Five Star Season Awards

Best buy: Mitch Brown. I’m going to look past Lote for this one because the big bloke came to the Tigers as a dual international on a million dollar deal. Brown on the other hand joined Wests after being thrown to the sharks by Cronulla. The versatile back quietly went about his business and played 20 games for the Tigers, shifting between fullback, wing, centre and bench warmer. Brown has size, speed and a slight of hand in attack that can’t be underestimated. He might struggle for a starting spot in 2011 if Wade McKinnon ever manages to overcome chronic knee and hamstring injuries, but there’s no doubt Brown exceeded all expectations in his debut season for the Tigers.
Who he beat: Mark Flanagan. Tireless worker who probably suffered from Bronson Harrison syndrome. His attack was blunted by coaching that did him absolutely no favours.
Biggest bust: Jason Cayless. I must admit I had high hopes when we signed Cayless, but the former Eel and Rooster was a spent force on his return to Australia. Having said that, I can’t knock Sheens and co. for rolling the dice on a 100-game premiership winning prop. Cayless came to Wests with a busted knee and his time with the Tigers simply didn’t work. When he did take the field he looked old and slow and offered absolutely nothing in attack. The next challenge for the Tigers is finding a way to cut Cayless loose or buy out his contract. He’s signed for 2011 and will only eat up valuable cap space and take the focus off our next generation of big men led by Aaron Woods.
Who he beat: Wade McKinnon. Injury prone and has lost plenty of pace. I have no idea why Wests extended his contract so quickly. The jury is out on this one.
Breakout year: Simon Dwyer. Burst onto the scene after making his first grade debut in round 19 last year. Dwyer is big and strong and plays the game like a man on a mission. He became an overnight sensation when he cleaned up Roosters hardman Jared Waerea-Hargreaves in week one of the finals and at 21 years of age has the potential to lead the Tigers forward pack for the next decade. The thing I like most about Dwyer is his attitude and level head. He reminds me a lot of Chris Lawrence. He’s smart, measured and doesn’t get too carried away even after pulling off a big play. Dwyer could be anything in 2011 with more consistent playing time and a defined role off the bench.
Who he beat: Andrew Fifita. 2011 will be the season that defines Fifita’s career. A huge talent who will either be the next Daine Laurie or the next Steve Roach. It’s his call.
Best forward: Gareth Ellis. Where do you start with this bloke. Ellis is everything you want in a forward. He leads from the front in every aspect of the game. The big Tiger – it’s time to stop calling him an Englishman – was brutally unlucky not to win a Dally M award in just his second year in the NRL and wouldn’t look out of place playing State Of Origin. His consistency is second to none and his partnership with young playmaker Robert Lui almost propelled the Tigers to the grand final. Ellis took his attack to another level in 2010, scoring six tries and running bruising lines off Lui and Marshall. It’s scary to think how good he could be in 2011 if he works on another aspect of his game.
Who he beat: Bryce Gibbs. Aggressive, inspirational and even got some of the silly penalties out of his game. Hats off to Steve Folkes for helping Gibbs realise his potential.
Best back: Benji Marshall. Don’t believe the hype about being the best player in the world and a future Immortal, let’s look at the facts. Benji Marshall had his best season in the NRL by a country mile. He was one of the league leaders in try assists, line break assists and points scored, recording 12 tries, 76 goals and three field goals. Benji still forces passes, kicks out on the full and knocks the ball on, but who doesn’t. This kid – he’s still 25 – produces more highlight reel moments than the rest of the NRL combined and still has the skill, courage and commitment to lead his side around the park. No other player in the NRL is asked to do what Benji Marshall was born to do.
Who he beat: Lote. Looked every bit the dual international on his way to 27 games and 18 tries. Hasn’t lost a metre of pace and is a marketing man’s dream.

Prelim Final: Post-mortem

It could have gone either way.  The Wests Tigers put in a courageous effort – probably the best performance of the year – and pushed the minor premiers for the full 80mins.  No-one gave Wests any hope, but Sheens came up with a defensive game plan to contain the Dragon’s playmakers and the players executed it brilliantly.  Soward was kept under wraps for most of the night, Gasnier was limited and Morris was a non-factor.  The entire Wests Tigers forward pack held their own against the Dragons, making big hits in defence and rolling forward with the ball.  Against another other opposition the Tigers would have come away with a win – no doubt.

 They admirably repelled wave after wave of attacking raids in their own quarter in the first half, yet still had the energy and skill to post two converted tries before half time – something that no other NRL team had managed to do against St George all year.  Up until Saturday night, Manly in Round 9 were the only other team to cross the try line twice in the first half against the Dragons (on that occasion they failed to convert one and led 10-6 at the break).

