The Wests Tigers are confident Jack Littlejohn will inject some much-needed defensive starch into their halves as they continue their unlikely run into the NRL finals.
The Tigers face the first of many make-or-break games in the run home against premiers North Queensland at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday afternoon with Littlejohn to deputise for injured No.7 Luke Brooks.
While Brooks’ absence due to a knee injury will heap pressure on in-form five-eighth Mitchell Moses in attack, Littlejohn is shaping as a key figure in the last five weeks for the 10th placed Tigers.
It’s no secret that defence has been the deep flaw in the Tigers’ game this year – conceding the fourth most points (average 24.1 per game) and second most linebreaks (5.7 per game).
Defence has particularly been a problem for the Tigers’ halves with Brooks missing the most tackles of any player in the competition with 85 and Moses making the fourth most defensive errors with 74.
Littlejohn, who has just six NRL games to his credit with five appearances for Manly in 2014 and round one for the Tigers, stands at a lanky 187cm and has been tipped by his teammates as being able to hold his own.
“He’s a real competitor, a very physical half,” back-rower Chris Lawrence said.
“He’s going to test the line and he’s got really strong defence.
“He’s a competitor and he’s going to do it to the best of his ability.”
Fullback James Tedesco said coach Jason Taylor had put a big emphasis on defence over the last two months and the fruits of their labour were beginning to show after conceding just three tries in their last two outings – wins against Parramatta and St George Illawarra.
“Our defence has probably been our emphasis over the back end of the year,” Tedesco said.
“The last two weeks we’ve probably only let in two or three tries, which has been a big positive for us.
“Our attack has always clicked but we’ve just got to be more consistent. We do it for good parts during the game and then we slack off for 10 or 20 minutes and we’ve let a few tries in.
“It’s just about staying in the grind and when we complete at over 80 per cent we tend to turn that into points.”