Is there anything more Wests Tigers than to play so well when the going is good but fall short when it matters most?
After a brilliant and controlled win against a South Sydney team with a number of NRL stars, the Wests Tigers fell short against last year’s wooden spooners in the Gold Coast Titans.
Although the Nines tournament in the context of a season means very little, I think Michael Maguire’s men will be disappointed that they failed to back up their impressive performance on day one to miss out on a great opportunity to play high-pressure elimination footy.
As a fan, it just seems that must-win games and the Wests Tigers just don’t go hand in hand. After watching the two games from the Tournament, here is my immediate reaction and how this affects the team going into the trials.
For a team without their main playmakers, the Tigers looked good in attack
With Luke Brooks and Benji Marshall not participating in the 2020 NRL Nines, the Tigers really needed players like Moses Mbye, Billy Walters and Jock Madden to stand up and lead the team around the field.
Although South Sydney made 5 errors in the first half of game one, the Tigers were very clinical and punished the bunnies for their mistakes with very impressive team tries and one impressive solo effort from Billy Walters.
I thought that Corey Thompson’s passing game was very impressive compared to last year and Walters impressed me on day one with his footwork.
However, in my opinion, the Tigers most consistently threatening player was Luciano Leilua. The big backrower put both Thomas Mikaele and Luke Garner over for important tries and looked like a handful for the defense in the two games he played.
Hopefully, the Samoan International is primed for a big 2020.
After a poor start, the Tigers clawed their way back but an inability to create second-phase play really let them down against the Titans.
I really thought that the Tiger’s inability to offload the ball when they were down by a try at the beginning of the second half really cost them the game.
After a fast start to the game from the Titans, the Tigers managed to swing momentum but just couldn’t spend enough time in the Gold Coasts half to pose any attacking threat until it was too late.
The ball really needed to be in the hands of players like Mikaele and Leilua or even Alex Seyfarth who almost scored as the big forwards could have really broken down the defense which would have led to more points.
I just feel the Tigers tried to go around the Titans one too many times. I am a little concerned as creating offloads was an area of concern for the Tigers in 2019 so hopefully, the Tigers improve in this area in the trials when more of their experienced players are playing.
Careless mistakes and a lack of direction really cost the Tigers
On day one, the Tigers looked disciplined and respected the ball by completing their sets and on day two they did the exact opposite. Careless mistakes and a lack of possession saw the Tigers chasing the game from the start.
It was just one of those afternoons where the Tigers ran it when they should have passed it and passed it when they should have run it.
Although the Tigers looked very impressive when spreading it wide against the Bunnies, the Titans due to the speed of their backs never really looked troubled.
I think the Tigers playmakers should have realized sooner that up the middle was where the game could be won and it just seemed like the team lacked intensity when it mattered most.
Thompson and Chee-Kam are made for Nines footy
Both Thompson and Chee-Kam looked dangerous every time they touched the ball and seem to be tailor-made for the Nines format.
Thompson’s hustle in defense was also very impressive. Both players will play key roles for the Tigers as they push for finals footy.
Robert Jennings looks fit and firing
After an underwhelming season in 2019, Jennings looked quicker and lighter in the Nines tournament in which he impressed me with his power running especially against the bunnies.
It would be a massive win for the club if Jennings can kind some of his 2018 form that saw him score 18 tries.
Madden was unlucky not to score against the Titans
Although maybe not the high percentage play needed, I thought that Madden demonstrated great vision and a degree of confidence to put the ball on the foot and back himself. Unfortunately for Madden, Phillip Sami is one of the quicker players in the competition but if it was just about anyone else, I back the young Tigers player to score.
As a whole, I thought Madden was very impressive given his limited game time not looking out of place in the Nines. It’s really hard to rate the other rookies as Seyfarth and Talau didn’t see much opportunity while Ratuvakacereivalu and Matheson didn’t play at all.
The defense against the Titans on the try line was disappointing
Soft tries to Ash Taylor and Jai Whitbread on the Tigers try line is surely concerning for Michael Maguire as the team goes into the 2020 season looking to improve on their consistency.
The Tigers broke the golden rule of defense by failing to wrap up the ball against Whitbread while a poor one on one miss against Ash Taylor demonstrates that the Tigers still have a lot to work on if they hope to make the 8 in 2020.
Why was Momirovoski even playing if the Tigers are still hoping for the player swap?
In the NBA, a common sign that a player is about to get traded is that they are rested from games for no apparent reason. Clearly the Tigers missed the memo with Momirovski picking up a lower leg injury which will put him out for 2 to 3 weeks potentially risking the Harry Grant trade deal.
As of right now, the Tigers have no specialist hooker in their top 30 and it just seems that playing Momirovski in the 9’s was an unnecessary risk due to the fact that the club should have just given more minutes to players like Talau.
Walters could be the solution at 9.
Billy Walters against the bunnies showed that he can be a threat on the field from a number of positions impressing both from 6 and 9 however it can be argued that he tried to force the issue by running the ball a bit too much against the Titans.
If Walters can find consistency and control in his attacking game, he has the ability to do a job for the Tigers at Hooker or Five-Eight.
Why didn’t the Tigers play the Raiders?
Have you ever heard of a tournament where a team only plays against two of the 3 other teams in their pool games? Me neither but that’s the NRL for you.
The Tigers have every right to feel hard done by and unlucky as both the Titans and the Bunnies had the opportunity to play a far weaker Canberra Raiders team with almost no first-grade experience in which both teams recorded big wins.
As the Nines is by no means an indication of how a team will go in the up and coming season, both the good and bad aspects of the Tiger’s performance should be taken with a grain of salt.
The Tiger’s trial against the Penrith Panthers on the 22ndof February should provide a better indication of how the team is traveling so I encourage as many Tigers fans as possible to make it to the game to support the team.
Image: Wests Tigers Website