 Unfortunately the 12-6 lead at half time was as close as we got.  The Dragons wore us down and did just enough to scrape a win.  But there are plenty of positives to take out of the game – and the season as a whole.  We battled injuries to key players all year – up to and including the final game.  We discovered the ability to grind away and win the close games.  We staged a number of remarkable second-half comeback wins. 

 On Saturday night, Lui had his best game in the No. 7 by far.  Dwyer and Fifita were very solid and will be better for their experience in this year’s finals.  Ellis has established himself as the most damaging second rower in the world, bar none.  Fulton and Gibbs fought through the pain and competed to the very end.  The senior players, Farah, Marshall, and Heighington, will only walk away from the game stronger and hungrier.  With Moltzen and (hopefully) TNT back in the squad for 2011, the Wests Tigers will be primed to build on this year and win the premiership they deserve!

 We’ll no doubt look back on the 2010 Finals Series with a tinge of frustration.  Had the last 30 seconds of the Qualifying Final gone differently, the entire series would have changed shape.  The Roosters would have been knocked out, the Tigers would have earned a week off, and most probably be playing the Dragons in the Grand Final.  But over the course of the entire 2010 season, the Wests Tigers players and fans can be proud of their results.  To finish equal second on the ladder and make the Grand Final qualifier is no mean feat.  This was the most successful premiership campaign for the club in five years and has laid the foundation for more success to follow.  Forget the Chinese calendar – 2011 will be the REAL Year of the Tiger!

<^One-Eyed Tiger^>

Five Star Dragon Slayers

Gareth Ellis: You can count on Ellis to tackle himself to a standstill each and every game. He’s taken his attack to another level in the finals. After being denied three times against the Roosters he stuck to his guns against the Raiders, running a beautiful line to help the Tigers break the game wide open early in the first half. Ellis is all class on and off the field and has developed great chemistry with Benji Marshall and young Robert Lui. The big bloke has taken on added responsibility in the defensive line by essentially becoming Lui’s bodyguard. The move has worked wonders with Lui’s confidence, but the boys will have to be on their game against the Dragons.
Benji Marshall: Benj has clearly come of age in recent months and there’s no doubt he’s in career best form. Last week’s effort against the Raiders was one of a truly inspirational leader. His long kicking game has improved out of sight, he looks confident in defence and best of all, he’s regained his swagger when it comes to kicking goals. Beau Ryan’s inability to finish an attacking raid cost Marshall one or two try assists against Canberra, but he continues to keep the opposition guessing with or without the ball. Benji’s trademark chip and chase could cause the big Dragons forwards all sorts of problems on Saturday night. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
Lote: The rampaging winger showed he’s the quickest 31-year-old in the NRL with a blistering try against the Raiders. Like Ellis, Lote is the sort of player who takes his game to another level in the finals. Having said that, he had all sorts of problems defending former Tiger Bronson Harrison and combined with Chris Lawrence to let the Raiders score one of the softest tries of the season on Friday night. I’d like to see the big bloke get more involved and look for the ball in attack. Dummy half runs and the odd hit up when the Tigers are coming off their line will take the pressure off the forwards, and if Lote makes a break in the middle of the park I’d back him to finish the play in style.
Robbie Farah: Captain courageous could hold the key to slaying the Dragons. The Tigers will beat the Saints with short balls around the middle of the ruck, bodies in motion and dummy half runs targeting lazy markers and fatigued forwards. Farah is the best in the business at exploiting these weaknesses, and the Tigers have plenty of willing ball runners to get the job done. Ellis, Galloway, Dwyer, Gibbs and Payten should be ready for anything as Robbie works over the middle third of the field. Fulton, Lote and Ryan need to be in position to double up on Farah’s dummy half darts to keep the Dragons on the back foot and help bring Robbie’s left foot kicking game into play.
Chris Lawrence/Blake Ayshford: The Wests Tigers centre pairing will be up against one of the most experienced and dangerous in the game on Saturday night. Ayshford has been in tremendous form in recent weeks and Lawrence is coming back after a well documented broken jaw. I’m going to give the attacking edge to the Tigers, but it’s Wests defence that worries me. Both centres can find themselves arm grabbing at times, which could prove disastrous against the Dragons. One lapse can cost you against the Saints, who will try to defend a lead and grind the Tigers into the dirt. It’s up to these two cubs to keep the Dragons honest out wide.

