After watching the loss to the New Zealand Warriors in round 12, it’s fair to say that there are some massive questions about the Wests Tiger’s spine going into 2021.
No matter how good a car is manufactured, if a wheel isn’t working, that car is going nowhere which is honestly what it’s been like for the Tigers when they’ve lost games this season.
As a whole, I think the team’s ability to wrestle back momentum from the opposition has been poor through 2020. In particular, the kicking game and last tackle options need improvement.
Sub-par game management and last tackle options
The Wests Tigers halves haven’t been able to kick the team out of trouble this season. An inability to kick into good territory with the team registering only one 40/20 for the season proves that kicking is an issue.
Whenever the team has enjoyed attacking field position, the halves have failed to build pressure with goal-line dropouts.
Last tackle options in clutch games have been a huge problem this season and are why the Tigers steering wheel appears to be broken at the moment.
Just look at how well Kodi Nikorima and Blake Green played against the Tigers who aren’t world-beaters in the competition.
The two halves kicking well, organized their edges in a way that looked smooth and when nothing was on in attack, they just kicked the ball into the in-goal building pressure and the Tigers eventually cracked.
Although the Wests Tigers forward pack didn’t do anywhere near well enough to lay down a solid foundation for the halves, the great playmakers find a way to win back momentum for their team.
In the majority of games this season against strong opposition, the effort has been there from the Tigers in defense but a lack of possession and a good ball in the opposition 20 has let the team down.
A lot of this comes down to the playmakers and how they finish sets. Ash Taylor when we were on top against the Titans banged a 40/20 which completely turned the game.
Adam Reynolds for Souths when the game was tied came up with a great line break turning the ball over on our goal-line which completely swung momentum for Souths in their favor.
This is what you need your halves to do. To come up with plays when momentum is not going your way and apart for some Marshall magic in certain games, I think the Tigers have failed this season in that regard.
The current options:
Coach Michael Maguire has recently publically come out and thrown his support behind Luke Brooks as the long term 7 of the club which points to the fact that he’ll be there in round 1 of 2021.
In terms of the 6 jerseys, there doesn’t seem to be an answer that gives fans any hope that the team will be any better off going in 2021.
Benji Marshall although excelling in attack this season has questions marks over his endurance and defense.
It’s important to note that Marshall will turn 36 in February of 2021 so questions about his age and durability are important to consider going forward.
Although Marshall is still playing at a high level, any commitment for another season comes with massive risk which the Tigers might not have the luxury to make.
It’s also never good to see a legend play on for one too many seasons so it might be time for Marshall to go out on top.
After a promising start against the Broncos, it seems that Billy Walters has struggled to assert himself in the Tigers attack against better defenses.
Walters has been kept quiet for two weeks in a row against both the Eels and Warriors which isn’t a great sign that he can nail down the 6 jersey long-term.
Walters, however, is signed on for next year so no doubt he’ll be in contention for a starting spot but he hasn’t done anything so far that would stop the club from recruiting a playmaker outside the top 30.
Josh Reynolds although playing solid this season hasn’t been anywhere near the playmaker that the Tigers need to improve on the ladder and the big-money contract he’s on continues to restrict the club from improving their roster.
With only a year left on his deal, it’s hard to imagine that the Tigers aren’t trying to move him along to gain flexibility in the salary cap.
If Josh Reynolds were to start 2021 in the halves for the Tigers with Brooks, I think fans will probably see a similar season play out compared to what’s currently happening in 2020.
Between Brooks and Reynolds in the halves, I just don’t think there’s enough creativity to beat the better teams when the Tigers don’t have momentum.
The last two positional performances of Adam Doueihi have been disappointing and cost the team some crucial points.
It’s very important to examine if this lack of positional awareness is due to inexperience or a genuine lack of speed and athleticism which is stopping him from getting to crucial points of the field fast enough.
If the answer is the latter, then the Tigers have a big problem. Doueihi is a massive talent with his size and ball-playing ability which is why he might shift into the halves in 2021.
If Doueihi moves into the 6 jersey, there’s the obvious question of who will replace him at Fullback but the Tigers need to find a way to make it work because the Lebanese International can play.
Doueihi is also on considerable large money which is why moving him to centre would cause more problems than it would solve.
Moving Doueihi into the 6 position where he can still ball play and put someone at the back who’s more of a natural athlete in terms of speed would hit two birds with one stone with the Tigers halves problem.
Players coming through the system
Michael Maguire throughout his coaching career has shown a willingness to promote halves from within the club to fill spots in the halves.
At Souths, Maguire gave starts to Adam Reynolds and Luke Keary who both spent time in the South Sydney system before debuting.
Maguire also gave Cody Walker an opportunity in first grade who at the time was an unknown commodity coming from the Queensland Cup.
If his past actions are anything to go by, Maguire might opt to blood a young player in 2021, and there a few options to choose from.
Due to the salary cap situation of the club, I think the Tigers recruitment needs to come up with a creative solution to the halves problem because they don’t have the money to match offers to teams like the Bulldogs, Dragons and Titans might throw at players that become available.
