to defend and discipline has been an issue,” he said.
“Being down 9-3 this week and 8-3 last week makes it really hard for us.
“But you’ve got to keep working at it. We’re a close group here.”