WT Season Preview

+ 2019 Squad: Josh Aloiai, Luke Brooks, Michael Chee Kam, Oliver Clark, Matt Eisenhuth, Robbie Farah, Mahe Fonua, Tyson Gamble, Luke Garner, Robert Jennings, Chris Lawrence, Jacob Liddle, Benji Marshall, Esan Marsters, Ryan Matterson, Ben Matulino, Moses Mbye, Chris McQueen, Sam McIntyre, Thomas Mikaele, Paul Momirovski, David Nofoaluma, Russell Packer, Josh Reynolds, Robbie Rochow, Dylan Smith, Elijah Taylor, Corey Thompson, Alex Twal

+ Player Movements:
Gains: Kane Bradley (St George Dragons SG Ball), Luke Garner (Wests Magpies ISP, mid-season), Robert Jennings (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Jock Madden (Newcastle Knights SG Ball), Ryan Matterson, Paul Momirovski (both Sydney Roosters), Alex Seyfarth (WT 20s), Tommy Talau (Canterbury Bulldogs SG Ball),
Italics – 2019 Development Player
Losses: Pita Godinet (released), Tim Grant (Penrith Panthers), Tui Lolohea (Leeds Rhinos), Kevin Naiqama (St.Helens), Sauaso Sue (Canterbury Bulldogs), Malakai Watene-Zelezniak (Penrith Panthers)

+ Best 17: Moses Mbye, Corey Thompson, Robert Jennings, Esan Marsters, David Nofoaluma, Benji Marshall, Luke Brooks, Russell Packer, Robbie Farah, Ben Matulino, Chris Lawrence, Ryan Matterson, Elijah Taylor; Josh Reynolds, Alex Twal, Matt Eisenhuth, Michael Chee Kam

+ Depth Chart
Fullback: Mbye, Thompson, Smith
Wing: Nofoaluma, Thompson, Jennings, Fonua, Momirovski, Smith
Centre: Marsters, Jennings, Momirovski, Fonua, Chee Kam, McIntyre
Five-Eighth: Marshall, Reynolds, Gamble, Mbye
Halfback: Brooks, Marshall, Gamble, Mbye
Middles: Packer, Matulino, Twal, Taylor, Eisenhuth, Matterson, Mikaele, Aloiai, Rochow, Clark
Edges: Matterson, Lawrence, Chee Kam, Garner, Taylor, McQueen, Aloiai, Rochow, McIntyre
Hooker: Farah, Liddle, Reynolds

+ Expect a big season from:– Russell Packer and Ben Matulino – Both copped a lot of heat in 2018 for their attacking numbers but both shouldn’t be judged by stats. Both fell victim to the style of play Cleary wanted and it didn’t suit either player, Matulino especially.

Those that watched closely would’ve seen both absolutely gassed at the end of every defensive set as part of the team’s emphasis on middles being active on every tackle. By the time the forwards were back set, it would be the latter stages of the attacking set and they wouldn’t have an opportunity to cart the ball. Both would come off for their first rest with stats similar to 3 or 4 runs and 20 tackles in 20-25 minutes, which reflects how much they did on the defensive end.

Another big factor when looking solely at stats is the 20 odd metres props get when bringing the ball back off each kickoff. Hard to achieve those easy metres when your team is struggling to score twice a game.

I’m expecting a big year from both and Madge has already highlighted the need to get more from Matulino’s strengths.

+ Ones to Watch:
– Thomas Mikaele:
Held in the same regard as Haas, Fotuaika and Fifita while at Keebra Park but has unfortunately had a tough run with injuries. Played a lot of Intrust Super Premiership football last year as a Jersey Flegg eligible player and was incredibly impressive.

If the NRL side’s bench misses anything, it is size, speed and aggression from a middle forward. This is Mikaele to a tee.

If he can start the year off injury free, I really expect him to be making his NRL debut by Round 7 or 8 at the latest.

