Round 8: Tigers vs Roosters

The Wests Tigers play their first game of the season at the redeveloped Campbelltown Stadium this Sunday, and the timing couldn’t be better.  The pre-season hype and four wins from the first five games are becoming distant memories for Tiger’s fans as the injury-hit team has now limped to two losses on the bounce.  They are clearly lacking cohesion, discipline and confidence – things that hopefully a vocal and partisan home crowd can help correct. 
 
Drop ball and dumb penalties killed off any chance of a win last at Penrith last week.  Tim Sheens, who reaches the 600 game milestone as coach this weekend, described the second half against the Panthers as the worst 40 minutes of football he has seen from the Tigers since joining in the club in 2003.  Hopefully that assessment serves as a wake up call for the boys this week.
 
On a positive note, Farah played very well against Penrith despite his injured elbow.  Heighington was the best backrower and Tuqiri looked dangerous whenever he got involved.  The instant classic try that this trio combined to score in the first half last week was the most exciting passage of play that Wests have put together in the past few weeks.  Oh, and Marshall kicked 100% last week – how about that!?

The team selection for this week has certainly stirred up some heated debate among fans.  Naming Farah at half, Fulton at hooker, Flanagan in the starting side and promoting young halfback/hooker Nathan Waters from the Magpies onto the bench is certainly a lot of movement to cover the continued absence of Lui at halfback.  The Sheens experiment of playing Lazarus at halfback then moving him to fullback/wing and reshuffling most of the backline to accommodate this over the past two games was clearly destabilising.  But shifting Farah, one of the best attacking dummy halves in the league, out of position is far from ideal.  Presumably Farah and Waters will share the halfback/hooker role, but it remains to be seen how the announced team actually take the field on Sunday. 
 
In the ANZAC Day clash, the Dragons demonstrated a basic blueprint for defeating the Roosters: Five-tackle, kick-chase football and build up pressure on your opponent.  The exact formula that both Sheens and Farah admitted is missing from the Tiger’s current playbook.  No matter who plays in what position, mastering the fundamentals of ball control and making effective tackles will be the overriding factor in collecting the W this week.
 
Sydney Roosters will also be without regular halfback Pearce, but of course they still boast plenty of attacking ability in Carney and Anasta.  You hate to describe a game in the first week of May as being a must-win, but that’s the reality of it.  The Roosters racked up 44 points against us in Round 2, so now is the perfect time to get revenge in front of our home crowd before the week 9 bye.
 
Fortune Teller: Tuqiri will score the first try and Lawrence will score the last try of the match.  The Wests Tigers get their season back on track with a 26 – 16 win.  You can bet on it!
 
One-eyed Tiger

Five Star Special: Teflon Tim

A false dawn: 2010 promised so much but already we’re seven weeks into the competition and the drums are beating for Teflon Tim Sheens to deliver real results. Sheens doesn’t miss any tackles, I’m well aware of that. He doesn’t throw loose passes and he doesn’t give away stupid penalties on the fourth tackle. But what Sheens does do is stop the Tigers from playing to their strengths by playing favourites, sticking to failed formulas and refusing to make changes until it’s too late. See J Morris, D Fitzhenry and even the great R Farah and B Marshall for examples of how Sheens is cruelling the Tigers through selection stuff ups.
 
Fail and fail again: Playing blokes out of position didn’t work in 2006, 2007, 2008 or 2009. What has changed to suggest 2010 will be any different? Blake Lazarus gets picked at halfback and plays fullback, shifting fullback Beau Ryan to the wing and winger Daniel Fitzhenry into the halves. Australian number nine Robbie Farah spends time at hooker, halfback and five-eighth and there you have it, we have players in key positions running around all over the place. We’ve seen it all before. The Tigers have one or two major injuries and all of a sudden Sheens starts picking players out of position.
 
Admitting mistakes: Sheens took the best part of three years to admit the John Morris halfback experiment didn’t work. Luckily he didn’t wait that long to realise Robbie Farah is a pretty handy number nine and shouldn’t play halfback and Benji Marshall is best suited playing out wide. Sheens remains set in his ways in season 2010. He is clearly intent on playing favourites like Fitzhenry and picks players who make little to no impact on the bench. The list goes on. Jake Mullaney is in terrific form in Toyota Cup and simply has to play first grade. Benji Marshall isn’t a reliable goal kicker. Blake Lazarus was used and abused on debut. Galloway needs more game time. These are all things our coach can – and should – be held accountable for. I don’t know if Sheens’ ego is getting in the way, but something has to give sooner or later.
 