Prelim Final: Tigers vs Dragons

The Wests Tigers produced one of the most gutsy team performances of the year to overcome the heartbreak, injury, illness, crowd and cold on Friday night to beat Canberra.  Regardless of Campo’s injury and Crocker’s miss, the Tigers are exactly were they deserve to be – and they have the momentum and confidence to keep the charge for the 2010 title going!
It’s almost as though the golden point loss to the Roosters could be a blessing in disguise.  A bloody cruel disguise, for sure.  But the manner in which the Tigers banded together and rebound after that loss to out-enthuse and out-play a red-hot Raiders team will put them in great shape to face the Dragons.  They’ll take the field on Saturday night feeling 10-foot tall and bullet proof.
The contrasting styles of both teams will make for a fascinating clash.  I think it’s fair to say that with the Dragons conservative style of play and solid defence, when they perform to their best they are just about unbeatable.  They give little away, play the percentage football and frustrate their opponents into errors.  Of course, they also bore the hell out of viewers.  By contrast, the Tiger’s flamboyant and instinctive attacking style is much more entertaining and means that when they perform to their best they can beat anyone.  However their all-too-often lapses in concentration and intensity throughout a game means that they are rarely unbeatable.  The first two tries Canberra scored down the left defensive flank were very soft. 
Points will be at a premium against the Dragons, so defensive lapses such as that will need to be addressed.  In all the Dragon’s losses his year they have been restricted to 16 points or less.  The week off is unlikely to have an adverse affect on St George’s preparation as they won both their games following a bye during the regular season.

Wests should have a smoother build-up this week with most of the players now clear of serious injuries.  The ‘chamber’ is likely to be utilised again by Lui, Ellis and Gibbs to overcome their niggles, but for all intents and purposes we have a full squad fit and available.  Sheens has named as extended 6-man bench – presumably as insurance and maybe even just to keep Bennett and co guessing a bit (if that matters).
St George got the better of the Tigers back in Round 16, skipping away with a couple of late tries to win comfortably, but that result has as little relevance to this week as the ’05 preliminary final.  The Tigers squad are in career best form and have the game to beat St George if they compete for the full 80.  Getting off to a quick start will be essential.   The Dragons are short-priced favourites but will hopefully feel the added pressure to perform in order to shake their well-deserved ‘choker’ tag.  With a dry pitch and massive crowd forecast, this will be the biggest game of the year by far!!!  I can’t wait!!!  GO TIGERS!!!
Fortune Teller: Beau Ryan scores the first try and Keith Galloway scores the last try.  Wests Tigers win 22-18 and advance to the 2010 Grand Final!
The Other Side: I’m sure most Wests fans will be cheering for Gold Coast on Friday night,  After all, the Tigers have a 100% record in Grand Finals against Queensland-based teams!  I’m backing the Titans to beat the Roosters 24-14.
NSW Cup: Both the Western Suburbs Magpies and Balmain-Ryde-Eastwood Tigers have made it to the preliminary finals on opposite sides of the draw.  Both games will be played in a double-header at Leichhardt on Sunday.  The possibility of a Magpies vs Tigers Grand Final remains!  Well done lads!
<^One-Eyed Tiger^>

Exclusive early bird tix to GF Qualifier

Here is your chance to get behind the Wests Tigers as we charge towards the 2010 NRL grand final!

Ticketek along with the NRL are giving all registered brisbane wests tigers Fans the chance to pre-purchase tickets to the St George Illawarra preliminary final.
The buying window is open between 9pm September 20 and 7am September 21.
Click here to purchase your tickets and make sure you include the password ‘bears’.
Remember to tell other Brisbane-based Wests Tigers fans to join for future specials!

Semi Final: Tigers vs Raiders

All negative thoughts of refereeing injustices, McIntyre systems flaws and what-if scenarios are now behind us.  The Wests Tigers are two wins away from the Grand Final and all energy is now focussed on getting past the elimination clash with the Canberra Raiders on Friday night.  We’ve beaten them twice so far this season, including the last four straight, and finished well on top of them over the course of 26 weeks.  Our coaching staff are one of the best and most experienced in the league.  In summary, there are plenty more reasons why Furner and the Canberra team should be wary of facing the Tigers than the other way around.

Sheens has named just about all of the remaining fit members of the top grade squad  – and then some – in this week’s line-up to cover the uncertainty of several key positions.  Injury and illness aside, the real battle for the team will be overcoming fatigue, turning up with the right attitude and playing positive, open football from the first whistle.
Canberra Stadium has sold out and the Raiders will be shooting for a season-best 7 straight wins.  I guess with every win you get closer to your next loss.  The way the Green Machine are playing it’s going to take a huge team effort and a bit of luck to stop their charge.  But like <^TigerBrad^> quoted, anything is possible!  No-one else is giving us a chance this week but we shouldn’t care.  The Wests Tigers never-say-die spirit has overcome adversity a number of times throughout this long year so far.  This is just another 17-on-17 game.  Cmon Tigers!!!

