+ 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.
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.