The presumption of the 2020 NRL season has shown Wests Tigers fans that there is still a way to go until the team can be considered as a premiership force.
Although the Tigers came away with a good win against the Sharks and Cowboys, disappointing losses to the Titans and the Raiders have shown the holes in the roster as it is currently constructed.
The club management has some tough decisions to make in the next 12 months and fans might not like what they see in terms of results for the 2020 season but it is important that supporters of the club exercise patience and understanding as Michael Maguire tries to build the roster into a premiership force.
Coaching stability is fundamentally important
NRL fans can sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that short term failure will always lead to long term pain in terms of success. For the Tigers, this could not be further from the truth.
The Tigers need to recommit to long term to Michael Maguire and his vision for the club for multiple reasons.
The first reason is that the club is in desperate need of stability. It really has been a turnstile of different coaches coming through the joint venture since the departure of Tim Sheens.
From Mick Potter to Jason Taylor and Ivan Cleary, now is the perfect time for the leaders of the club to hand over the keys to someone who can build a strong Tigers culture moving forward.
The more changes a club makes to the coaching staff, the more they will find themselves in the rebuilding phase which is exactly the reason why the Tigers in the present can’t seem to take the next step into a top 8 team.
A consistent and continuous voice of leadership will lead to long term success for the Tigers which is why Wests Tigers need to lock up Madge long term.
The second reason is that Michael Maguire is a premiership-winning coach which puts him in a class above most other coaches in the NRL.
There’s no way that the Tigers could attract another coach of Maguire’s caliber if they were to go to the open market which is why the retention of the coach is crucial going forward.
Although the Titans loss was disappointing, not many Tigers fans were surprised by the result which is a sad example of the cultural problems that have plagued the club for the majority of its existence.
These cultural and mental toughness issues are what is stopping the team from progressing forward.
For these reasons, Michael Maguire is the perfect coach for the job because he demands physical and mental toughness from his players and will install a winning mindset that focuses on defense once he can shape his roster and hopefully add more talent.
The media seemed shocked by Maguire’s team changes going into the Raiders game but to fans, it’s a clear indication that inconstancy and complacency will no longer be tolerated at the Wests Tigers.
The third reason is that stability in the coaching department makes recruiting talent so much easier. NRL clubs like the Bulldogs and Dragons will have a lot of cap space going forward but I can guarantee that this means next to nothing as quality players with options won’t sign until they have assurances about who the coach will be next year.
This problem puts those clubs at a disadvantage and should be one that the Tigers need to avoid.
Players and fans want stability which always starts from the top in an organization.
For all these reasons, Wests Tigers players and fans must keep their faith in Michael Maguire as it will lead to long term success.
The Tigers need to find a way to keep Harry Grant
Quality spine players are far and few between in the NRL and usually separate the average teams from the elite contenders.
The Tigers should do everything in their power to stop Harry Grant from going back to Melbourne next year short of abducting him and holding him against his will in Concord.
Circuit breaking signings don’t come often in the NRL but they can change the fortunes of a club when they do.
Look at Ponga and the Knights; Grant can have this kind of impact for the Tigers. There is a rumor that Grant has a get-out clause in his contract if Cameron Smith plays on in 2021 and even if this doesn’t occur, the Storm still have Brandon Smith on their roster.
Brandon Smith has gone on record stating that the Storm have promised him the starting hooking role which surely wouldn’t sit well with Grant.
The Tigers need to set aside money on their salary cap so they can make Grant an offer that’s too good to refuse. Grant has only played 4 games for the club and it can be argued he’s already the best player on the team.
This one is a no brainer for the Tigers and would be a huge boost for our rebuild going forward.
The Club needs to recruit an experienced forward to lead the pack
It has been quite clear to see that in the games the Tigers have lost, the Tigers forward pack has looked disappointing. From observing the games, it just seems like the young pack just can’t wrestle pack momentum when the going is tough.
In my opinion, this comes down to mental toughness and experience which is something this young forward pack lacks. Salary cap room seems tight at the Tigers but an experienced signing in the forwards would do a world of good for the development of some of the young forwards coming through the club.
