In a final nail to the coffin, the Wests Tigers suffered a comprehensive loss to the Penrith Panthers going down 30 points to 6 at Panthers Stadium.
Usually, when a team is losing more than half of their games, certain deficiencies become a consistent problem on game day more times than not. For the Tigers, two common themes I’ve seen that have hurt them are their lack of go-forward in the middle and last-tackle options.
The Tigers haven’t been able to generate enough momentum in the middle of the field and haven’t managed to stop other teams from doing this up the middle either.
General kicking has also been a massive let down this season from the halves.
These two areas of the game are clear to see especially when the Tigers play the top 4 teams like Penrith. So, instead of writing the same article about what the Tigers did wrong against the Panthers, I thought I would give my thoughts on what the loss has shown the Tigers need in terms of the squad for 2021.
Something different in the halves
For me, the biggest area of concern for the squad going forward is who is going to play 6 and 7 going into 2021.
Although it’s a cliché, the halves in Rugby League are so important to the success of any team. Against Penrith, both Luke Brooks and Benji Marshall, even though the forwards were getting rolled, just weren’t getting the job done steering the team around the park.
The Tigers lost the territory battle badly and when they did get the ball in good field position, nothing much was going on in attack.
Even if the Tigers managed to sign someone like Josh Addo-Carr or Charlie Staines, the Tigers halves problems would mean that these kinds of players may not see much good ball in attack and could be wasted out wide.
It wouldn’t be the end of the world if Benji Marshall was to go on again in 2021, but if he’s the starting option next year, the Tigers are probably doomed to repeat the same results as 2020.
Benji at times can wind back the clock and come up with moments of class with a beautiful pass, but his defense and ability to break the line in attack aren’t at the standard of a first-grade halfback.
Benji’s halves partner, Luke Brooks for most of this season has looked lost and shot for confidence. For years, Brooks has been encouraged to run the ball more but the problem now is that he runs the ball too much and isn’t creating for others.
Some Tigers fans will tell you that Brooks just needs better players around him but with the exception of Tedesco, this team has the most strike out wide from backrower to winger in his career in the halfback’s career.
Luke Brooks just isn’t creating enough for the team at the moment with his passing and kicking.
This is honestly the biggest problem at the club right now and could eventually cost Maguire his job if the wrong decision is made.
The Tigers surely have to be thinking about whether Brooks is in their long term plans as the halfback because if he isn’t, the club has to try and sell now while Brook’s value is enough for a team like the Bulldogs or the Dragons to be interested.
If the Tigers don’t do this they’ll be paying Brooks salary until the end of 2023.
It’s a tough decision because Luke Brooks is a favorite son of the Tigers, but the NRL is a business where you need to win games and if you’re not doing this then you’re out of a job.
The credibility of the Tigers as an organization is on a knifes edge at the moment and how the club handles Brooks could set the tone for the next decade.
Working with the likes of Adam Reynolds, Cody Walker, and Luke Keary means that Michael Maguire knows what is expected from a half to win a competition so surely he knows that a tough decision on Brooks has to be made this off-season.
With Billy Walters suffering an ACL injury and Josh Reynolds linked to the super league, there’s no doubt that the Tigers need to recruit at least one more playmaker if not two if Marshall retires.
I also wouldn’t be surprised if Jock Madden made his NRL debut next week after Maguire’s press conference comments.
If Madden can turn into a genuine NRL 7, the Tiger’s chances of success in 2021 will have received a huge boost.
If Madden doesn’t impress, then the only real option would be going out and signing a half which is a scary thought considering the lack of quality playmakers available combined with the salary cap situation.
Much more help is in the middle
The biggest thing from watching the Penrith game was that the Tigers couldn’t break in the middle of the field to save their lives.
The team didn’t enter the Panthers 20 after the 16th minute because our forwards couldn’t generate enough momentum to create some offense off the back of it.
Going into 2021, help in the middles is greatly needed.
This entire season I’ve been very impressed with Josh Aloiai as a presence in the middle. Week after week, he leads the team with great go forward. The big problem is that the Tigers currently don’t have a dominant second option that can share the workload with Aloiai in the starting pack.
With Alex Twal and Zane Musgrove injured, the depth in the middle of the field has been examined and in all honestly has failed the test.
Russell Packer has proven to be a non-factor in attack and a liability in defense. Oliver Clarke also hasn’t fared much better.
Starting Thomas Mikaela against Penrith also weakened the Tigers bench greatly in terms of impact and with the massive Penrith pack, our forwards stood little chance anyway.
The squad is in real need of another genuine big man or even two that can start or come off the bench and help win the battle in the middle.
Even with the arrival of Utoikamanu next year, I would still be trying to add another big man who is capable of consistently running for more than 100 metres a game.
Someone like Bunty Afoa from the Warriors would be a great signing in this respect coming off the bench and would help the team a lot.
Moving Twal back to prop, promoting Sam McIntyre to lock, and hoping for a better bill of health with Musgrove along with the new additions will go a long way to helping the team improve in 2021.
An injection of speed
Last but not least, the Tigers have a real need for speed! There’s no getting around the fact that you can’t coach speed and game-breaking ability and the Tigers are most certainly lacking in this department.
If someone like Josh Addo-Carr was playing for the Tigers against the Roosters, the team 100 percent gets to within 2 points in that second half after the intercept and who knows what happens from that point.
Watching the Dragons and Titans game, I noticed that neither team was doing anything particularly special or complicated in attack but as soon as Aj Brimson touched the ball, you could just see that he was going to capitalize on a half chance.
The truth about Adam Doueihi is that he lacks this quality which is why his best position is either at 6 or in the centres.
If the Tigers could sign someone like Charlie Staines or Daine Laurie to play Fullback, the team’s attack would go to another level because of the speed that these two players bring.
Obviously, Addo-Carr is on the minds of every Wests Tigers fan at the moment, and although I would love to sign him, if we’re talking fullbacks, I think that chasing a player like Laurie, Staines or even Reece Walsh from the Broncos makes a lot more sense because they’ll be cheaper and less of a risk in the number 1 jersey due to the experience they have playing that position.
If the Tigers can land Addo-Carr for around 500k to the 600k mark, I think that that’s still really good value when you consider how much the Melbourne winger brings to the table.
If the Tigers can’t come to a deal for Addo-Carr, they can still chase Jason Saab who is also a speedster. Although currently not as good, Saab would be a cheaper option and has the potential to be one of the best wingers in the competition going into the future.
Although the young winger has struggled this year, his physical attributes along with the speed he possesses will turn him into an elite finisher.