+ Under Pressure:
– Josh Aloiai: One of the more inconsistent performers in the Tigers squad. Has games where he looks like the best middle forward at the club and games where you can’t see him being retained long term. Hand/wrist injuries have plagued his time at the club but he needs to find some consistency to work his way back into first grade but to also win himself a new contract past 2019

– Jacob Liddle
We all love Liddle and the potential he has but one thing that has changed at Wests Tigers in recent years is the decreased love affair with ‘potential’.

Liddle must hold his own defensively and must avoid any injury setbacks in what is easily the most important year of his career.

Finally, a coach has identified the need to put size on Liddle’s frame to help him defensively and to help his body.

While he is as dangerous as any young hooker in the game when running from dummy half, until he can find consistency in defence and with his service, it is Farah’s job to lose. Another player who is off contract.

+ Areas of Improvement Required from 2018:
People are putting together previews with strengths and weaknesses about how teams will play this year. Fact is, no one knows. We saw how much can change in one offseason last year when a new coach takes charge for the summer months.
Instead of trying to guess, below are areas of improvement that are needed this year for the club to take the next step in their pursuit of finals football:

– Initial Contact: While Wests Tigers ended 2018 with the 6th best defence in the NRL, they finished the season with the 2nd highest Missed Tackle count. The team may have scrambled and worked for each other as well as any Tigers team ever has but their contact and overall tackling technique left a lot to be desired.

– Fitness: A spike in handling errors, a lack of creativity as games went on and that Round 25 performance. All signs of a team who were not fit enough for the style of play Cleary had them playing.

An example of this is the Tigers conceded an NRL best 30 tries in the first 50 minutes of games in 2018. In the final 30 minutes of games, Wests Tigers conceded 45 tries.

Cleary isn’t known for his fitness work and has already had Penrith players singing his praises for not making them do as much running, whereas Madge is. To the point where Madge still participates in most of the workouts. Expect a fitter team that can produce more when it matters.

The one thing with the Tigers is they have a new coach, and there’s a bit of hope. They’ve trained hard. I’ve spoken with Robbie and a few of them and they’re pretty excited. There’s nothing like the feeling of being fit, and that in itself breeds confidence.” – Brad Fittler speaking with the Sydney Morning Herald

– Strength/Wrestle: The lack of overall fitness contributes a lot to this. Instead of Round 25 being “no heart, the players don’t even care”, they all had nothing left in the tank.
Something I have noticed this preseason is a number of players are much bigger in the chest and arms while there has been a greater emphasis on wrestling and winning the ruck.

– Overall Attack: While Ivan brought a lot of positive changes to the club, attack wasn’t one of them. Season 2018 was officially the Wests Tigers worst pointscoring season in the club’s history.

Starting the season with question marks over the fullback and hooker position didnt help, while the options in this positions didn’t fill anyone with any great hope in terms of creativity.

We started seeing the impact of a creative, ballplaying fullback after the arrival of Captain Mbye and we also saw the difference a creative hooker made, even if at times he overplayed his hand.

Some luck for Josh Reynolds this year would see the team boast 5 creative spine players in the 17 with some added size on the edges to help capitalise on this newfound creativity.

+ Overall:
On paper, this looks the strongest and most balanced Tigers side for a number of years. I’m sure all fans would agree each year we usually look at the strongest 17 and identify at least one name that raises an eyebrow or a concerned look.

Gone are the days of the club fielding inexperienced teams and hopefully the added experience can help the team when it matters in close games. All 5 spine players and all members of the forward pack in the team’s strongest starting side all boast over 100 games of NRL experience.

With so many coaching changes this offseason, it’s hard to confidently say where Wests Tigers will finish, but apart from the handful of elite teams, the competition looks wide open.

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Jennings to complete WT top 30?

According to credible sources, Robert Jennings could have a deal finalised to join the Tigers within 24 hours, after the NRL gave the club the green light to sign Jennings under the salary cap.

While Jennings was no doubt a beneficiary of playing on the end of the best edge in the NRL, he has his own strengths which have been overlooked due to the ease in which he scored 19 tries in 21 NRL games last season.

Not only did he average 130 metres per game last year for Souths but at 192cm and 106kg, he would be the tallest and heaviest back in the Wests Tigers top 30 (Momirovski 191cm, Fonua 103kg via nrl.com).