Fortune Teller: Campese scores the first try and the Raiders lead at half time.  Tuqiri scores the final try and Wests hold on to win 20-18.  You can bet on it!
<^One-eyed Tiger^>

Five Star Fightbacks

We have to do the impossible, but it is possible – NBA star Kevin Garnett.
Wests Tigers fans from either side of the joint venture will tell you we’ve been here before. The day when a Tiger becomes an underdog and a Magpie is all but declared a shot duck. We’ve been there and done that…that’s what makes us Tigers. We aren’t Brisbane Broncos who take the finals for granted, we aren’t Sydney Roosters who try to buy premierships and we sure as hell aren’t St George-Illawarra Dragons who bore the opposition to death.
Let’s look past the scrum penalties, the injuries and the uncertainty. The 17 men wearing orange, black and white on Friday night will play for their collective lives. There is no more frightening prospect in all of rugby league than a Wests Tigers side with absolutely nothing to lose. Benji Marshall, Robbie Farah and young Robert Lui will lead an attack that will have to score plenty of points to out duel a rampaging Raiders outfit at a sold out Canberra Stadium.
Mental preparation will be the key to this one, and as luck would have it the Tigers have three first grade coaches in their ranks who are more than capable of inspiring a team to victory. Tim Sheens, Royce Simmons and the hugely underrated Steve Folkes will get the job done off the field, but the big game experience and class of Lote and Gareth Ellis can’t be overlooked. Our enthusiastic young guns will follow their lead all night and give the classy Raiders backline a run for their money.
There’s been plenty of hype about Canberra’s forward pack, and rightly so, but I have to question their fitness and general attitude. No one gives the Tigers a chance in this one, so why should the Raiders forwards bother showing up with the same intensity they took to Penrith? If the Canberra pack drops their guard for even the slightest moment the Wests ball players will run riot. It only takes two or three lapses for a side to be down 18-0, and the first 20 minutes of this one will be crucial.
If nothing else, the Tigers have silenced their critics in 2010 – me included – and have unearthed some amazing talent along the way. In saying that, it just doesn’t feel like the journey is going to finish on Friday night. Something tells me this rollercoaster has a few more ups and downs left in it before we disembark. It’s going to be a wild ride in Canberra, but I wouldn’t be a Bronco, Rooster or Dragon for all the money in the world. The Tigers will do me fine.
Just 17 men and their will to survive. Do us proud Wests Tigers.

Qual Final: Tigers vs Roosters

Finally, it’s here!  Only a few more sleeps until the start of the finals!  With a pair of tickets for Bay 16 in hand (thanks to the missus for an early birthday present), I’m like a kid before Christmas.  Can’t wait!!! 

The full dress rehearsal for finals football at Skilled Park last Friday night was a good quality hit-out for both teams.  The Titans jumped out of the blocks with all guns blazing, while the Tiger’s usually free-flowing attack was hampered by a terrible bout of the dropsies.  At half time everyone wearing white-black-and-orange drew a collective sigh of relief that it was only 13-0.  But the second half fight back by the Tigers was very entertaining and will give the players and fans plenty of confidence heading into the Qualifying Final.
A bit of controversy has been stirred up by some ‘fans’ during the week claiming that the Wests Tigers are giving up home field advantage by playing at the SFS.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The players will be fired-up no matter where they play this weekend.  Nuff said.
Both teams welcome back players from injury for this game.  For the Tigers, Fulton and Daniela are fully fit and back in the side.  Gibbs and McKinnon were named but their status is doubtful.  Gibbs won’t test out his knee until Friday but is hopeful he’ll pull through and take his place on the bench.  McKinnon is reported to be an unlikely starter.  For the Roosters, Minichiello and Friend are back in the team, but with a six-man bench named, Smith is keeping his options open.
Watching the key playmakers from each side, in particular Marshall and Carney, will be worth the price of admission alone.  The backlines are fairly evenly matched, but it’s the forward pack and bench where the Tigers appear to have a slight edge.  The back row trio of Ellis, Fulton and Heighington are extremely dangerous in the red-zone when running angles off Farah, Lui and Marshall.  Dwyer and Fifita have game-breaking potential coming off the bench, and could well be the x-factor that separates the mighty Tigers from their opponents in the latter weeks of the finals. 
As an unbiased and impartial analyst, I can’t see how Wests can lose!  It’s gonna be HUGE!
Fortune-Teller: Blake Ayshford opens the scoring the Tigers.  Sam Perret scores the final try but Wests advance to the next round of the finals with a thrilling 28-24 win.  You can bet on it!
<^One-eyed Tiger^>

