The Wests Tigers have recorded an impressive 20-6 win against the New Zealand Warriors in their second and final pre-season trial ahead of the 2020 NRL season kick-off.
With essentially a full-strength squad being named by Coach Michael Maguire, the Tigers showed plenty of positive signs going into round one against the Dragons.
Here is my immediate reaction to the game:
The Leilua Brothers were amazing
My first takeaway from the rial is that Joey (BJ) Leilua has already shown that he is the best outside back the club has signed since Lote Tuqiri in 2010.
Against the Warriors, BJ was simply too big, strong and fast and that is a nice change of pace as the Tigers are usually on the receiving end of those kind of performances. The try that the Samoan international set up for David Nofoaluma was probably the highlight of the match.
Leilua’s carries in yardage were also very impressive because he was able to beat defenders and offload the ball almost at will.
From watching the game, I was very impressed with the aggressive presence that Joey brought with him and I really think it will rub off on the other players as the season progresses.
People that have been reading my articles know that I’ve been really impressed with how Luciano has performed in the preseason and playing outside of Benji Marshall has made him look even more dangerous.
The big forward looked like a handful for the Warriors all game and was able to pump out big minutes which will be a big plus for the club if he can turn into an 80-minute player.
The offload he made to Corey Thompson was very impressive and I think the right edge for the Tigers is going to be great to watch for fans this year.
Brooks and Marshall looked sharp
The halves combination of Luke Brooks and Benji Marshall looked very sharp which is a real positive for the team going into round one as the form of the two playmakers was so crucial for the team last year.
I thought Marshall especially looked dangerous for the defense while Brooks had a shaky first half but looked more dominant in the second as possession began to swing in our favor.
With Mitchell Moses getting so much hype and attention playing for the Eels, as a fan I’m extremely frustrated because I know that Brooks is overall a better all-rounded player but this is the year that he really needs to take control of the side and prove that he deserves to be in contention for an origin debut.
The more Luke Brooks touches the ball in 2020, the better the chance the Tigers have of making the finals.
The defense overall was very good
Besides a bad read from Nofoaluma that saw the Warriors score in the first half, the Tigers held the opposition scoreless for the rest of the match which is really impressive considering the amount of possession and territory that Stephen Kearney’s men enjoyed.
The Warriors are always going to be hard to contain as they always field a big team but the Wests Tigers never really looked like conceding after the first try which will be a big confidence boost for the team going forward.
The Tigers ability to offload the ball and make yards up the middle was impressive
How good is it to see the Tigers offload the ball in contact! After years of being unable to create enough second phase play, it looks like the Tigers finally have a team that can keep the ball alive.
This is great to see because offloads are the best chance the Tigers will have to break down some of the more structured and strong defensive teams in the competition.
Zane Musgrove will be a starting Prop before the season ends
For the second week in a row, Zane Musgrove has performed really strongly in the middle and I think there’s a case to be made where he starts with Alex Twal in round one.
Every carry that Musgrove makes is always strong and he made a real difference in the middle when he came on from the bench. His ability to offload the ball also makes him the perfect front-row partner to Alex Twal who is more of a traditional workhorse then meter eater.
The starting forwards need to be more disciplined
A combination of ill-discipline and poor referring saw a lopsided penalty count where the Warriors enjoyed much of the possession in good attacking territory.
Although a testament to the defense, the starting pack really needs to be more disciplined as stronger attacking teams would have scored more tries in that first half.
Tigers fans should come together and pray that Harry Grant gets a release from Melbourne
The rumor going around during the week is that despite the swap deal for Momirovski falling through, Melbourne hooker Harry Grant has asked for a release to join the Tigers for the 2020 season.
Although Josh Reynolds and Billy Walters have shown they can do a job at hooker, landing Grant for 2020 would increase the Tiger’s chances of making the top eight significantly as he’s a true specialist hooker.
Reynolds can play hooker but it is as clear as day that he is at his best coming on from the bench injecting energy around the ruck while it looked like Walters struggled with the defensive workload involved around tackling the Warriors pack.
Grant as a specialized hooker would fix the team’s most glaring problem while also adding an extra dimension in attack around the ruck.
Both Doueihi and Thompson looked sharp at Fullback
Both Adam Doueihi and Corey Thompson looked sharp at fullback. Thompson played the first half and combined well with the other backs when shifting the ball while Doueihi probably got more of a chance to run the ball as the team enjoyed a more even share of possession.
It is difficult to say who will start round one but I think Doueihi slightly edges out Thompson because of his size and ball-playing ability.
Both Reynolds and Taylor bounced back from last week with strong games
After poor performances against Penrith, credit has got to go to Josh Reynolds and Elijah Taylor who both bounced back in solid performances against the Warriors.
Reynolds while still managing to provide energy looked much more collected and polished scoring a nice try from dummy half while Taylor looked much more solid in the middle than last week.
I’m not a big fan of having Twal and Taylor playing prop at the same time however because they struggled to stop the big New Zealand forwards from offloading the ball at times.
The Tigers should look to add an established Lock to their roster
From watching the game, I’m not sure how I feel about Josh Aloiai starting at lock as I felt he really excelled last year making an impact from the bench.
Starting might potentially hinder the young forward’s effectiveness so I think the Tigers should look to explore an established 13 before the June 30th deadline assuming Harry Grant is not signed to the 30thspot.
After watching the Warriors game as well as the Charity Shield, the Tigers should be very confident going into round one against the Dragons. However, once the season starts, trial form means very little so Michael Maguire’s men need to fit the blocks running to start the year and prove to Wests Tigers fans that they are the real deal in 2020.