Anything less than making the finals is not good enough for Wests Tigers this year. And if you think it’s just the players or the coaching staff who think that, you’re wrong.
Plenty of people are telling me how much better we have to go this year - or else. I’ve had plenty of warnings on the street.
But I can understand the frustrations. It’s just as frustrating for us. It’s been devastating not to make the finals since 2005. We try desperately every week, and of course we’ve spoken about turning it around. I think everyone realises how important it is for us to have success this year.
It has to be this year, really. It’s just not good enough if we don’t, not by my standards, not by the team’s standards, and certainly not by the coach’s standards. Tim Sheens re-signed with us for another season last week, and I noticed there was some talk about him challenging himself to succeed by only extending by the one season. But we, as players, need to challenge ourselves, too.
Over the years, when we haven’t made it to the finals, it’s always been the coach who gets much of the blame. But I think, as players, we need to take more responsibility and start pointing the finger at ourselves a bit more.
I have a big role to play in the team, so I’m conscious of how big a year I have to have as well. But I’m pretty pumped about this season. I’ve got a good feeling; I know there’s something different. I feel good inside myself about the team, and about the way I’m going to play this year.
I’ve only just turned 25, and I’ve still got a few things up my sleeve and things that I need to learn. When I can play a full, all-round balanced game, without having to think about it, that’s when I know I’ll be where I want to be.
I think I’m a bit more mature this year in my game, not trying to force so many things. Last year I think I had too many errors in my game, and I’ve been trying to work on minimising those, extra passing and catching. If I don’t try to go for the big play all the time, and just pick my times better, my errors will come down. When I try too hard is when the errors come. When I’m just playing my game, and I know the time’s right to go for something big, that’s when I should go for it, not just because I haven’t touched the ball for a while or just to do it. I think about when to do it now.
But the aim every year is to get better and better. This year I just feel like something’s on its way. It’s something I haven’t felt before.
We’ve got the biggest forward pack we’ve had, and that goes a long way towards winning games. I’ve noticed a change so far in the amount of offloads we’re starting to get away. Timmy Moltzen slipped into halfback last week very well - I don’t think he realises how much talent he has. But I also think Blake Ayshford is going to have a massive year. He is killing it at training; he’s just so deceptive. And Keith Galloway, I think he’ll push for a representative jumper this year. Having Gareth Ellis back after the year he had last year, and Chris Heighington fit … I could keep going through the whole squad. And that’s important, too. We seem to have some good depth.
I’m more excited this year than I have been for some time, largely on the back of what we did towards the end of last year. It felt good at the time and I think everyone wants to get that feeling back again. That’s why we’re so hungry for it. I think we were as good as any of the teams in the competition, playing like we were. It’s exciting to know what we can do when we play at our best.
But it’s also frustrating, because we didn’t make the finals even after playing like that.
Hopefully we can continue our good start this year and not have to rely on the end of the season. When we’re at our best, we’re going to be hard to beat, but we’ve got to find that consistency. There’s been far too many close games that we should have won but we haven’t. But if we can continue the good work, and fix our consistency, we’ll have a good shot at making the semis
By Benji Marshall