Limited Express - Where does the Tigers’ bus stop in 2018?
February 13, 2018 - 4:00 PM
If there’s one club that has recently developed an awareness of its ineptitude and inconsistencies, it’s the Tigers.
After finishing 15th in 2013 and 2015, the Tigers came within a single point of finals football in 2016. It appeared as though they had come out the other side of the rebuilding years and halted the decline.
Instead, they blew it up and started again.
Jason Taylor pushed Robbie Farah out the door at the end of 2016. The club then pushed Taylor out in early 2017 while Ivan Cleary walked in the other way days later.
Cleary chose to clean house and Mitchell Moses was the first guy kicked off the bus. While he did all he could to retain James Tedesco and Aaron Woods, Cleary wouldn’t be held at ransom by two players who believed they were bigger than the club. They too saw the bus drive off without them.
Just like that, the Tigers were back towards the bottom of the ladder without their club legend and three-quarters of their “Big Four” all but out the door.
However, with Cleary, comes hope.
The fact this team wasn’t handcuffing themselves to anybody was made evident on Cleary’s arrival. Throughout the summer signing period, they only had eyes on the future and want players involved with the same vision.
This sentiment was backed up further by the signing of Josh Reynolds. For all his indiscretions, the way he carries himself and the pride he plays with is everything the Tigers want in a player right now. The same goes for Benji Marshall; he proved in Brisbane he will always do what is best for the team.
In signing Ben Matulino and Russell Packer, Cleary brings in two players he’s familiar with and that have been through this process before, after rebuiling a club with him before at the Warriors.
In the space of 10 months, the Tigers went from a club in a state of chaos and confusion, to one with drive and direction.
The famous ’on the bus’ culture Cleary has applied to the Tigers rebuild works well when considering how they will track this season.
If your local council took on a massive project like, say, a new bus route, would you expect them to get it right from day one?
Unless you live in a utopia, chances are they get the timetable wrong, the bus is too small or the fare is too expensive. It never runs smoothly from the start.
The same is likely to happen with the Tigers as they begin their journey from the NRL doldrums up towards the top of the ladder.
WORST CASE SCENARIO - The Bus Crashes
It could all be too much too soon.
With so many new faces walking around the club, there’s a lot to do regarding the introduction of Wests systems and developing chemistry. It’s not something that happens overnight, nor does it happen over the course of a few preseason hit outs.
It’s going to take Cleary weeks to iron out his first-choice 17 let alone have them running like a well-oiled machine.
While players and coaches navigate their way through the early stages of what they hope to be a long and fruitful relationship, the Tigers have the toughest start to the season of any club in the competition.
In the opening five rounds, they play the Roosters, Storm (twice), Broncos and Eels.
Throw in one of those as a ‘home’ game at Mt Smart Stadium and it’s not too farfetched to think this team opens 2018 with a five-game losing streak.
Usually from that position, the wheels on the bus fall off.
BEST CASE SCENARIO - September Footy
On paper, there’s an argument for the Tigers to press the eight:
- Reynolds is a proven winner
- Matulino and Packer make for a great prop duo
- Marshall is an ideal bench utility and an expert of the Tigers locker room
- Alex Twal and Matt Eisenhuth are guns ready to explode in 2018
- Chris Lawrence, Chris McQueen and Elijah Taylor provide the experience and consistency in the back row
- David Nofoaluma, Taane Milne, Kevin Naiqama and Mahe Fonua will be one of the most powerful outside backs quartet’s in the competition
The talent and coach are there and should they put all the pieces together in quick fashion, they could get a sniff of finals football.
To get to the promised land, they need the long-serving members of the club to put the rest on their back.
Lawrence has to be at the forefront and in the sort of form that has him back in the Origin conversation.
Marshall must have an impact and be playing well enough to be in the 17 every week.
Luke Brooks needs to transition from being a player with potential and start living up to it.
If those invested most in the club lead with their heart, the rest will follow.
In a perfect scenario, the Tigers emulate their 2016 season without giving the eventual wooden-spooners their only win of the season to fall a point short of the Top 8. Finishing this season with 12 wins and 12 losses would be enough to sneak into the finals for just the fourth time since 2000.
SO… What’s Really Going To Happen?
Like any NRL season, there will be bumps in the road.
The Tigers will have as many to work around as any club, although, they are in a better position to miss a few more potholes than they did last season.
With a tough opening schedule, there’s a good chance they start on the back foot. For a team so accustomed to losing, it’s going to be up to Cleary to ensure his players don’t fall back into old habits.
If they can rebound and move through the middle months to act on the potential that seems so apparent in February, the Tigers should start to move up the ladder.
The Top 8 is a realistic and achievable goal, but ultimately, it’s more likely they fall short. Finishing between 10th and 12th would be enough to consider the season a success and confirm the bus is headed in the right direction.
Jason Oliver - @JasonNRL