Balmain great Benny Elias has questioned whether Wests Tigers front-rower Aaron Woods will be burnt out before next year’s State of Origin series in light of Martin Taupau’s defection to Manly.
Coach Jason Taylor controversially allowed the New Zealand Test prop to walk away from the final year of his contract, placing extra pressure on Woods to shoulder the load in an inexperienced Tigers pack.
As well as Taupau, the Tigers have also lost Keith Galloway meaning two of three players who made up the joint-venture’s regular front row rotation in 2015 have departed.
It leaves the team light on recognised front-rowers and relying heavily on Ava Seumanufagai and Sauaso Sue to step up along with youngsters Dallas Graham and JJ Fellise.
“It’s a fact that without Marty Taupau a lot more of the onus will be on (Woods) to show the way, he’ll be captain and he’ll want to lead by example,” Elias told AAP.
“I just hope that he doesn’t burn himself out because of the extra pressure that he will have on him week in and week out.
“He’s a big part of the side and a local junior. I just hope he can handle this extra pressure.
“We’ve let go a guy of Taupau’s power and workrate. I just hope it can be made up and they can find someone. I don’t know. They might have someone and maybe (Taylor) is a genius and he may know more. If so, I applaud him and I hope he’s right.”
But Elias said he couldn’t hide his disappointment at Taylor’s decision to release Taupau, who had been a revelation since his arrival from Canterbury in 2014.
“You don’t find players like Martin Taupau very often, guys that have that strength and demand respect and authority,.” he said.
Taylor claimed that Taupau had indicated his intention to leave the Tigers in 2017 and it was in the team’s best long-term interests to release him and free up cap space to secure the futures of the club’s emerging youngsters.
But Elias said the former South Sydney mentor had set a dangerous precedent and left them with a big hole to fill in 2016.
“I wouldn’t let (Taupau) go anywhere,” Elias said.
“He’s without a doubt one of the most damaging forwards in the game.
“He’s a young bloke who has come through and been a big part of the club for the last couple of years. He’s made a mark and been one of the brightest forwards and we had him under contract.”