Experienced veterans set the standards at clubs and are the players you turn to when things aren’t going your way because they are the people who can be relied upon in the trenches.
The Brisbane Broncos are having the exact same problem with their roster. The Broncos have all the talent in the world in their roster but a team needs experienced veterans holding young players accountable.
The Roosters squad is the perfect example of how important this balance is. A player like James Tamou or Jesse Bromwich (who has a player option to go to the open market at the end of this year) in the front row along with the current roster would help the club go to that next level of consistency.
Having great young players is very important but if nobody shows them how to be professionals on and off the field, their development will suffer.
The Tigers should also consider signing someone like Christian Welsh to fill this role in the front row. Depending on the outcome of his court case, Jack De Belin is another option that would add starch, experience, and leadership to the pack.
Finding a classy 7 is absolutely crucial
Halfbacks own the results of a game and the Wests Tigers are in need of a game manager. With the futures of Benji Marshall and Josh Reynolds up in the air, a dominant number 7 who can direct the team around the field is a critical component of the rebuild.
Although Luke Brooks wears the number 7, the Tigers star plays his best when he’s running the ball instinctively like a number 6.
Signing a player who can organize the team in attack and finish sets off with strong kicks will fundamentally improve the Tigers attack.
Forcing goal-line drop-outs has been a real struggle this season so if the Tigers can attract someone with a polished kicking game, the Tigers will be a much bigger attacking threat.
Luke Brooks as the main playmaker of a team hasn’t worked so far this season but there aren’t many halves in the comp that I would swap with the Balmain junior so hopefully, his best footy is still to come.
I think the next 12 months are critical for Luke Brooks to establish that he is good enough to lead the team going into the future because as we’ve seen, Maguire isn’t afraid to wield the axe.
The Tigers need more talent in their roster
When watching the Raiders loss, the hard reality set in that the Tigers don’t have the cattle as of now to really challenge the top teams when it counts; they are 3 or 4 talented players short.
To win a competition, a team needs to have players that can make something happen out of nothing when everything is going against you.
South Sydney were able to beat the Titans when we could not because they have too many classy and skillful players that can stand up when it counts.
When Souths needed a repeat set or a strong kick to finish the set, Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker stepped up.
Look at the Roosters, with the likes of Luke Keary, James Tedesco, Kyle Flanagan, Victor Radley and Jake Friend, the premiers are an absolute powerhouse in attack.
Ricky Stuart made a very interesting comment last year:
“When you’re playing against talent you need talent. It doesn’t matter what game plan you’ve got, what strategies you’ve got, if you haven’t got talent it makes it so much harder.”
There is absolutely a lot of talented players on the team who are crucial for the future of the club. At the same time, there are also players that aren’t living up to their price tag which has really put a ceiling on player signings for the club at present.
The real key for the Tigers in the rebuild is to attract the right talent as the salary cap space starts to free up.
Tigers fans at the moment, however, just need to be patient and hope that the young Tigers players already at the club continue to improve and progress into elite players.
Continue to invest in youth
The Tigers football department has done a great job in attracting some elite young talent to the club. Players like Tommy Talau, Reece Hoffman, Jake Simpkin, Shawn Blore, and Stefano Utoikamanu will play massive roles for the club moving forward.
Even the signing of Adam Doueihi now looks like a masterstroke from the club because 4 games into playing the fullback position, the Lebanese international is one of the Tiger’s best players.
The Tigers have also been linked to Jason Saab from the Dragons who would solve the team’s right winger problem. The recruitment and retention of young elite talent will be key in improving the Tigers as a team.
Fans need to be patient as the club waits out terrible contracts
Fans need to be patient because the current salary cap problems that the club is experiencing is not the fault of the current management.
The argument could be made that Justin Pascoe signed off on the terrible contracts but it is important to remember that Ivan Cleary demanded 100% control of the recruitment and retention of players in 2017 before he became Coach.
Ivan Cleary before leaving spent marquee money on players like Josh Reynolds, Moses Mbye, and Russell Packer which has really restricted the moves that the Tigers can make now as they look to improve the roster.
It’s very frustrating but fans just need to be patient and trust that the current football department will do a better job of building a team than Ivan did in 2017.