Roosters prop Siosiua Taukeiaho has made a habit of stepping up in games without Jared Waerea-Hargreaves available this year and is ready to do it again in a huge preliminary final against Melbourne at the SCG on Saturday.
The first game Waerea-Hargreaves missed this year was the round four clash with the Broncos; Taukeiaho monstered his way to 209 metres with five busts in a man-of-the-match effort to set the tone for how he goes about his business when asked to assume more leadership.
"That's my plan – not just run over 200 metres but I also want to be dominant as well," Taukeiaho told NRL.com.
"When the leader of your forward pack is out you have to take that role and lead from the front but it's also a do or die game for both teams so I can't leave anything in the tank.
"Especially with the leader of your forward pack stepping down you want to take that role and grab it with two hands and lead from the front. In the middle is where everything happens, there will be a lot of expectation but I'm willing to take that challenge."
NRL.com Stats crunched the numbers and found that the Roosters have coped well in Waerea-Hargreaves' absence in the six games he has missed this year, in large part through Taukeiaho's efforts.
The Roosters have four wins and two losses when JWH is out this season. The first loss – in round 13 against Penrith – they were missing a host of other stars including Luke Keary, Latrell Mitchell, Brett Morris and Angus Crichton.
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The second, a 14-12 loss to the Storm in Adelaide, was again minus Keary and featured a makeshift backline missing an injured Ryan Hall and with Latrell Mitchell in the halves and Morris at centre. Victor Radley was the sole hooker with no Jake Friend or Sam Verrills either.
The Roosters have 14 wins and five losses from 19 games (win rate 74%) when JWH does play this year.
But those two losses without JWH also had no Keary, and the numbers show Keary is a huge out for the Tricolours.
If you count the round 11 loss to the Knights (in which Keary was concussed in the first 10 minutes) as a game that Keary missed, their record with Keary is 84% (16 wins and three losses) while without him it is 33% (two wins, four losses).
That means the Roosters have won every game JWH has missed this year when Keary is available, which should give Tricolours fans some encouragement.
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Taukeiaho is a huge part of that, and his numbers show that he tends to lift when the inspirational Kiwi is out.
In games in which JWH is missing, Taukeiaho averages 11 more minutes (though a few injuries have contributed partly to this) with 24 more metres per game and 11 more tackles per game.
The Roosters will need plenty of that against Storm middles Jesse Bromwich, Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Dale Finucane.
"It's always tough playing against Melbourne, they're a good quality team," Taukeiaho added.
"Their game against Parra last week they were so dominant in both attack and defence. We have to be on with our game but our main focus is ourselves. If we can play to our system, play the way the Roosters play, we should be able to get on top."
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Asked about the unfolding situation in the Tonga test ranks, the proud Tonga prop said while he didn't want to delve too far into it with the Roosters finals campaign taking up his focus, he also confirmed he was currently unavailable for selection with the players desperate for coach Kristian Woolf to be reinstated.
"I'm not really focused on that at the moment. I'm just sitting out [of Tonga duties], I'm letting everything all go by," Taukeiaho said.
"There's Woolfy and they have to sort all that out but my main focus this week is getting myself right for Saturday.
"It's tough. I'm one of the leaders here at the Roosters so you have to take what's important first. This game is more important than a game in October so my main focus is this game here. It is hard to try and ignore it but I have a job to do at the Roosters first before I think about Tonga."
The interview with Taukeiaho took place on Monday around midday – roughly five hours before news broke publicly about a push to have Israel Folau return to league by featuring in Tonga's post-season Tests.
Asked about the Folau situation, Taukeiaho said he had not heard anything about it and also knew nothing about newly appointed coach Frank Endacott.
"I've heard of his name but I have no idea who he is, I've never met him," Taukeiaho said.
"We're just trying to stick solid with the same team and same coaching staff that we've had that's been since that World Cup."
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