Jennings would be a much needed signing for a backline that, outside of Esan Marsters, really struggled to create points on their own last season.

He has experience on both edges playing in the centre and wing positions and predominantly played centre up until last season. He played 13 NRL games under new Tigers coach Michael Maguire in 2017, lining up in the centres in 11 of those.

Still on playing in the centres, Jennings was named in the 2016 NYC Team of the Year at centre while he has a long list of rep honours playing in the centres, which includes Australian Schoolboys, NSW u20s and the Junior Kangaroos. In 2018, he debuted and scored for Mate Maa Tonga in the Pacific Test and was also named in the Emerging Blues squad.

Whether it is Jennings or somene else, Wests Tigers were always in the market to add a player that can play in the centres before Round 1. As it stands, Moses Mbye, Corey Thompson, David Nofoaluma, Esan Marsters, Paul Momirovski, Mahe Fonua and Dylan Smith are the only specialist backs in the top 30 and in fact, Wests Tigers have more backrowers in the top squad (8 – Taylor, Lawrence, Matterson, Chee Kam, McQueen, McIntyre, Garner and Rochow), than they do outside backs.

If the deal can be completed prior to the club’s only trial and assuming he is fit, I would be extremely surprised to see anyone other than Jennings named to partner Esan Marsters in the centres to take on Manly in Round 1.

The possible signing of Jennings would take the size of the NRL squad to 30 but with assault charges hanging over Michael Chee Kam and Zane Musgrove, that could well change.

Being able to pick up someone like Robert Jennings so close to the start of the season is massive for a club like Wests Tigers and gives the backline a much needed boost in depth and versatility.

The potential centre pairing of Esan Marsters and Jennings has me quite excited and anxious for the deal to go through. Two young, big and dynamic ball carriers in the centres with two classy finishers outside them and a fullback that showed his ballplaying ability at the back end of 2018. Lets get it done!

Matt Ballin (219 games)

Chris Lawrence (194 games)

Tim Grant (165 games)

Jamal Idris (131 games)

Aaron Woods (124 games)

Elijah Taylor (121 games)

Joel Edwards (96 games)

Ava Seumanufagai (87 games)

Tim Simona (79 games)

Sauaso Sue (79 games)

Kevin Naiqama (70 games)

James Tedesco (69 games)

Luke Brooks (66 games)

David Nofoaluma (63 games)

Mitchell Moses (57 games)

Kyle Lovett (43 games)

Jordan Rankin (39 games)

Matt McIlwrick (29 games)

Josh Aloiai (24 games)

Justin Hunt (22 games)

Michael Chee Kam (10 games)

JJ Felise (8 games)

Jack Littlejohn (8 games)

Jacob Liddle (1 game)

Matt Eisenhuth (0 games)

Jordan Grant (0 games)

Rod Griffin (0 games)

Watson Heleta (0 games)

Ryland Jacobs (0 games)

Connelly Lemuelu (0 games)

Wes Lolo (0 games)

Esan Marsters (0 games)

Taniela Paseka (0 games)

Bayley Sironen (0 games)

Moses Suli (0 games)

Junior Tatola (0 games)

WT 2018: It’s a big year for…

It’s a big year for…

Luke Brooks : Every year is a big year for Brooks, but 2018 really is THE biggest year for him.

Make no mistake, if there was more interest from other clubs, it could well have been the Farewell Four replacing the Big (talking) Four.

Unlike previous years, there’s also roster pressure on Brooks. He isn’t what he was 10 years ago, but it won’t take much for Cleary to throw 268 gamer Benji Marshall in if Brooks is struggling.

The one positive for Brooks is that he arguably played his best, most consistent football of his career under Cleary before his hamstring gave way again.

Although he is contracted until the end of 2019, this is it for Brooks. As of November 1 2018, the club can table an offer to rival players and we all know which player will be the focus for the club: N. Cleary.

Brooks has become the whipping boy for Tigers fans and NRL fans in general but you can’t help but feel for him. In 4 full years of first grade he has had 4 different head coaches, 4 ‘permanent’ halves partners and a careers worth of off field drama.

