Aaron Woods is one of the high-profile props chasing game time for the Sharks.Aaron Woods has welcomed his increase in playing time as Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan tweaks an all-Origin rotation of big boppers ahead of the NRL finals.
Mid-season arrival Woods’ spike in minutes in recent weeks coincided with a decrease for fellow prop Andrew Fifita, which is believed to have been the catalyst for Fifita’s outburst at the coaches’ box last week.
While that created controversy, it’s the sort of selection headache most coaches would welcome.
Flanagan has to balance his use of starting props Fifita and Matt Prior plus skipper Paul Gallen and Woods, all of whom have played State of Origin and are capable of big minutes.
In the past three weeks, Woods has played a total of 163 minutes compared to 118 for Fifita.
Fifita’s long bench stint following an error last weekend fired him up as he returned to score a crucial try and the Sharks hope it was a sign of more to come from him.
Preparing for his first finals football in seven years, Woods said he was grateful to get more action but there were other contributing factors.
“It’s been a shock to get those extra minutes the last two weeks but we’ve had a few injuries in the game,” Woods said.
“We’ve lost two centres on the weekend so we’ve had to push our backrowers out and get a bit more minutes from our tights.
“The same thing happened in Melbourne, we lost Wade (Graham) early and had to get a few minutes from other players.
I’m enjoying any time I get on the footy field. I can’t thank Shane enough for giving me a role.”
Halfback Chad Townsend enjoys the momentum benefits of playing behind such a strong quartet.
“Earlier in the season when we had our whole starting forward pack out and Andrew (Fifita) was named captain, he was playing 80 minutes in back-to-back weeks,” Townsend said.
“So he’s shown he can play 80 minutes and still produce good numbers.
“Now we do have the luxury of having Aaron here who, since he’s been here, has been exceptional for us. I think he’s carried over 100 metres every single week he’s been here.
“He’s got extremely good go-forward and together with him and Matt Prior and also Gal, I do think we have one of the best, most experienced, forward packs in the competition.”
Meanwhile, Woods keenly anticipates ending his long finals drought.
“It’s been quite a while. I’m quite excited. I’ve been lucky enough to play Origins and Test matches but I suppose I’m really looking forward to playing semi-final footy again,” he said.