Taumalolo best - Waerea-Hargreaves

Sydney Roosters prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves has described Cowboys enforcer Jason Taumalolo as the best forward in the NRL, but the tricolours share a belief he has some off-the-ball deficiencies they can exploit on Saturday night.

While Waerea-Hargreaves was full of praise for his Kiwi counterpart, the Roosters are of the opinion they have the game plan to minimise his destructive impact in the do-or-die preliminary final at Allianz Stadium.

Taumalolo and Michael Morgan are the main reasons behind the Cowboys' unlikely finals resurgence – carrying the load in the absence of Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott.

The Roosters will do plenty of homework on Taumalolo in the lead-up to this weekend's game, but Waerea-Hargreaves knows the enormity of the task that his troops will confront trying to shut down the Cowboys lock.

"He's the best ball-carrier in the game," Waerea-Hargreaves said. "But we have a defensive structure we believe in and we played them six weeks ago and I found that we did a pretty good job on him then. Ball in hand, he does some pretty cool things. Powerful, agility, size. Defensively, you have to commit ... if you don't commit you end up on your backside. He's going to come at you with a whole heap of pace, footwork – you just have to do your best. But if you focus solely on one player you lose your marbles. You have to stick with what you do."

Waerea-Hargreaves still remembers the day a teenage Taumalolo waltzed into the New Zealand Test squad as 18th man for the ANZAC Test. "Gold teeth, big human with a big smile. A good kid, mate," Waerea-Hargreaves recalled.

Back then the Roosters forward was one of the first picked in the Kiwis side, but the tide has turned since with Taumalolo now an automatic selection as Waerea-Hargreaves battles for a spot.

"He's come a long way since then. Obviously after last year's success, winning the Dally M, and the way he's grown into a leader this year without the other guys [Thurston and Scott] there, it's a credit to him.

"I remember how excited he was to be in camp but at the same time disappointed that he wasn't playing. He was this young kid and had a bit of confidence about him. It was just a matter of time.

"I think he was 18th man at the time. The next year he came on the scene and was in that jersey. You see each year players progress, probably not as quick as he has done it. To be able to do it for two, three, four years like he has, it's quite an achievement. Ball in hand mate, he's damaging."

After New Zealand's 2013 World Cup loss to Australia, Waerea-Hargreaves was on the outer with then Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney.

Waerea-Hargreaves didn't play another game for his country until David Kidwell took over the job last year, earning a recall for the Four Nations until it came to an end through injury.

Waerea-Hargreaves still doesn't know why he was axed and has never been given a proper explanation.

"I'm not sure. Selections or form, I'm not sure," he said.

"But there's a World Cup coming up. Obviously I'm solely focused on doing my job at the Roosters but I'd love to be in there at the end of the year. I'm a proud Kiwi. I want to give it a good shake. I never really spoke to him [Kearney] about it. I got back in the mix in 2013 but we never really had that open and honest conversation.

"I was told form, then there were some times I wasn't told anything. I'm not too sure. I have no idea. Personnel? I don't know. I just got on with it.

"I would like to be back in the mix. I think Kiddy [Kidwell] has the experience. For me front row, he knows what it's like where I play the game as a forward and the aggressive style. He's big on the culture and our roots and where it all started and originated from. He'll be good for the Kiwis."

The Roosters were dealt a minor setback on Monday with five-eighth Luke Keary struck down by food poisoning.



Photo by: GETTY IMAGES (Casption: Jason Taumalolo may be the best forward in the game but Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is confident the Roosters can stop him).