To continue this trend, Brooks will enter another season with another new halves partner. Luckily for him, Josh Reynolds is by far the best fit he has had.

The Tigers have struggled to find a good match for Brooks since his debut.

As much as the media pushed the Moses/Brooks narrative, it was always painfully obvious that they didn’t work together.

Anasta had the experience they craved around Brooks but never ran the ball. Moses had the running game they craved but was too controlling and Lolohea had the running game and the ability to take a back seat, but lacked experience and composure.

Reynolds will run, is happy to take a backseat and although he loves a brain snap, he’s experienced. He’s what the club has been looking for since L. Brooks debuted.

Reynolds is definitely not the best five-eighth in the game, but he’s one of the best fits for Brooks.

Over to you, Luke.

JJ Felise : Felise looked a ‘lock’ to start 2017 in the top grade after impressing in a handful of NRL games in 2016.

Unfortunately, injuries and form have stalled his development and progress, while the emergence of Alex Twal and Matt Eisenhuth has made it even more difficult for Felise to add to his 13 NRL games.

With the likes of Matulino, Packer, Sue, Twal, Eisenhuth, Grant and Aloiai ahead of him, development player Thomas Mikaele waiting in the wings and the likes of Cowen Epere and Patrice Siolo on ISP deals, this could be JJ’s final year at the club if he can’t find another level.

Sauaso Sue : Unfortunately for Sue, he has been seen as the solution to a number of forward depth issues for the last 3 seasons. He went from having big bench impact to being stripped of size and thrown on an edge (a position that was foreign to him).

Known as a leader amongst the group, he’ll need to find another level in 2018.

“Jesse” has certainly been a victim of the ever-changing roster and focus at the club over recent years. Hopefully increased forward depth and some stability on and off the field will see Sue return to a middle role only.

Due to the recruitment of Cleary and co, it looks likely that a few of Tim Grant, Matt Eisenhuth, Alex Twal, Josh Aloiai & JJ Felise will start 2018 in Magpies colours. Sue will likely avoid this due to his leadership and influence but will need to hit the ground running to avoid being overtaken by the new recruits and emerging middle forwards.

2018 GAINS: Mahe FONUA (Hull FC), Tyson GAMBLE (Redcliffe Dolphins), Heath GIBBS* (Newcastle Knights NYC), Pita GODINET (Manly Sea Eagles), Benji MARSHALL (Brisbane Broncos), Ben MATULINO (New Zealand Warriors), Sam MCINTYRE* (Newcastle Knights NYC), Chris MCQUEEN (Gold Coast Titans), Thomas MIKAELE* (WT NYC), Taane MILNE, Russell PACKER (St George-Illawarra Dragons), Josh REYNOLDS (Canterbury Bulldogs), Robbie ROCHOW (Melbourne Storm), Dylan SMITH* (Cronulla Sharks SG Ball), Corey THOMPSON (Widnes Vikings)

*Development Player

2018 LOSSES: Jordan GRANT (Mackay Cutters), Jack LITTLEJOHN (Salford Red Devils), Kyle LOVETT (Leigh Centurions), Jeremy MARSHALL-KING (Canterbury Bulldogs), Ava SEUMANUFAGAI (Cronulla Sharks), Junior TATOLA (South Sydney Rabbitohs), James TEDESCO (Sydney Roosters), Aaron WOODS (Canterbury Bulldogs), Matt BALLIN, Justin HUNT, Jamal IDRIS (all retired), Joel EDWARDS, Ryland JACOBS (both released)

How do the Tigers of 2018 line up? Your guess is as good as mine

At last, Tigers fans can look forward to Teamlist Tuesdays! The club has gone through an unprecedented roster overhaul and overall look to have a much stronger team and squad.

With so many new faces and so much competition for spots, who gets the nod come the 10th of March 2018? Most positions at Wests Tigers have been locked down due to lack of competition and not really earned over the last 6 years. For the first time in a long time, picking the Tigers’ best 17 is a headache for positive reasons.