The answer: Pick a starting 13 and stick to it for five weeks unless injuries force you to make a change or two. And when I say a change or two I don’t mean playing guys out of position to accommodate what at most clubs would be a straight one for one swap. We don’t even know what sort of first grade halfback Blake Lazarus will make because he hasn’t played halfback. That in itself is a huge mistake and must be a kick in the guts and a vote of no confidence for a young bloke with big wraps on him.
 
Round 8 team: Mullaney, Lote, Ayshford, Lawrence, Ryan, Benji, Lui, Gibbs, Farah, Galloway, Payten, Ellis, Heighington. Bench: Fifita, Moors, Flanagan, Fulton.
 
<^Tiger Brad^>

Wheel of Fortune

How sad it is when a club (read Storm) completely, blatantly cheat in order to achieve success.  But you know, this makes me prouder to be a Tigers fan.

I’m proud our club rarely finds its way into the papers for negative issues. I don’t know if I would be so passionate about my club if there were players on charges for violence against women, or being drunken imbeciles.

Could you stand up and cheer home a player that is alleged to have assaulted a woman, or a club that slaps the wrist of their players when they drink and drive?

How would if feel to go out to the game this weekend to watch the Storm and know you are cheering on a club that somewhere in its upper echelons harbors white collar criminals?

I couldn’t and I wouldn’t.  I find myself proud that the Tigers continue to behave in a way that aligns with my moral compass.

I hope that this continues into the future, because I have seen many a person jump on to the Tigers fun bus, sighting that they seem to be a club that supports decent causes and behaves in an acceptable fashion.

I applaud you Tigers, and in concluding what is probably my most reflective Tigers post, I will always support the club, while the club encourages respect.

Flanno Fan

Round 7: Tigers vs Panthers

It’s only week 7 but this game will be a good indication of the kind of season the 2010 Tigers are in for.  As Tim Sheens said after last week’s game, the good teams don’t lose two in a row.  If the Tigers can back up with another win away from home they will remain at the pointy end of the ladder with the leading group of teams (5-2) and demonstrate to everyone they are a genuine premiership contender.  With a loss this Saturday the Tigers will slip back into the pack and on the cusp of the top 8 (4-3), as has been their usual position over the past few seasons.

Based on last week’s results it looks like a tough task for the visitors.  The Tigers tackled themselves to a stand-still and got steamrolled in the last quarter of the game against the Bulldogs, while the Panthers racked up 40 points against the NZers.  Fortunately, form in the NRL is as fickle as an English summer.

As courageous as the first half defensive effort was last week, the pressure the Tigers put themselves under with handling errors and poor last tackle options was concerning.  The bounce of the ball and key refereeing decisions also went against us at vital times in the match.  But we have seen what the mighty Tigers are capable of so far this season and they will be desperate to show that last week was just a minor bump in the road.

After a slow start, the Panthers are building in confidence and at their best are a dangerous team across the park.  Backs like Coote and Purtell are playing well, Walsh at halfback has a great attacking kicking game and forwards Civoniceva, Pritchard and Waterhouse are strong and skilful.

The Tigers welcome back Galloway from injury and have named Lazarus again at halfback.  Hopefully the extra week of preparation will pay off for the youngster’s combination with Marshall and the Tigers can get back to their sizzling attacking best.  The major injury concern for this week is Farah who is in doubt with an elbow problem.

The Panthers have an imposing record against the Tigers and if history at CUA Stadium is anything to go by this western cat-fight will either be a narrow Tigers win or a heavy Tigers loss.  Cross your fingers, toes and eyes – this will be a tough one!

Fortune Teller: Purtell will score the first try and Penrith will lead at the halftime break.  Tigers will prevail in the end with a strong second half and Ayshford will score the final try of the match.  Wests Tigers 26 – Penrith Panthers 22.

One-eyed Tiger

Five Star Special: Round 6

Blake Lazarus: I don’t know what to say about Lazo’s effort, it was one of the most puzzling debuts I have ever seen. He played at least four different positions and Sheens did everything he could to hide the young bloke in defence. His time on the wing included a brilliant hit on Josh Morris that probably saved a try, and he looked dangerous when he took on the line. The jury is out and Blake will need another week or two before we can back him or bag him. The Panthers big men will really test him at the foot of the mountains.
 
