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)

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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.

Who needs depth?

For whatever reason, much has been made of Wests Tigers assembling a strong squad (criticism makes absolutely no sense to me). Tigers fans should know as well as anyone how important a strong squad is. How many times has one injury to Farah, Marshall, Ellis or Tedesco been the season defining moment?

As stated previously, the current Tigers side looks a lot like Parramatta of 2009-2014. It’s great having a top 10 player at fullback, but it means little if the rest of the squad isn’t up to standard (as shown at WT in 2015-2017). You’re relying on one player having a career best year, every year, and that’s just for you to be competitive!

With respect, most weeks the players named in jerseys 18-21 for WT aren’t NRL standard. Well, let’s be honest, a good chunk of the 17 that take the field aren’t NRL standard at top 8 clubs. The state cup team is awful and their ladder position reflects that.

Thankfully, most of the club’s first grade and reserve grade teams are off contract and will BOTH undergo massive roster overhauls for 2018. Fans seem to think every signing is on $500,000 a year and has been signed to play 24 NRL games a year.

Fans question why players like Kyle Lovett are in first grade. Well, he is in first grade because he’s the best depth the club has.

Comments from fans regarding new signings have been quite funny. “Another reserve grader”….”We’ve signed 3 new backs now, that’s too many”…”Why did we give McIlwrick a new deal if he won’t be playing big minutes in first grade? What a waste!”…

It’s called established depth. Yes, it’s foreign to WT fans but that’s because the club has NEVER had established depth before.

From Round 1 2013 to now, WT have called on 49 new players, whether they be new signings or kids coming through the club’s system. Of those 49, a staggering 28 were making their NRL debut. Add in the fact that 19 of those 28 were aged 21 or younger.

Basically, WT have relied on a kid with no NRL experience stepping up every time there has been an injury or suspension. That is not established depth and that is not a practice that will lead to positive results.

Due to never addressing the need for established depth, the club and fans are always looking for the next 19 year old to throw into first grade and see if he sinks or swims. It’s this practice that, in my opinion, has led to the once respected WT pathway breaking down. A lot of kids don’t develop while at the club and it’s usually because they’re either thrown in way too early, or given a free ride into first grade on excellent money because they’re talented local kids.

This has also led to a mentally weak culture at the club. As soon as any player is questioned, told they’ll have to improve to gain a new contract or told that they are underperforming, they cry foul to the media and throw the toys out of the cot (as shown by the attitude of Tedesco, Moses and Woods).

This also reflects onfield performance. The Tigers have always been great when the opposition lets them be great. As soon as they are met with any form of resistance, they go to water. We aren’t just talking about the team of 2017, we’re talking about EVERY WT team over the years.

That’s not to say it’s the player’s fault, but it’s something that has happened for a number of years. Even players who were awful while at the club or always injured seem to feel entitled and have zero respect for the club that gave them the opportunity.

WT always end up with players who think they are better than they are, who think they deserve more money than they are making. Not surprisingly, they are usually all juniors too. From Teo to Tedesco.

WT having entitled players? Why? How? Who? Entitled players from a team that never leaves the bottom 4? Almost makes you laugh…

So what does this have to do with established depth? Established depth can go a long way to changing this culture as well as improving results. Having guys competing for the same spot and being made to earn their position in first grade, getting that first grade jersey after earning it and risk losing it if you get complacent…it all adds up.

Established depth has played a key role in Ivan Cleary’s previous coaching jobs. Wherever Ivan is, the state cup teams are always strong. Elijah Taylor made that point when Cleary first took the Tigers job. After being with Ivan at both the Warriors and the Panthers, ET said Cleary’s strength was that he “built a strong club”.

Local juniors/debutants should complement the established roster, not the other way round. Cronulla of 2016 is an example of one of those two, the Tigers are an example of the other. Guess which one is which….

If you don’t like the club building a strong squad that’s 30 players deep, probably block your ears and cover your eyes until Round 1 next year….there’s more to come.

1. Tui Lolohea
2. David Nofoaluma
3.
4. Moses Suli
5.
6. Josh Reynolds
7. Luke Brooks
8. Russell Packer
9.
10. Ben Matulino
11. Chris Lawrence
12. Chris McQueen
13.

Jacob Liddle
Sauaso Sue
Michael Chee Kam
Josh Aloiai
JJ Felise
Esan Marsters
Alex Twal
Tyson Gamble
Malakai Watene-Zelezniak