NRL season preview

  • Wests Tigers season preview

    Wed 22 Feb, 2017, 12:00pm
    By Alicia Newton‌‌, National Correspondent ,

    After narrowly missing the finals last season, all eyes will be on Jason Taylor and the Wests Tigers with plenty of pressure mounting on the Sydney club to deliver on their potential.

    The Tigers came up just short in 2016, losing three games by two points or less, but ultimately, it was the fifth season in a row they had failed to feature in the finals and they will be desperate to make amends this season.

    Gains and losses

    Ins: Jamal Idris (free agent), Matt McIlwrick (Sharks)

    Outs: Josh Addo-Carr (Storm), Jack Buchanan (Widnes), Josh Drinkwater (released), Asipeli Fine (Bulldogs), Lamar Liolevave (Bulldogs), Billy McConnachie (released), Jesse Parahi (Rugby Sevens), Manaia Cherrington (Sharks), Dene Halatau (retirement), Robbie Farah (Rabbitohs), Curtis Sironen (Sea Eagles), Chance Peni (rugby union), Rod Griffin (Bulldogs)

    Recruitment has been minimal from the Tigers for 2017 with Jamal Idris’s return to the game the only notable big name to join them, along with journeyman hooker Matt McIllwrick. The arrival of Idris will add some size to the backline and create more options for the halves to work with.

    In comparison, the losses of Robbie Farah (247 games) and Curtis Sironen (62 games) to rival clubs, plus the retirement of Dene Halatau (249 games) leaves a hole in the experience department, emphasizing that there has never been a more important time for the likes of experienced campaigners Aaron Woods, Chris Lawrence and Tim Grant to lead from the front, allowing the likes of James Tedesco and Mitchell Moses to work their magic.

    What we know

    The Tigers attack is their strength with Tedesco, Moses and Luke Brooks setting up a majority of the side’s tries in 2016 with a combined 44 of the team’s 70 try assists last season, but defence will be the key after they leaked 607 points – the second worst in the competition.

    Gaining territory up the middle also proved a tough ask for the side, who ranked 15th in total runs and metres gained. With another season under their belt, the likes of Grant, Sauaso Sue and Ava Seumanufagai will all need to improve on their average of 100 metres per game and share the workload more with Australian representative Woods, who averaged over 160 metres per game in 2016.

    A positive under Taylor’s reign has seen the side’s error rate drop significantly since the coach took over at the end of 2014, coming in at second best behind grand finalists Melbourne last season.

    Rookie watch

    Jacob Liddle is the one to keep an eye on. The 20-year-old had a taste of first grade in Round 18 last season and scored a try early in the second half against the Bulldogs. While Matt Ballin is scheduled to return from a knee injury, Liddle shapes as the future for the Tigers in the No.9 jersey. In the centres, recently re-signed Moses Suli shapes as another youngster likely to force his way into the backline this season. The Fairfield United junior is only 18 years of age but has plenty of size and skill to match it with some of the stars of the NRL.


    One of the key strengths of Taylor’s recruiting for last season was depth in all positions, highlighted by the exits of Manaia Cherrington and Josh Addo-Carr, who have signed with rival clubs to chase more opportunity.

    The beauty of the Tigers backline is there is plenty of versatility. Jordan Rankin and Kevin Naiqama are capable of playing multiple positions but find themselves in a battle to win a spot in the 17 with the arrival of Idris creating a positive selection headache for Taylor moving forward.

    Fringe first graders Justin Hunt, Jack Littlejohn, Michael Chee-Kam and McIllwrick will provide depth with NRL experience that other sides in the competition will struggle with. Throw in the rise of young rookie Suli and there is plenty of competition at Concord.

    Young guns Bayley Sironen, JJ Felise, Taniela Paseka, Junior Tatola and Esan Marsters add youth in the Tigers developing forward pack after starring in the Holden Cup last season.

    While they’ve lost two experienced hookers, the return of Matt Ballin after a second season-ending ACL injury is a very handy replacement with young gun Liddle playing as a backup.

    Fantasy bankers

    A proven star for many years in the Fantasy world, it is hard to ignore Tedesco (WFB $483,000), who averaged 51 from his 17 appearances last season before succumbing to injury – the best of any fullback in the league.

    If you’re on the lookout for cash cows, new recruit Idris is already pencilled in to over 23,000 teams at a steal price of $148,000. With the current suspension of Tim Simona, the former Panther now stands as the only recognised centre at the club and the friendly price will rise quite high even with scores in the mid 20s to start the season.

    Crystal ball

    If the Wests Tigers can get their defensive side of the game up to scratch, there is no reason why they can’t surprise many and force their way into the top eight for the first time in six years. They’ve climbed the ladder the past two seasons under Taylor and should all their stars remain fit throughout the year, you would be a brave person to completely write them off from finals football in September.

  • Fair comment I reckon.
    Interesting that we came in 2nd best on the error count last year… which was identified as an area of concern.
    So, if we can now address the other glaring insufficiencies that this article rightly points out we’ll go a very long way to being a good side.

    -metres up the middle; it looked in the trial like the team definitely was working the ball one or two passes wide of the ruck on many occasions, which could be to address the issue. Hopefully it works.

    -experienced players need to step up, especially Lawrence, Ballin and Grant. And a few of the rookies need to go well to give us a chance too.

    -and of course, defence… 2nd worst last year and disgraceful! As the article points out it will be the key. The Cowboys didn’t ask many questions out wide last week but I fear that Kev will still be a turnstyle, and there was still an obvious lack of co-ordinated effort in many of our tackles where multiple players were involved which is a real bug-bear of mine!

  • @barra:

    Fair comment I reckon.
    Interesting that we came in 2nd best on the error count last year… which was identified as an area of concern.

    I noticed we made very few errors in last week’s trial against the Cowboys too - managed to sustain pressure and maximise our sets.

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