Goal kicking: It’s only a matter of time until Benji’s boot costs us a game. Take Friday night for example. The Tees battle back to 12-4 with a kick beside the posts to make it 12-6 and a one-try game. Benji pushes the kick wide and all of a sudden the boys have to score twice to force a tie or take the lead. That missed kick turned the game and took the wind out of a side that had just ridden a bit of Lote brilliance to finally get on the board. We keep hearing Flanno can kick, let’s see what he’s got.
 
Bryce Gibbs: Religious slurs aside, Gibbo was sensational. The big bloke made some telling tackles with the Bulldogs hot on attack and took on extra responsibility with KG and Cayless out injured. Plenty of people, myself included, have bagged Gibbs in the past, but he really seems to be coming of age. I suspect it’s also a case of the Folkes factor adding improved fitness to his game and young guns like Fifita keeping him honest at training. The race for the eight and 10 jerseys is wide open and Sheens has shown he will drop forwards if they don’t perform.
 
Injuries: Much has been made about the Tees depth for season 2010, but what about the mounting injury toll. Moltzen, Lui, TNT, Cayless and Payten make five missing first graders, while guys like Dwyer, Woods, Taumata and Tupou would be handy additions to any squad. Throw in question marks over Farah’s elbow and all of a sudden you’ve got half a team injured. Flanno and Fifita have been terrific, but we need guys like Moors and Daniela to stand up and prove they’re regular first graders. The Tigers might be the fittest team in the comp, but we can’t afford to trot out what is essentially a two-man bench.
 
Under 20s: Four in a row and counting. Fullback Jake Mullaney has been in irresistible form and has to be close to earning a bench spot in first grade. Beau Ryan’s defence has been brilliant at the back, so I certainly wouldn’t suggest rushing Mullaney into the starting side at Ryan’s expense. What worries me is persisting with guys like Brown and Daniela on the bench, only to see a team like the Sharks or Canberra make Mullaney an offer he can’t refuse. This is one kid we can’t afford to lose, and the likes of Brown and Daniela are a dime a dozen.
 
<^Tiger Brad^>

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Tim Shines’ four-year plan

Why has Tim Shines finally decided to replace a half back with a half back?

For years Tim has tried to play players in positions that were outside their known roles in order to plug injury holes or going further back, to replace Scott Prince. 

There are numerous examples, Farah at half back, Marshall had a stint there (under the guise of a number on your back means nothing), John Morris, lest we forget brought across from Parramatta to be a half, didn’t fit the bill. 

Furthermore, we had Lawrence at 5/8, and even Moltzen at fullback could be seen as a player playing out of position.

Tim, why after years of adhoc player placement have you changed your strategy? Why have you finally decided that your jack of all trades, Fitzhenry, is just a tool?

I have been asking myself these questions all week after Tim announced Lazarus in his squad to take on the Bulldogs this weekend.  (I came to my conclusion about Fitzhenry about four years ago).

I believe Tim has changed his tune due to a number of factors, and realisations. 

Firstly, Tim surely has come to the conclusion that his experiments have not worked.  Tim has had four Septembers since 2005 as extra thinking time to come to this conclusion.  There is more to the story though.

Tim has had limited options within the lower grades at the Wests Tigers to draw on. While there has been plenty of “raw” talent, these players were not yet up to NRL standard and surely would have been more of a liability than players not in their preferred positions.

With the maturity and skill level greatly improving within the Wests Tigers lower grades, this is evidenced by the Grand Final appearance of Balmain-Ryde and the Wests Tigers Under 20s, Tim now has real options for like for like replacement.

Combined with a greater depth in the club came some smart off season recruitment.  I have heard many fans comment about the lack of perceived skill in our latest recruits, however I believe it has been very strategic. 

There is greater depth in key positions, Arana Taumata is an astute replacement for Benji, and the fact that he is given no favours at the club and has to earn his position in first grade seems to have been a solid reality check for Arana.  I could go further with these examples, but the point is Tim now has options and depth.

Finally and probably most importantly, Tim has faith in his leaders.  Previous years Tim (and all Tigers fans) have had to sit and watch woeful decisions made in pressure situations by Tigers leaders, opting for the low percentage play when perhaps more patience was required. 

