With the Rugby League season just around the corner, the Wests Tigers will field one of the youngest squads the club has seen in recent years.
With the likes of Benji Marshall and Harry Grant leaving the club at the end of 2020, there is a massive opportunity for a few of the younger members of the squad to cement themselves as regular first graders.
Here are the 5 players I think will have a break-out year in 2021:
Injuries in 2020 reduced Zane Musgrove to just 6 appearances making it difficult for the Maori All-Star to establish himself as a starting NRL Prop.
From the 6 games, Musgrove only averaged 72 running meters and an 82% tackle efficiency. In the off-season, however, the club invested a lot of faith in Musgrove by resigning him for another three seasons beating off interest from the Dragons.
This must surely be a sign that the coaching staff sees a lot of unfulfilled ability in Musgrove.
I’m tipping that if Musgrove remains injury-free, he’ll establish himself as an enforcer in the Prop rotation off the bench who if injuries strike, can also start in the run-on side.
With the departure of Benji Marshall, I’m tipping Adam Doueihi to establish himself as one of the top Five-Eights in the competition.
Although Doueihi hasn’t yet demonstrated that he’s got the creativity and kicking game necessary to become an elite 6. Tipping the scale at 95 Kg, I just think that he’ll be a physical mismatch for opposing defenders.
He’ll be too big for opposing halves to tackle and he’ll also be too quick and evasive for backrowers to handle.
A player comparison that I like for Doueihi is Jack Wighton. Both players are much bigger than the modern-day 6 and I’m confident that from this, Adam Doueihi will claim the number 6 jersey as his long term in 2021
With Harry Grant departing the club, there is a real battle between Jacob Liddle and Jake Simpkin for the number 9 jersey.
Although I expect Liddle to start in round 1, I think the chances of Simpkin getting minutes early in the season or even starting off the bench against the Raiders are quite high.
Although people might think Moses Mbye is the perfect utility off the bench, having a natural number 9 in the 14 jersey will be more of an advantage both offensively and defensively as Simpkin can be the spark plug when Liddle is off the field.
Look no further than Brandon Smith and the Storm in terms of what a Hooker off the bench can do.
Like Smith, I also think that Simpkin could play minutes at lock if needed due to his size and defensive capability. Having not played in 2020 due to no reserve grade occurring, Simpkin might not shine straight away but don’t be surprised if he finishes the season off as the starting Hooker for the club ahead of Liddle.
With massive pressure on Luke Brooks going into 2021, Jock Madden is in a prime position to cement a starting spot in the Wests Tigers 7 jumper.
Off-contract at the end of 2021, it’s looking more than likely that Madden will debut against Canberra in round 1 due to Adam Doueihi’s suspension.
Although Luke Brooks is the incumbent Halfback, if Madden can prove himself in reserve grade as a reliable play-maker with a strong kicking game who can defend at a first-grade standard, I think there’s every chance that the Halfback could find himself in the 7 or 6 jersey half-way through the season.
In a similar way to Simpkin, no reserve Grade in 2020 has made Jock Madden a bit of an unknown commodity in terms of first-grade potential but the Knights junior has all the attributes to make it in the NRL.
Although I expect Moses Mbye to start at Fullback in round 1, I don’t expect new recruit, Daine Laurie, to be kept out of the Fullback jersey for too long going into the season.
With the new rule changes from 2020 rewarding the more efficient and smaller running Fullbacks of the competition, I’m predicting that Laurie’s speed and tackle-breaking ability will be on full show in the 2021 season.
Daine Laurie can also fill in at Five-Eight if required so I’m fully expecting great highlights from the ex-Panther this season.
Image: Wests Tigers