Former Wests Tigers captain Aaron Woods as endorsed Fiji skipper Kevin Naiqama as the man to succeed him at the NRL club next season.
Tigers coach Ivan Cleary is yet to settle on a new captain following the prop’s switch to Canterbury, but the conundrum is potentially resolving itself throughout the World Cup with Naiqama having led Fiji to a semi-final following Saturday’s unprecedented win over heavyweights New Zealand
Close mates Woods and Naiqama will lock horns in Brisbane on Friday with Fiji standing in the way of Mal Meninga’s Kangaroos and a 14th World Cup final.
The pair played for three seasons alongside each other at the Tigers, and Woods said the 28-year-old’s efforts during the World Cup proved he was capable of captaining in club land.
“Kevvy’s a leader at the Wests Tigers, he always has been,” Woods said.
“Not many people see what he does away from the game, how he prepares to get his body right for the game and the study he does with the video and through our sessions, he’s pretty vocal.
“It’s no surprise for me to see how well Kevvy’s going, but it’s good for everyone else to see it.
“To see him captain his country, he’s a very proud Fijian, he always goes back there at the end of every season. If we get a five-, six-day break during the year he’ll go over there. Just to see the way he spoke after the game, he’s got teary eyes.
“They’re a second-tier side and to beat New Zealand the first time they played them in a World Cup, I’m very proud of Kevin.
“He’s an absolute professional and deserves every moment he’s getting. It’s going to be difficult playing against him on the weekend being a really close mate, but we’ve got a job to do.”
Saturday’s semi-final also pits Woods up against his old coach Mick Potter, who had the reins of the Tigers for two season before he was sacked in 2014.
He took charge of Fiji last season and has done a superb job in moulding the tier-two nation into one of the standout teams at this year’s tournament.
“Pottsy’s a pretty cruisy guy away from footy, but once you’re on that paddock he’s a very intense guy,” Woods said.
“I’ve got a couple of mates over there and they’re really enjoying their time under Mick. It’s awesome to see him back into coaching and going really well again.”
Friday’s clash at Suncorp Stadium will mark the first time World Cup winner Jarryd Hayne has played against Australia since rejoining Fiji, barring last month’s three-nations warm-up match in Suva.
The Gold Coast Titan has scored two tries playing at five-eighth for Potter’s side this tournament, and Woods said his NSW Origin teammate still had the ability to be a game breaker.
“The big games bring it out in Jarryd, he’ll be really excited for this weekend taking on Australia, he’s played for Australia, he’s won a World Cup with Australia,” Woods said.
“We haven’t really sat down and spoke about it. Haynesy’s at his best when he’s just playing what’s in front of him. He could be anywhere to be honest, we’ll just prepare what we can do best.
“We can’t focus on one player we’ve got to worry about everyone else. If we can control what we can do it’s going to help us. I’m sure Jarryd will be up for a big game this weekend.”