Although the Tigers still play razzle dazzle football and all the 2010 attacking stats confirm this, the leaders within the club are increasing making the correct decision, and standing tall in the periods of game when the pressure is on.

The younger player are feeling more sure when required to play in first grade under this leadership, and this in turn makes Tim feel more comfortable about giving players an opportunity to step up into first grade.

Tim and the Tigers have evolved to this point be good planning, patience and strong direction within the club. The addition of Folkes to the coaching team should not be underestimated either, he is making the second tier players into strong, fit, NRL options for Tim to call on.

Now that he has removed the issues that have dogged his tenure at the Tigers over the years, and he has got a squad that he built literally from the ground up, I am looking forward to seeing Tim show what he can do as a coach, when it appears his player options are presently wide open.

The only drawback? Tim is likely to lose his September pondering month this year, as October will see the delivery of ‘Tim’s Plan’ to Wests Tigers and the realisation that Tim was planning this many years ago.

– Flanno Fan

Round 6: Tigers vs Bulldogs

After two very gutsy road wins, the Tigers return ‘home’ to the SFS to play the under-performing ‘Dogs.  Injuries are beginning to mount against the joint premiership leaders, with Moltzen, Payton and Galloway missing from this weekend’s clash.  However these injuries have opened the way for young Lazarus and Fifita to be named in the run on side and Schirnack to be named on the bench.

I seriously reckon Tim Sheens should retire the No 7 jersey for the rest of the year and instead play the halfback in No 14.  7 has clearly been devoid of luck for our first two choices in that position so far and I see no reason to risk it for Blake!

It is unlikely that Wests Tigers teams of the past few seasons would have overcome the factors against them in the past two weeks to register consecutive wins in Canberra and Townsville.  But the 2010 Tigers are clearly made of stern stuff.  Not only were they forced to complete last weekend’s game with only 15 men, but they were behind in terms of possesion and penalties.  It took an impressive team effort to defend the line as they did and contain the Cowboys second half comeback.

This week will not get any easier, regardless of the Bulldogs position on the ladder.  These clashes often go down to the wire and the short turnaround will test the Tigers, especially given our new halves combination.

The battle around the ruck between rival NSW hookers Farah and Ennis will be crucial to either team’s success.  The Bulldogs will be eager to bounce back after the last-minute loss to the Warriors so expect their forward pack to be very aggressive.  Kimmorely’s long kicking game will mean we will start most sets deep in our own territory, so mistake free and disciplined play from the Tiges will be important.  Stagg will tackle anything that comes his way all night (I bet he even tackles in his dreams) and on the wing Morris appears to own a prepaid eTag to the tryline.  Super-sub Barba will need to be carefully marked whenever he makes an appearance.

For the Tigers, Marshall and Farah just need to keep doing what they do.  We have the squad that can march up the field, make line breaks and score points – but like the Parramatta win a few weeks ago, this game will be won by defence.  It should be a close and exciting game.  By exciting, I mean nerve-racking.

Fortune Teller: Josh Morris will score first try, Chris Lawrence will score last try and Robbie Farah will kick his third field goal in as many games.  Tigers will win 19-18.

One-eyed Tiger

Five Star Special: Round 5

Simmering rivalry: The 2005 finals lit the fuse for one of the fiercest rivalries in modern rugby league. The Tigers and the Cowboys put on a show every time they clash and Saturday night was no exception. Both teams bashed each other to a standstill, and both paid a heavy price with injuries to key players including Tigers Tim Moltzen (season) and Todd Payten (two weeks). Cowboy Luke O’Donnell lost the plot – again – and showed why he remains a liability in a game where you get put on report if you try to rip someone’s head off.
 
Lote: The dreaded one is playing so well he doesn’t even need a last name. Lote is our Elvis, our Madonna, and fortunately not our Mika. People who questioned Lote’s motivation to return to the 13-man game have more than enough evidence after five rounds that have included five tries, five line breaks, 30 tackle busts and 799 metres gained. The Morris boys are getting plenty of wraps this season, but I’d take Lote over either of them any day of the week. He seems to have a great feel for playing off Benji and that will only get stronger. 
 
