Another pre-season and another lot of NRL previews brought to you by one of our key men, Ricky. Over the next month or so, he will be outlining his thoughts on each team and the big questions surrounding them heading into the 2017 season. This year, we thought we would do things a bit differently and start with the Wests Tigers. So basically, we’re doing the previews in reverse alphabetical order.
The Wests Tigers boast some talented players and such a fact cannot be disputed. However, many still have them slated as potential wooden spoon contenders. You have to ask yourself, though – is it justified to lump them in that category for the 2017 season?
Boasting one of the top young fullbacks in the game in James Tedesco who, as we saw in 2016, can single-handedly win a game for his club, they are blessed with natural talent, flair and footballing smarts from the back. The downside, however, is that a lot of the Tigers fans hopes often pin on the feats of Tedesco and should a team dominate the Tigers defensively or if Tedesco gets injured – which for the sake of NRL fans and especially Tigers fans we hope does not happen – then the Tigers often struggle in games as we have seen in the past.
Encouragingly, one other player did step up towards the back end of the year to help the Tigers to some victories and that was five-eighth Mitch Moses. Since he has been in the NRL, he has taken Tigers fans on an up-and-down ride in terms of his form but he impressed in 2016 and has many Tigers fans excited about what he can do to start the 2017 season. If he and fellow young half Luke Brooks can find their mojo early, the Tigers have the attacking nous to perform well and perform consistently. The big questions surrounding them, though – can they both remain consistent and can they take the load off Tedesco in attack?
Another big question now surrounds the vacant hooker position. Despite the turmoil that eventually led to his departure from the club, the absence of Robbie Farah leaves his replacement with incredibly big shoes to fill. An attacking player that acts like a third playmaker, in the eyes of some Tigers fans he eased the burden on the club’s young attacking players and in the eyes of others, he made it worse for them by taking away from their capabilities. Fast forward to 2017 and the club has two primary options at hooker in Matt Ballin and Matt McIlwrick. Ballin, whilst a veteran of the game and well revered, is coming off a lengthy stint out of the game due to a knee injury.
Whilst a good player in his own right, Tigers fans will be concerned about his longevity and whether he can offer the impact and dynamism from the hooker role. Conversely, Matt McIlwrick looms as another option for the club but his inexperience at the first-grade level looms as a fundamental concern.
For the Tigers to have any sort of consistent success this year, they need some their players to rally around Tedesco, Moses and Brooks. They have other talented players at their disposal and now is the time for them to step up and perform to take the pressure off their young play-makers. With experience in the likes of Aaron Woods, Chris Lawrence and Elijah Taylor, the trio shape as key leaders for the club in 2017 to guide them towards potential success.
Best buy: Not overly active in the recruitment market ahead of the 2017 season, the most interesting buy the Tigers have made is the purchase of Jamal Idris. Once a genuinely talented up-and-comer in the league, off-field issues and family drama led to inconsistency in his game and ultimately his departure from the NRL. After going on a soul-searching mission to rediscover himself and find his inner peace, Idris sought a return to the NRL, given a chance by a Tigers side many deem as being on the rise. Whilst many have their doubts about him given he has been away from the game for a while, others are quietly hopeful that he can replicate earlier success in his career and become a handy addition for the Tigers side.
Best Young Talent: Talk to any Tigers fan and there is one name on their lips. Esan Marsters. A hulking, young lad, he has impressed over the last couple of seasons with some Tigers fans carefully monitoring his progress and calling for him to be given first-grade opportunities. Performing well at all levels he has played in so far, he is a player that has endless potential.
Already a talented player from a basic edge forward level, what takes Marsters to the next level is astute footwork close to the line and some surprising ball skills. Now in the club’s full-time squad, Marsters has a chance to stake his claim in the NSW Cup after what can only be described as a phenomenal individual season in the Holden Cup last year. Keep your eye on him because if he plays, he could be something special.
2017 gains: Jamal Idris (sabbatical) & Matt McIlwrick (Cronulla Sharks).
Our predicted line-up:
1. James Tedesco
2. David Nofoaluma
3. Jamal Idris
4. Tim Simona
5. Kevin Naiqama
6. Mitch Moses
7. Luke Brooks
8. Aaron Woods (C)
9. Matt Ballin
10. Sauaso Sue
11. Chris Lawrence
12. Josh Aloiai
13. Elijah Taylor
14. Ava Seumanufagai
15. Tim Grant
16. Michael Chee-Kam
17. Joel Edwards