Thursday night’s 32-12 loss to Manly put Wests Tigers’ season on life support but Michael Maguire believes his wounded team can win their last three matches and creep into the finals.
Young Wests Tigers hooker Jacob Liddle suffered a season-ending injury when his left knee appeared to collapse inward after some accidental friendly fire, with debutant Tommy Talau colliding with his knee in just the sixth minute.
Liddle was taken from the field in considerable distress to be assessed for ACL, MCL and PCL damage with even the best case scenario likely to end the No.9’s season. He joins first-choice rake Robbie Farah (cracked tibia), captain Moses Mbye (hip flexor strain) and prop Josh Aloiai (hand) on an expanding casualty list.
But Maguire is optimistic the 10th-placed Tigers can trump Newcastle, St George Illawarra and Cronulla to enter the playoffs for the first time since 2011. “That’s what we need to do, so we’ll roll up this week and we’ll have a real crack at it,” Maguire said. “At the end of the day, every week’s an important week and you can reflect back on certain things that we did throughout the season.” “But we’ve got three games to go and I’m looking forward to turning up tomorrow and going back to work and achieving what we set out to achieve.”
While the end margin may imply the Tigers rolled over as the Sea Eagles ran riot, Maguire was pleased with the fight his men showed despite an unfavourable eight-two penalty count, having only 36 per cent of possession and making 170 more tackles than their opponents.
“I’ve got a bunch of boys that work really hard for each other and I saw that tonight. Unfortunately at the end there it did blow out,” Maguire said. "We couldn’t get the possession, we couldn’t get a hold of the game. To Manly’s credit, they squeezed us and put the pressure game on and obviously knocked us into corners. "We probably didn’t help ourselves at times with what we did with the ball. We just couldn’t get in control of what we would have liked to. “I think our boys, they hung in and fought really hard right throughout the game. Just the scoreline blew out.”
Maguire said he would “obviously look at” bringing Josh Reynolds back from exile to fill the No.9 jersey with the team’s hooking ranks running thin. Elijah Taylor is the only other obvious candidate for the role.
The premiership-winning mentor rated Mbye a “touch and go” chance to play next round, while he’s still holding hope that Farah can overcome the odds to represent the club at least once more before retiring.
Tigers halfback Luke Brooks was placed on report for kneeing Manly back-rower Jack Gosiewski in the first half but Maguire doesn’t think he has a case to answer.