Gone are the days of having a halfback, an 18 year old with 80 minutes of NYC footy and an 18 year old straight out of school competing for a Round 1 spot.

The make up of the 17 will be sure to generate a lot of discussion but let’s have a look at the options and possible lineups the club could field at the start of March.

Possible NRL
1. Tu’imoala Lolohea, 2. David Nofoaluma, 3. Taane Milne 4. Moses Suli, 5. Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, 6. Josh Reynolds, 7. Luke Brooks, 8. Russell Packer, 9. Jacob Liddle, 10. Ben Matulino, 11. Chris Lawrence, 12. Chris McQueen, 13. Elijah Taylor; 14. Esan Marsters, 15. Alex Twal, 16. Sauaso Sue, 17. Matt Eisenhuth

Possible Intrust Super Premiership
1. Watson Heleta, 2. Mahe Fonua, 3. Tony Tali, 4. Kevin Naiqama, 5. Corey Thompson, 6. Tyson Gamble, 7. Benji Marshall, 8. Tim Grant, 9. Matt McIlwrick, 10. JJ Felise, 11. Michael Chee Kam, 12. Robbie Rochow, 13. Josh Aloiai

– Tui Lolohea gets first crack at the fullback spot. Lolohea has played more NRL games at fullback than any other position. With Cleary and the addition of Brett Hodgson, Lolohea should have no problems improving his fullback play and goalkicking. It remains to be seen if the club will bring in another capable fullback option (2 top 30 roster spots free) or if the likes of Naiqama, Nofoaluma, Thompson and Marshall are viewed as adequate back up.

– David Nofoaluma owns the number 2 jersey while Moses Suli and his metre-eating was sorely missed at the back end of the year. Taane Milne will be in a battle with Kevin Naiqama, Mahe Fonua, Esan Marsters and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak for a centre spot. For now, MWZ’s impressive finish to 2017 gets him over the line to start Round 1.

– Josh Reynolds and Luke Brooks will start as the halves but the Tigers enter 2018 with halves depth like they have never had. Benji Marshall and Tui Lolohea are more than capable if there are injuries while Tyson Gamble will put pressure on the big boys as well in his first year at the club.

– Jacob Liddle is back training after double shoulder surgery and when fit will likely win the 9 jersey, as he did before injury this year. With Liddle fit, it seems unlikely Cleary would carry another specialist hooker as it appeared he was reluctant to use McIlwrick once Liddle won the starting job. Cleary could play an extra forward off the bench and have Elijah Taylor fill the dummy half role for 15-20 minutes, as he has done on a number of occasions. Under Jason Taylor, this didn’t work. Mainly because Elijah Taylor was used as the link in attack. Ivan Cleary has said the style will again change for 2018 but given Matt Eisenhuth’s ability to play a similar role, moving ‘ET’ to dummy half would likely not have the same negative impact it did 12 months ago.

– There is forward depth at the club in 2018 for the first time in a very long time. Kiwis Russell Packer and Ben Matulino reunite to lead the team while a backrow of Chris Lawrence, Chris McQueen and Elijah Taylor would give the Tigers an experienced forward pack as well as experience in both edge forward positions, something the team really lacked in 2017. A full strength squad could see the likes of forwards Michael Chee Kam, Tim Grant, JJ Felise, Josh Aloiai and Robbie Rochow all turn out for ISP next year. All 5 played NRL in 2017.

– On the bench, Matt Eisenhuth and Alex Twal have won out here due to their impressive debut seasons while Sauaso Sue should benefit from not being moved around all preseason, as he has been for the last 3 years. Esan Marsters wins a bench spot as the utility, purely for balance. Marsters can cover the backs, the back row and has the skill to slot in at five-eighth if a reshuffle is required. His inclusion would round out a bench which has size, skill, impact and work rate. This bench especially works well if Elijah Taylor is seen as the back up hooker.

Regardless of the final lineup, it’s great that there is competition for places from 1-17. Even in 2005, 2010 and 2011, the Tigers’ depth was suspect. This may well be the deepest squad the club has had. Bring on 2018.