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.
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.