Minor league wrap

As an unbiased and impartial observer at Skilled Park last Friday, it was shocking to the see the Wests Tigers U20 team robbed in their final game of the season against the Titans.  From my vantage point in the nose-bleed section behind the southern goal posts and watching the game over the rim of a therapeutic mid-strength, it was blatantly clear that the Tigers were denied a legitimate try in the second half.  Then, in the final minute with the scores deadlocked, the Titans were awarded a dubious length-of-the-field match-winning try when a tackled player was allowed to continue instead of being ordered to play-the-ball.  A 50-odd metre line break.  Kicked ahead.  Re-gathered.  The home team scored under the posts to leap-frog the Tigers and advance to the finals. 
Just quietly, it would not be a surprise to see this game included in the match-fixing investigations currently under way.  As an unbiased and impartial observer, I’d be more than willing to submit my version of events to the authorities.  And even though the Titans just scrapped into the finals they have now been awarded a “home final” against minor premiers South Sydney this Friday.  Go figure.
In more positive news, the NSW Cup competition sees both Balmain-Ryde Tigers and Western Suburbs Magpies advanced to the finals.  Balmain finished 2nd on equal points with minor premiers Canterbury, while the Magpies finished 5th.  It has been announced that these two clubs will merge in the NSW Cup.  While unpopular with most fans, the move will streamline the operations and provide a stronger and more cost-effective feeder into the NRL team.  This was bound to happen one day, and would be great to see these two proud clubs advance through to the Grand Final in their last year.  Watch this space.
<^One-eyed Tiger^>

Five Star Finals

Five tamed Tigers who could shape the 2010 NRL finals…
Simon Dwyer: The big bloke had a disastrous first 40 against the Titans but will come away from it a better player. If anything, Dwyer seemed a little too physced to take on the Gold Coast in big match footy. The sky’s the limit if he slows down and takes in the occasion against the Roosters. He will surely benefit from coming off the bench and should be able to get his offload working to the likes of Marshall, Lui and Brown. Dwyer has all the makings of an Australian backrower and Sheens has shown tremendous faith in a promising young gun he has already compared to the great Brad Clyde.
Mitch Brown: The above mentioned Mitch Brown has emerged as a genuine first grader in season 2010. He has plenty of speed and size and is useful with the ball in hand. Brown could find himself playing fullback, centre or wing during the finals, although he has been named in the number four jersey to take on the Roosters. Wade McKinnon is 100-1 to play on Saturday night as he struggles to overcome a recurring hamstring injury, so that leaves former Cronulla Sharks utility Brown as the best man for the job. He’s solid under the high ball, reliable in support and puts his body on the line in defence.
Geoff Daniela: Daniela is the real deal in attack and defence. He’s had an unlucky run with injuries, but his speed and footwork can blow a game wide open in a matter of minutes. Just ask the New Zealand Warriors, who saw the former Panther at his blistering best in the Tigers 50-6 round 12 demolition at Campbelltown. Equal parts Michael Jennings and Paul Whatuira, Daniela was forming a lethal combination with Marshall before injury struck. The classy utility could see time in the centres with Chris Lawrence out injured. Daniela is the sort of player teams fear in finals footy and I hope Sheens lets him loose.
Daniel Fitzhenry: The Wests Tigers whipping boy has been AWOL in recent weeks, but there’s no denying Fitzy has been there and done that. He was a great finisher in the Tigers 2005 finals campaign and he remains a great finisher in 2010. Perhaps Fitzy’s biggest flaw is his versatility. He’s not a fullback, he’s not a hooker and he’s sure as hell not a halfback. Fitzy is a winger and a pretty good winger at that. If McKinnon is in doubt, which I have to believe he is, Sheens could easily move Beau Ryan to fullback and Fitzy to wing. It’s not what I’d do, but it’s certainly a very real possibility.
John Skandalis: Injury means Skando probably won’t see any action in the 2010 finals, but he could still have an impact on a forward pack that is still searching for a consistent leader. The Tigers premiership winning pack featured seasoned veterans like Skando, Buckets and Ben Galea who could be relied upon to do the dirty work. While there’s no doubt Ellis, Payten and Heighno lead with their actions, the Tigers need someone to step up as the vocal leader of the forwards. Skando needs to shape and mould this leader at training – and fast. Look for the experienced Ellis to take his game to the next level on Saturday night.