Tim Moltzen: Moltz was showing good form and will be a huge loss as the season progresses. He was pretty dusty under the high ball earlier this year, but I love his support play and attitude in attack. Statistics show the Tees are a different footy team when Moltz plays in the halves. The boys turned the corner with Timmy playing closer to the ball in 2009 and once again started 2010 in dominant fashion. Sheens needs to find a reliable replacement for this kid and opting for a makeshift half simply isn’t good enough. Lazarus seems like the right man for the job.
 
The Three Musketeers: I really don’t think you can separate Gibbs, Fulton and Heighington. When one of these blokes does something special the other two generally stand up and play inspired footy. Heighno led the way with a rampaging try on Saturday night, and Fulton followed him with some telling defence around the middle of the ruck. At the same time, Gibbo looks to have finally removed the boneheaded penalties from his game and is getting his discipline in order. It’s an absolute joy to watch this trio play with so much passion and enthusiasm.
 
Toyota Cup boys: The Under 20s continue to get the job done, knocking off the previously undefeated Cowboys at home and winning for the third time in as many starts. Fullback Jake Mullaney finished with a personal tally of 14 points with a try and five goals and is the competition’s leading points scorer. The boys have even caught the attention of the punters and are now one of the competition favourites. They were unlucky to lose to Manly in the opening round and could be in an even better position had they held on in the second half.
 
<^Tiger Brad^>

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Tigers family fun night

Wests Tigers Coach Tim Sheens has chosen Blake Lazarus at half-back for the round six clash against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs at the Sydney Football Stadium on Friday, April 16.
 
Wests Tigers Members and Fans will be treated to a ‘School Holiday Family Fun Night’ this Friday with a jumping castle, facepainters and other kids entertainment so be sure to get there early.
 
Gates open at 5.10pm, Wests Tigers Under 20s chase their fourth win in a row at 5.20pm and Wests Tigers NRL side will also be looking to seal their fourth win in a row from 7.30pm.

Tigers backline on the move

North Queensland coach Neil Henry is prepared for a backline reshuffle from Wests Tigers that could see Lote Tuqiri switch to fullback for Saturday’s NRL showdown at Dairy Farmers Stadium.
 
Fitness concerns over centre Blake Ayshford (knee) has led to speculation Tim Sheens could make late changes, including switching dual international Tuqiri from wing to fullback in his fifth game since returning from rugby union.
 
Ayshford trained with the team on Thursday, but Geoff Daniela flew with the team to Townsville on Friday as a possible back-up.
 
Tuqiri has scored four tries from as many games, following his eight-year-stint in the 15-man game, even putting himself quickly back in the State of Origin picture.
 
“We’re not really sure what they’ll do,” said Henry when asked on Friday about the Tigers possible line-up.
 
“If Tuqiri was to go to fullback I think he’d handle it,” said the former Queensland Origin assistant coach.
 
“He’s good under the high ball anyway and it would give him room to move with his carries instead of being hemmed in on the sideline. It would probably make he more dangerous.
 
“They could use utility (Daniel) Fitzhenry in the centres to try to do a job on Willie Tonga.”
 
The Tigers, who denied the Cowboys a grand final victory in 2005, head to Townsville with their confidence sky-high after a coming back from 22-10 down to beat Canberra 35-22 last Sunday.
 
However, they will be without prop Keith Galloway, who has a shoulder injury, and will be replaced by Junior Moors. And Henry believes the absence of Galloway is a big blow to the visitors.
 
“He (Galloway) and (Bryce) Gibbs have been in very good form up front so that’s a big loss,” said Henry.
 
While Henry said the Cowboys would have to be on guard against a red-hot Benji Marshall, Tim Sheens’ men will have to adopt the same defensive tactics to control a rampant Johnathan Thurston who has been in sizzling form.
 
“What Benji does is get across the (defensive) line and build numbers on you so you have to put a bit of pressure on him,” Henry said.
 
“We can’t be chasing him all over the park and we need to manage people around him so our right edge defence in particular will have to aim up again.
 
“He and Farah are fairly lethal, they like to play down the short side. There’s no doubt we need to contain him, but JT is in good form as well and I’ve got no doubt Tim Sheens have done some homework on him as well.“
 
Henry said while those two players would have the most impact on the result, they were unlikely to cross paths much.
 
“In reality they may only cross paths a couple of times in a game,” he said.
 
“The media can beat up their clash but it tends to be a fizzer most times because they don’t see each other.“
 
– AAP