In a crushing defeat, the Wests Tigers have gone down 28 points to 24 to the Parramatta Eels to finish a disappointing season.
Although good in patches, the game highlighted that the Wests Tigers are still far away from being a contending team in the NRL, especially in defense.
Here is my reaction to the game:
Thank you to the departing players
Even though roster turnover is necessary to improve the team, the 2020 season marks the end of an era for the club with the departure of men who have been instrumental to the team and the Wests Tigers community for a long time.
I can’t help but be emotional knowing the fact that I’ll never see Benji Marshall or Chris Lawrence play in a Wests Tigers jersey again and I just want to thank them for giving all they could to the jersey for so long and helping build the club to where it is today.
Like Michael Jordan built the Chicago Bulls, Benji Marshall has carried the Wests Tigers on his back for almost two decades and will always be one of the greatest players I’ve seen on the footy field.
Like Robbie Farah, it still hasn’t quite hit me that this era of the club’s history is over and I hope that Benji gets the ending to his career that he deserves. Although this ending will be at another club, Benji’s legacy at the club will stand the test of time for fans.
It’s hard to put into words how much of an impact Benji Marshall has had on the Rugby League community that would do his justice but there is no doubt that the phrase Wests Tigers legend is a good start.
People forget how gifted Chris Lawrence was as a footy player before his hip injury having played for Australia and nearing a NSW debut at such a young age.
Despite injury setbacks, Lawrence went above and beyond for the Tigers, pushing his body to limits most people wouldn’t even consider going to for the club which shows the type of person he is.
Although they didn’t have the impact of Benji Marshall or Chris Lawrence, fans favorites Harry Grant and Elijah Taylor have also played their last game for the Tigers.
During his time at the Tigers, Elijah Taylor has proven to be a great leader with his actions even when he was dropped to reserve grade. Instead of being satisfied collecting his salary, Taylor showed his conviction by working on his game and clawing his way back to first-grade and I thought he had a great game against the Eels.
I’ll be sad to see Taylor go and I hope he gets another NRL gig for next season because I still think he can contribute to a top 30 roster.
It also looks almost certain that Harry Grant has played his last game for the Tigers. Even though I fear to think what the Tigers will look like without Grant in 2021, I can’t help but wish the best for the young Hooker moving forward even if he’s in a Storm jersey.
In 2020, Grant has shown the attributes that I want all Wests Tigers players to demonstrate; passion, skill and the desire to go above and beyond for the team.
You don’t usually see a Hooker trying to chase down Josh Addo-Carr from the sideline or get back to defuse a kick after making a tackle in the middle of the field but these are the effort plays that Harry Grant makes regularly and are why he is going to be the Queensland and Australian Hooker soon.
Horrendous defensive effort
The Tigers are now officially setting records for how bad their defense has been this season. No player goes out on the field with the intention of playing badly but the majority of the Eels tries tonight where soft and as a fan, it’s hard not to be depressed.
The tries to Will Smith and Reed Mahoney were just poor efforts defensively from Alex Twal and Thomas Mikaele.
After taking massive steps of improvement in 2018 and 2019 on the defensive side of the ball, it just seems that the Tigers have reverted back to the days where the team would leak tries faster than the scoreboard could keep up with.
The starting combination of Mikaele, Musgrove, and Twal couldn’t control the middle of the field which lead to the Eels offloading the Tigers out of the game.
A bottom 4 finish for 2021 is on the cards if this trend continues going into next season
Some costly errors
Saturday night’s game showed how much the Tigers need consistent players like James Tamou next season.
Although players like Mikaele and Musgrove have potential, the errors that the two came up with showed to me that they’re not good enough yet to start against the top teams in the game like the Eels.
Going into next season, the only players that are of starting prop caliber are James Tamou, Josh Aloiai, and maybe Alex Twal if I’m being generous.
The Tigers couldn’t stop Junior Paulo
Junior Paulo especially in the first half absolutely dominated the Tigers. The big Samoan prop ran for 187 metres and had 1 try assist and 2-line break assists.
Although the Tigers have problems relating to their roster, I can’t help but think that if you switched Junior Paulo or someone of his caliber into a Wests Tigers jersey then they would be really close if not better than teams like Parramatta.
