In Part 3 of his 16-part preview of the NRL season, rugby league writer Daniel Boss analyses the chances of his beloved Wests Tigers. Following the departure of star five-eight Benji Marshall, the Tigers will be looking to rebuild and regain credibility in 2014.
2013 was a horrible season for the Tigers. They languished at the foot of the ladder for the majority of the season, as wins came few and far between. The 7 wins for the Tigers in 2013 tied club lows that were set in 2002 and 2003. Last season was also the end of an era for the Tigers, as club legend Benji Marshall departed the club for a stint in rugby union. As a result, they are now in the midst of a rebuilding phase and looking for star players from the 2012 Toyota Cup premiership winning team to make the step up to first grade. Most notably, the Tigers are hoping for a lot from young halfback Luke Brooks, who showed plenty of promise in his only first grade game against the Dragons last season.
In particular, the Tigers are hoping that Brooks can reenergise their attack, as they scored a whopping 5 less points per game in 2013 than they did in 2012. Having lost star playmaker Marshall, this task will not be easy to achieve. However, a bigger problem for the Tigers is their defence, having conceded more than 8 points more than the average points conceded per game across the NRL in 2013. The club is banking on some experienced signings in the forward pack to help tighten up their defence.
The Tigers have lost a few players in the outside backs; most notably centre Blake Ayshford, utility outside back Joel Reddy and winger Lote Tuqiri. Ayshford and Tuqiri were shown the door as a result of poor form and injury (as well as age) respectively, while Reddy’s reliability and versatility will be missed. In regards to the players still there, the Tigers possess a potent attacking backline. Fullback James Tedesco is another year removed from a knee reconstruction and will be better for a full season in 2013 as well as the World Cup campaign for Italy. Chris Lawrence is a steady influence if he can stay healthy, while young guns David Nofoaluma and Tim Simona are quality outside backs. On one wing, there will be competition between signing Pat Richards and Marika Koroibete. Richards is a more solid winger while Koroibete is an absolute flyer but is still quite raw. In terms of depth, the Tigers have bought in centre Keith Lulia from Bradford, who Mick Potter previously coached.
For Round 1 of the 2013 NRL season, the halves combination for the Tigers comprised of Benji Marshall and Jacob Miller. Both are now no longer with the club. Some initial media reports stated that Luke Brooks and Tim Moltzen would be the halves combination for the Tigers in 2014. However, following another knee injury to Moltzen, this will not be the case. Brooks will definitely be the halfback in 2014 but the five eight position is much less certain. The main contenders are Braith Anasta, Curtis Sironen and signing Blake Austin. Sironen will more likely be playing in the back row where he is better suited and I feel that the Tigers will go with Anasta, based on the fact that the Tigers will be looking for experience at five eight. I’m just not sure how well they will be able to provide attacking opportunities for the good outside backs.
The starting front row for the Tigers is actually strong on paper, which comprises of Aaron Woods, Robbie Farah and Keith Galloway. All have played State of Origin for New South Wales and Farah and Galloway have played for Australia. The Tigers will need all three to be at their best if they are to compete in 2014. Farah is the Tigers best player and is the key to this team. At hooker, the main alternate options are Masada Iosefa and Liam Fulton, so the more games that Farah plays the better. In the front row, the Tigers have a few young, up-and-coming players such as Ben Murdoch-Masila, Jack Buchanan, Ava Seumanufagai and the impressive Nathan Brown. Expect to see more of Brown, who was only able to play one first grade game in 2013 as a result of salary cap restrictions. The Tigers have also added Martin Taupau from Canterbury to their front row depth, which provides more experience to the front row.
Like the front row, the Tigers back row on paper also looks strong. I would expect the starting back row to consist of Liam Fulton, Adam Blair and Curtis Sironen. Fulton is the workhorse of this team, Sironen is a strong hole runner but does need to improve defensively. Blair has been mostly disappointing since moving to the Tigers at the start of the 2012 season. If the Tigers are to contend for the finals in 2014, then he needs to have a big season. They have also signed Corey Paterson and Dene Halatau to bolster their back row depth, in addition to Sauaso Sue, Bodene Thompson and Shaun Spence. While Spence and Sue have shown some potential, it is quite a drop off in quality when compared to the starters.
Last season, the Tigers mainly went with four forwards off the interchange bench and covered for any injuries in the backs by moving either Fulton or Thompson to the backline. I would expect the Tigers to have a similar bench in 2014, especially with the addition of Halatau who has experience in the backs. Of the four on the bench, I would expect two or three to be front rowers and the rest to be a back rower with some versatility.
The coach of the Wests Tigers, Mick Potter, enters the 2014 season in the hot seat. If the team does not have early success, then Potter may be relieved of his duties. However, his coaching ability is still an unknown as he inherited a squad compiled by Tim Sheens. Reports have also suggested that Potter is looking at implementing a Melbourne-like attacking structure to take advantage of the strengths of the team (Farah and Blair). However, I am sceptical of this strategy as I am not sure if the Tigers have good enough halves to be able to make this work. Plus, it gives less room to their strong outside backs.
- James Tedesco
- David Nofoaluma
- Tim Simona
- Chris Lawrence
- Pat Richards
- Braith Anasta
- Luke Brooks
- Aaron Woods
- Robbie Farah
- Keith Galloway
- Curtis Sironen
- Adam Blair
- Liam Fulton
- Nathan Brown
- Jack Buchanan
- Ben Murdoch-Masila
- Dene Halatau
14th. Fellow Tigers supporters, I am expecting another tough year for the team that we love. While it looks good on paper, the forward pack does lack aggression and can be outmuscled by the better sides. However, the big question mark on this team is in the halves as the halfback lacks experience and the five-eighth is better served in the back row. I can’t see them improving their point scoring this season as a result. The Tigers don’t have an overly difficult start to the 2014 season, with a fair few winnable games there. Much like the Dragons, their record over the first couple of months will dictate their fate in the premiership.
2014 Ladder Prediction