The Wests Tigers’ big guns have wasted no time in heaping the pressure on a St George Illawarra side desperate to shake off the “chokers” tag ahead of Saturday night’s blockbuster NRL preliminary final.
As tickets went out the door faster than for last year’s Canterbury-Parramatta match attended by nearly 75,000 fans, Benji Marshall and Lote Tuqiri went on the attack in the pre-game psychological battle with the Dragons.
“They’re a tough side and I suppose they’re going to have all the expectation on them to beat us and all the pressure’s on them,” Marshall told reporters on Monday.
“I like it, I like being the underdog, it’s nice, just slip under the radar and just go quietly.”
But the Tigers weren’t going quietly as dual international Tuqiri added his wealth of pre-finals experience to the massive build-up.
“The pressure’s on them to keep performing,” he said.
“It’s not like we don’t have anything to lose, but we finished third, they finished first, they’ve got the pressure on them to play well and keep that defensive record up.
“Hopefully our crowd and everything else, a good crowd at ANZ, will put a bit of pressure on them as well.”
A computer glitch on Monday probably boosted sales to 15,000 as non-members were accidentally given on-line access to tickets reserved for club members.
Sales were temporarily suspended while that was fixed and the public can buy tickets from Tuesday.
Only 12,500 were sold on the same day for the Bulldogs-Eels showdown last year.
Dragons lock Dean Young dismissed the suggestion his side would feel the pinch after failed preliminary finals in 2005 – against the Tigers – and 2006, and then crashing out of last year’s play-offs after finishing minor premiers.
“I wouldn’t say extra pressure, I think it’s pressure each week, it’s pressure playing in the red V and everyone’s under the same amount of pressure now because there’s four teams left,” he said.
“If you lose you’re out and if you win you’re in the big one so the pressure is the same for the four teams left.”
The Tigers were also busy sowing the seeds of doubt in Dragon minds about whether the week off is an advantage.
“Who knows what the week off might have done for them?” Marshall pondered.
“They’ll be fresh and ready to go but the first 20 (minutes) we’ll see.
“When you lose the match fitness for a week it’s a bit different when you come back to play the first 20.”
Marshall is in rare form but said he was just glad to at last be injury-free and playing finals football again.
“I’m not really feeling any expectation or any pressure,” he said.
“I’m just going to play my game and hopefully that will take care of itself.”
And that, if nothing else is, is one thing that is worrying the Dragons.
“Obviously everyone has seen what Benji can do but that doesn’t mean you know how to defend it,” Dragons winger Jason Nightingale said.
“You never know exactly what he’s going to come up with, he obviously sticks to the game-plan but sometimes that can go a bit off course and damage can be done.
“So obviously we’ll just have to be on our toes, there’s nothing you can really do to plan for exactly what Benji Marshall’s going to do.”
Buford Balony says: There’s no maybe about it, the Dragons will choke & the Tigers will win the Grand Final.