With the Packer money coming off the books for 2022, I’m hopeful that the Tigers can attract some sort of x-factor in the forwards.
It just felt that every time Paulo got the ball, something was going to happen for the Eels which is something that can’t be said for the Tigers forward pack with the exception of Luciano Leilua.
The halves combination of Brooks and Doueihi looked promising.
On a positive note, I thought that both Luke Brooks and Adam Doueihi looked promising in the halves together. Although it was just one game, the two local juniors should be short-priced favorites to start round 1 next year as the 6 and 7.
What’s really promising to me is it looks like the halves played on both sides of the field and weren’t restricted to the right and left.
Brooks in particular had his best game of the season which gives me a little more confidence going into next year.
The halfback’s body language was great and Brooks was back to his defensive best against the Eels. He seemed to display a little bit of that alpha dog personality last night which is a good sign since Brooks has been known for his passive nature in previous seasons.
From this, I think it can be argued that the offensive side of his game looked more natural for Brooks as he seemed to be playing with more confidence and freedom when Benji Marshall went off.
It’s just one game so it’s important not to get carried away but I have a little bit more hope for Brooks now than I did 24 hours ago.
I found it really funny how Braith Anasta and Andrew Voss implied that there was no better option than Benji next year only to do a complete 180 turn and anoint Adam Doueihi the successor in the same game.
There’s no doubt that Doueihi looked much more comfortable in the 6 jumper than at Fullback so fingers crossed that he can excel and lock down the position long term.
I thought both playmakers did a good job of feeding the ball to their outside backs and Doueihi was probably unlucky not to have 3 try assists after Tommy Talau dropped the ball in a try-scoring situation.
Having Doueihi use his size in the middle third in yardage also made the team look a lot more threatening coming out of trouble.
I’m definitely interested to see how the playmaker will progress as a 6 going into next year because there’s no doubt he has the potential and the unique physical attributes to become a very good player in the competition.
AJ Kepaoa proved his doubters wrong
Over his 5 games in 2020, AJ Kepaoa has copped plenty of criticism from fans who would rather have kept Corey Thompson.
Although Thompson is a good player, the chance to sign a young player with clear undeniable potential was a good move on the part of the Tigers management and I think that Kepaoa validated this decision against the Eels.
Marking Blake Ferguson, I thought that the Roosters recruit really held his own.
Kepaoa’s strength is without a doubt his yardage game which he ran for 176 metres along with his footwork at the line. Kepaoa also showed a lot of speed to beat Ferguson on the outside and set up Brooks.
I’m very excited to see Kepaoa prove the doubters wrong as he continues to grow as a footy player.
In terms of his position, I could see the outside back staying on the wing or in the centres depending on how recruitment shapes the squad going forward but I could see the junior Kiwi handling both positions.
I also thought that Tommy Talau and Shawn Blore had really good games and it was interesting to note that Madge labeled all three players as the future of the club so hopefully they can all stay injury-free and continue to improve because they all look like diamonds in the rough at the moment.
It appears that Blore spent a little bit of time on the right edge and I thought he looked great in the limited time he got there.
Tommy Talau like Kepaoa still has a lot of developing to do but I’m very happy that the Tigers didn’t cave in and swap the young player for Josh Addo-Carr.
This is because the development of players like Talau is going to play a crucial role in the success of the Tigers going forward so it is crucial that we don’t throw them away to get a player that is free to sign with us in November anyway for 2022.
Talau’s size, skill and confidence are why I’m backing the young outside back to have a break out year in 2021 and it’ll be interesting to see if he plays on the wing, in the centres or even in the second row moving forward.
Side note: The Tigers should add Daine Lauire to the recruitment wish list
For anyone that watched Penrith destroy the Bulldogs yesterday, they would have seen how good Daine Laurie looked at Fullback.
If the Tigers are serious about finding a speedy fullback, then surely Laurie is high up on the recruitment list along with Charlie Staines and Josh Addo-Carr.
Every time Laurie touched the ball, he managed to beat the first defender with either his footwork or speed and ran for an incredible 215 metres in his first start in the NRL which is just mind-blowing.
Like so many of the Penrith players, this stat line is insane for a rookie and the Tigers should look to make Laurie an offer given that it looks like Penrith will struggle to keep all their promising young players.