Tigers fan might well see one of these names feature in 2021 as the Five-Eighth position.
Going into the last season of a 3-year deal, Jock Madden could prove to be the solution to the 6 jersey in 2021.
Madden is a very strong organizer with a great kicking game that would complement Brooks who plays more effectively without the pressure of game managing.
Madden can also kick goals which is music to the ears of all Tigers fans. The impact that the Corona Virus has had on the reserve grade competitions has made it difficult to know for sure if Madden can make the transition into first grade and it’s also unknown where he is in the pecking order in terms of playmakers for the Tigers coaching staff.
If Madden features in any games towards the end of 2020, Tigers fans will know that the coaching staff has plans for Madden in 2021.
An Australian Schoolboy signed from the Eels in 2019, Tyler Field has a lot of potential that could see him play first grade in the near future.
Primarily a ball runner with speed off the mark, Field will need to prove that he can finish sets at an elite level if he wants to partner Brooks in the halves.
In a similar way to Madden, Field started the year in Jersey Flegg and any chance of seeing his development this year has been halted by the Corona Virus pandemic shutting down junior representative competitions.
Playing as the captain and goal-kicker for the Balmain Tigers in the SG ball competition, Zane Camroux has proven to be a big and straight running 6 that can break the line.
Rumored to be on a development contract next year for the Tigers, it is unlikely that fans will see Camroux play first grade in 2021 but expect the young playmaker to continue to make a name for himself at the club and with fans in the Jersey Flegg and NSW cup competitions.
Potential recruits for 2021
As stated before, the Tigers have a few talented halves coming through the system, but except Jock Madden, the young players are long odds to be ready for first grade going into 2021.
Going to the open market to sign a player on a 1-2-year contract could be the play for the club. Here are some realistic targets given the amount of salary-cap space available to the club.
Both the Mole and the Daily Telegraph have linked Kieran Foran with a move to Concord in 2021.
Foran’s time at the Bulldogs has been marked with injury and a lack of talent around him but on his day, the Kiwi playmaker is still one of the better halves in the competition.
There’s a fair element of risk in this signing given his injury history and age but Foran strengths as a playmaker are exactly what the Tigers need and at this point are worth the risk if the contract is team-friendly.
Foran is an experienced leader who goes straight and deep into the line in attack.
It can be argued that Foran is very limited at the moment regarding the talent he has around him so imagine if Foran replaced Marshall on the right side with Blore, Mbye, and Talau all outside of him.
Foran is also capable of finishing offsets which would take a lot of pressure off Luke Brooks. In terms of likelihood, I think Foran to the Tigers is a good chance of happening.
With the arrival of Blake Green to the Knights, the Tigers should go hard for Phoenix Crossland.
Coming through the Newcastle system with Jock Madden, the young Knights player made his debut in 2019 and can play as a 7 as well as a 6.
Crossland is also eligible to play for the New Zealand National team which is relevant considering Michael Maguire is the national coach.
Crossland seems first grade ready but is stuck behind Mitchell Pierce, Kurt Mann, Tex Hoy, and now Blake Green in the pecking order of playmakers.
Now that the Knights have signed Green, it seems likely that Crossland might become available to poach.
A product of the Storm System, Cooper Johns is yet to make his first-grade debut and comes off-contract at the end of the 2020 season.
After an impressive 2019 season with the Sunshine Coast Falcons in the Queensland Cup, Johns has proven that he has the potential to make it in first-grade.
Behind more experienced players like Cameron Munster and Jerome Hughes, Johns might be forced to look for opportunities north of the border and could prove to be a great move by the Tigers if they can lock him up.
It’s interesting to note that Cooper Johns made the NSW under 20’s team ahead of Matt Burton in 2019 before pulling out which shows how much the young half is rated.
The older brother of Shawn, Dean Blore is a big playmaker off-contract at the end of the year and down the pecking order in terms of Penrith halves.
A very skillful player for his size, Blore might be worth signing on a contract to replace Benji Marshall if Josh Reynolds and his massive salary are still at the club.
Blore wouldn’t command much money, would act as good depth, and might just need a new situation to start to kick start his first-grade career.
What’s interesting to note is that the same source from the Wests Tigers forum that claimed the club was talking to Asu Kapaoa also claimed that the Tigers were in talks with Dean Blore so it seems like the mail is pretty good.
The emergence of the Penrith Panthers in 2020 as premiership contenders has left playmaking utility Tyrone May stuck on the bench.
Off-contract at the end of 2020, May is an out and out instinctual Footy player who could help replace the attacking load that will be gone if Benji Marshall chooses to retire.
A number 6 with a great running game, May would be a cheap option for the Tigers as they look to add for attacking strike to their roster for the 2021 season.
After winning the reserve grade competition with the Newtown jets in 2019, young playmaker Braydon Trindall is off-contract at the end of the year.
With his road to first-grade blocked by Shaun Johnston and Chad Townsend, Trindall would be a signing for the Tigers that would provide plenty to be excited about for Tigers fans going forward.
Trindall is a great runner who can play on either side of the field and looked impressive in his first-grade debut against the Broncos in round 12.
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