Wests Tigers training
Wests Tigers training

Why Tigers may win smartest piece of recruitment

Nine seasons and counting without finals football was enough for Michael Maguire.

 

The coach has farewelled a swarm of players - including Benji Marshall - and - in a different approach to recent seasons - brought in four players with an interesting mix of youth, excitement and experience.

 

James Phelps takes a look at the key questions facing the Tigers next season.

 

Joe Ofahengaue is one of the Tigers’ new recruits for 2021.
Joe Ofahengaue is one of the Tigers’ new recruits for 2021.

2020 ladder position: 11th

 

Ins: James Roberts (Rabbitohs), James Tamou (Panthers), Stefano Utoikamanu (Eels), Joe Ofahengaue (Broncos)

 

Outs: Josh Reynolds (Hull FC), Josh Aloiai (Sea Eagles), Matthew Eisenhuth (Panthers), Harry Grant (Storm), Robert Jennings (Panthers), Chris Lawrence (Retired), Benji Marshall (released), Sam McIntyre (Titans), Chris McQueen (retired), Paul Momirovski (released), Dylan Smith (released), Elijah Taylor (released)

 

Players in the 2020 Rich 100: 5 - 21. Moses Mbye ($815,000), 36. Russell Packer ($750,000), 50. Joey Leilua ($700,000), 69. Adam Doueihi ($625,000), 71. Luke Brooks ($600,000)

 

Coach status

 

Michael Maguire came under pressure during the back half of the year as the Tigers' season stalled. Maguire is attempting to rebuild the club from the ground up and is still carrying players signed by the previous coach.

 

Maguire will be hoping that the key signings of James Tamou and James Roberts push the club into the top eight. His head may be on the chopping block if they do not.

 

What is their game plan, and how do they need to tweak

 

The Tigers' edge defence is the reason the club did not play finals football this year.

 

Undisputedly a team that can score points, miscommunication, bad reads and some shocking one-on-one misses ruined the Tigers' season. Maguire will spend much of the pre-season working on his edge defence.

James Roberts with Tigers CEO Justin Pascoe.
James Roberts with Tigers CEO Justin Pascoe.

How did they go in free agency

 

The Tigers' dealings suffered a blow when they missed out on snaring Josh Addo-Carr after earlier appearing the front-runner for the Storm flyer's signature. However, the club has since gone on an impressive spending spree and may have pulled off two of the signing coups of the year by snaring former Bronco Joe Ofahengaue and James Roberts on a bargain basement deal.

 

Released by the Rabbitohs following a troubled year, Maguire jumped at the chance to bring the flyer to Concord in an unexpected last-minute addition. While there is a genuine risk that Roberts will again come unstuck, the gamble will pay off in spades should the centre recapture top form. A genuine gamebreaker, Roberts will give Tigers the X-factor they have lacked should Maguire bring out his best.

 

Ofahengaue is a casualty of Brisbane's overhaul following their wooden spoon year. But, at 25, the Queensland and Tongan representative is devastating at his best.

 

Having been criticised for overpaying for underperforming recruits in the past, the Tigers have taken a different approach to 2021.

 

Yes, they brought in veteran forward Tamou on a two-year deal at the age of 31, but the experience he brings will help the youngsters in the Tigers' pack.

 

One of those players who will benefit from playing alongside Tamou is former Parramatta prop Stefano Utoikamanu. NSW coach Brad Fittler is such a fan that he declared the Eels rookie an Origin bolter at the start of 2020, before he had even made his NRL debut.

 

At a Concord coffee shop last November, Maguire laid out a vision for young star Utoikamanu that would lure him from Parramatta on a $1.2 million over three seasons, for a player who hadn't played a first grade game.

 

The Tigers identified prop Utoikamanu and now former Penrith backrower Shawn Blore as forwards they could anchor their pack around in the next three years.

 

Now they get Tamou to help oversee that development for two of those years. That's smart business.

Stefano Utoikamanu gives the Tigers plenty to dream on.
Stefano Utoikamanu gives the Tigers plenty to dream on.

Will development contract upgraded kids make an impact

 

Queensland's next best young hooker will get his shot next year with Jake Simpkin set to replace Harry Grant as the Tigers' No.9.

 

Recruited to the club as a potential heir to Robbie Farah's throne, rookie Simpkin, who just turned 19, is regarded as a future star and will get his shot now Grant has returned to Melbourne.

 

The Tigers' hooking role shapes as a battle between Simpkin and the talented but injury-prone Jacob Liddle. Simpkin has impressed already over the pre-season and has an exciting future, according to those at the club.

 

Their progression will be helped with guidance from Farah.

 

"I've been communicating with Madge about doing some work with the team on a part-time basis, some specialist stuff with the young hookers and middle forwards," Farah said.

 

"There's Jacob Liddle, who I spent some time with there when I was playing, and Jake Simpkin, who the club has high hopes for."

 

What players can they reinvent

 

Adam Doueihi. Having played wing, fullback and centre - all by the age of 22 - Doueihi is expected to be transformed into a full-time five-eighth. It's understood Doueihi will get first crack at replacing Benji Marshall in the No.6 jersey.

 

Who takes the next step

 

Luke Brooks. He just has to. Running out of both excuses and years, Brooks must stand up and finally live up to his potential.

 

Once considered one of the best prospects in the game, Brooks could find himself on the

scrap heap should he and the Tigers fail to make a finals fling.

 

The best 17 for 2021

 

1. Moses Mbye

2. David Nofoaluma 

3. Joseph Leilua

4. James Roberts

5. Tommy Talau

6. Adam Doueihi

7. Luke Brooks

8. James Tamou

9. Jake Simpkin

10. Joe Ofahengaue

11. Luciano Leilua

12. Luke Garner

13. Alex Twal

14. Jacob Liddle

15. Stefano Utoikamanu

16. Shawn Blore

17. Thomas Mikaele

It’s a big season for Luke Brooks.
It’s a big season for Luke Brooks.

2021 squad

 

Shawn Blore, Kane Bradley, Luke Brooks, Michael Chee-Kam, Zac Cini, Adam Doueihi, Luke Garner, Asu Kepaoa, Joey Leilua, Luciano Leilua, Jacob Liddle, Jock Madden, Moses Mbye, Thomas Mikaele, Paul Momirovski, Zane Musgrove, David Nofoaluma, Joe Ofahengaue, Russell Packer, James Roberts, Jake Simpkin, Tommy Talau, James Tamou, Alex Twal, Stefano Utoikamanu, Billy Walters

 

Fox Sports Lab's Aaron Wallace says

 

Wests Tigers missed out on finals football for a ninth successive season, the longest drought of any current team.

 

Consistency remains the major issue. Wests have not strung three wins together since early in 2018 and have not won four straight games since 2012.

 

In 2020, they won back-to-back matches just once - in rounds 6 and 7 against the Cowboys and Bulldogs. Their only win against a top-eight side came against the Sharks in round 3.

 

Finish the last five years

 

9th, 14th, 9th, 9th, 11th

Originally published as Why Tigers may win smartest piece of recruitment



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