WESTS Tigers veteran prop Todd Payten hailed Gareth Ellis as the best player he has ever played with after the English backrower defied the pain barrier to help his side beat Canberra on Friday.
Ellis was in grave doubt to face the Raiders due to a back injury, but after spending most of the week in a hyperbaric chamber, the 29-year-old scored a try and produced a fine performance in the 26-24 NRL semi-final victory.
The Tigers will now meet St George Illawarra for a place in the grand final next Saturday and Payten, who is also battling knee and toe injuries, said Ellis is an inspiration to the rest of the team.
“I couldn’t believe that he played actually. He’s the toughest player I’ve ever played with easy,” Payten said.
“He had two bulging discs last week so to play is amazing. He’s the best player I’ve ever played with. He’s just so tough … I look up to him.”
Payten was also doubtful for the game and the 31-year admitted he will be unable to train again this week ahead of the clash with the minor premiers.
“I didn’t really know [if I’d play] until game day because I didn’t run all week. Once I got the needle I could run, so once I get that it’s all good,” he said.
“I’m struggling to walk so I probably won’t train I guess until game day again, but she’ll be right.”
Ellis, who is aiming to become the first Englishman since Sydney Roosters enforcer Adrian Morley in 2002 to win a grand final, may return to the hyperbaric chamber this week ahead of the Dragons clash.
“It worked well … there’s no harm in doing it,” Ellis said.
“It’s something that you don’t really feel any benefits from doing it but if it’s working it’s working. It’s that time of year now where you’ve got to tick all the boxes, do all the right things.”
Ellis conceded the Tigers would need to raise their game against Wayne Bennett’s side if they are to repeat their 2005 win over the Dragons at the same stage of the season.
“It was always going to be difficult against Canberra yet we still created chances and we still had those moments where we were the typical Tigers with just a few lapses in concentration,” he said.
“But it was a few one-on-one tackles, things that can be fixed up, no major structural things.
“We’ll have to get better, the Dragons are an outstanding team and we’ll definitely have to improve to progress in the competition.”
Buford Balony says: Best Englishman to ever play in Australia.