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Sun-Herald

Irresistible force v irresistible force

Author: Greg Prichard
Date: 18/08/2002
Words: 896
          Publication: Sun Herald
Section: Sport
Page: 96
GORDEN TALLIS

Age: 29

First-grade games: 169 (54 for St George, 1992-95, 115 for Brisbane, 1997-2002)*.

Grand finals: 3 for Brisbane (Super League, 1997, NRL, 1998 and 2000), for three wins.

Representative games: 14 State of Origins for Queensland (1994-2002); 3 Tri-series for Queensland (1997); 6 Tests (1998-2002); 3 Super League Tests (1997); 5 World Cup games (2000).

Honours: Won Clive Churchill Medal in 1998 (best player in grand final).

* Tallis sat out the 1996 season over a contract dispute.

ALI LAUITI'ITI

Age: 23

First-grade games: First-grade games: 93 for Auckland Warriors and New Zealand Warriors (1998-2002).

Representative games: 4 Tests for New Zealand (2000-01), including 2 World Cup games in 2000.*

* Australia count Test and World Cup matches separately. New Zealand count them all as Tests

Source: NRL Stats

Gorden Tallis and heir apparent Ali Lauiti'iti go head-to-head today, Greg Prichard writes.

GORDEN Tallis is the man and Ali Lauiti'iti is the man's man. The best second-rower in the world and the second-rower he believes can be the best one day.

Tallis has come back from a career-threatening injury to be as great a force as he ever was for Brisbane, Queensland and Australia. Lauiti'iti has spent all season as a focal point for the New Zealand Warriors, monstering opponents who can't find a way to get him to the ground.

Today, they will be at Ericsson Stadium, Auckland, for one of the biggest games of the season, playing for second place.

The Broncos will be trying to rebound from a shock home loss to Sydney Roosters, while the Warriors are aiming to complete the old one-two by beating second-placed Brisbane after knocking over the competition-leading Bulldogs last weekend.

Even in a clash that will feature a host of the game's biggest stars, there is every chance that one big play from either Tallis or Lauiti'iti will make the difference. That's how much influence each has.

Tallis, 29, doesn't call himself the best second-rower in the world. He's too modest. He doesn't have to, anyway. Everyone knows he's the best. One of the reasons he's the best is that he recognises and respects quality elsewhere. It reminds him of how good he needs to be. He recognises it in Lauiti'iti.

``I love watching him play," Tallis says of Lauiti'iti. ``He's potentially the best second-rower in the world. He's great on his feet, he's got an offload and he's got speed.

``A lot of top second-rowers have one big thing going for them, but not many have all the things he's got going for him."

Lauiti'iti is pumped up for today. He judges himself on what he does against quality forward packs such as the Brisbane one that includes not only Tallis but fellow heavyweights Shane Webcke, Petero Civoniceva, Carl Webb and Dane Carlaw.

His captain, Warriors halfback Stacey Jones, says Lauiti'iti is ``different" before a game as big as this one.

``He knows the Broncos forwards will want to get stuck into him," Jones says. ``So he thinks hard about what he has to do to counter that.

``He won't say much but I can tell that deep down he really looks forward to playing against a guy like Tallis. He might say something at training like `oh, don't pass me the ball if Gorden's in front of me' with a bit of a laugh, but he means it as a mark of respect. Tallis is the player he respects the most."

Lauiti'iti, 23, is young enough to make mistakes as a result of over-excitement. He knows that because of ``all the media and hype" about the game today he has to be careful to ``keep a cool head". After watching Tallis for many years, he knows exactly what to expect.

``He's awesome. He's the best in the world," Lauiti'iti says. ``He's like a battering ram and he just goes hard. I watched him when I was a kid and he was playing for St George and he's been one of my favourite players ever since. He's one of the most dominating players around."

It will be fascinating to watch the two men try to exert their influence on the same field and on such a big occasion, close to the finals.

But, just as it is when two great halfbacks are opposed, don't expect them to come to grips with each other much.

``We'll be on opposite sides of the field most of the time," Tallis says. ``I attack on our left and defend on our left and he attacks on their left and defends on their left. So unless one of us suddenly finds himself on the other side after a run or whatever, or we both happen to drift into the centre, we won't be running into each other a lot."

That part of the game disturbs Bob McCarthy, one of history's great second-rowers and now a NSW and Australian selector.

``Players that good should have a free rein to go anywhere and try to whip the opposition while they're weak," McCarthy says. ``I watch Lauiti'iti and he stays on the left-hand side of the field.

``It's a coach's right to use a player that way, but I'm not big on it. I would have liked to have seen someone try to tell Arthur Beetson to play on only one side of the field."

McCarthy was a destroyer in attack out wide for South Sydney in the 1960s and 70s and represented Australia in 10 Tests. He is a huge fan of Tallis and Lauiti'iti.

``Gorden's No1 in the world anyone can see that," he says. ``He breaks you down with force and intimidates you. Lauiti'iti is big and fast, he's strong and he's got speed. He might make a couple of errors, but you excuse that because he's trying to do things."

Noel Cleal, a rampaging figure for Manly in the 1980s and a veteran of 12 State of Origin

matches for NSW and eight Tests, is glowing in his report.

``Tallis and Lauiti'iti are both like all the great second-rowers moulded into one," Cleal says. ``I go back to the mid-1960s and they're as good as anyone I've seen.

``I see bits of Bob McCarthy and Les Boyd and Paul Sironen in both of them. They're the perfect packages."

Sironen, a power in the 1980s and 90s for Balmain, with 14 Origins for the Blues and 21 Tests, keeps it coming.

``Tallis is head and shoulders above the rest of the second-rowers," he says. ``He's got that touch of madness that takes him to a higher level. Lauiti'iti is a great young player, a big man with power and speed and terrific hands. All the praise he gets is warranted."

Lauiti'iti is a deeply religious young man who has no doubt his faith makes him a better footballer.

``It helps me big-time," he says. ``It makes me realise there is more to life than rugby league, but at the same time I know that because God has given me a talent I must use it to the best of my ability."

Lauiti'iti is ready to cop a bit of rocking and rolling from the Broncos.

He aims to cope with the physical onslaught, reply with some of his own and try to make something happen in attack with his stepping and offloads. ``The Broncos are really powerful so big and strong," he says. ``I'm happy with my form, but I've still got things to work on, things I want to improve.

``It's all about judgment and picking the right time to try something."

Tallis says the Warriors, who have won two of their past three games against Brisbane, have become one of the Broncos' most respected opponents.

``I've never played an easy game against them, even when we've won clearly," he says. ``They've got a tremendous side this year and we know how tough it's going to be against them.

``It would be great to get a win over there, but, whatever happens, it's going to hurt."

WHAT THREE GREAT SECOND-ROWERS SAY

`` Paul Sironen 246 games for Balmain

Tallis is head and shoulders above the rest of the second-rowers. He's got that touch of madness that takes him to a higher level. Lauiti'iti is a great young player, a big man with power and speed and great hands. All the praise he gets is warranted

`' Bob McCarthy 251 games Souths, Canterbury

Gorden is No 1 in the world anyone can see that. He breaks you down with force and intimidates you. Lauiti'iti is big and fast, he's strong and he's got speed. He might make a couple of errors, but you excuse that because he's trying to do things

`Noel Cleal 200 games Manly, Easts'

Tallis and Lauiti'iti are both like all the great second-rowers moulded into one. I go back to the mid-1960s and they're as good as anyone I've seen. I see bits of Bob McCarthy and Les Boyd and Paul Sironen in them. They're the perfect packages

 
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