2016 Season Kick-off

Kick-off for our 2016 season is one week away! With three Nines games and two NRL trials in the bank, it’s time for the BWTF team to put their reputations on the line and assess where the Wests Tigers are placed heading into Season 2016. We won’t be at full strength for Round 1, but what has the season as a whole got in store for us?

1) This pre-season I’ve been most impressed with …

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Tedesco

SCOTT: “Apart from Farah, the lack of key injuries so far. Our attack also looks quite sharp, with James Tedesco playing a major role in making the opposition defence wait to see what he is going to do which allows more time for our halves to ball play. I’m impressed with our back-line and centres especially. Need to see more from the forwards.”

STEVE: “Jesse Sue. Now a member of the leadership group and our regular starting lock after Taupau’s departure, Sue has looked particularly good so far. He was a consistently strong performer in the Nines and had plenty of powerful runs in the Sharks trial, plus a great try-saver cover tackle. The new interchange rules will also suit him as he can play long minutes.”

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Nofoaluma

CHRIS: “It’s hard to go past Jesse Sue, but since Steve has covered him, I’m going to go for my next option: David Nofoaluma! It’s amazing to think that he’s just 22. Our winger had a very average 2015 with injury, but the signs from everything I have seen so far have been nothing short of inspired. I don’t know that our defence will be where it needs to be in order to make the Top 8, but Moses and Brooks have had their leash lengthened by JT and in turn have provided plenty of service to Nofa. He’s the quickest I’ve seen him look since debut and is breaking lines and tackles everywhere. Not to mention that he’s had some great one on one defensive reads and has had great goal line defense. 2014 saw Tim Lafai shine. 2015 was the year of Semi. 2016 will be the year of DAVID NOOFOOLUMA!”

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Moses

BRAD: “Points scored, longer leashes and the death of Taylor Ball. It counts for zero until the season proper kicks off but the likes of Brooks, Moses and Teddy – I’ll also throw Simona, Nofo and Big Kev into the mix – need to play what’s in front of them. There will be plenty of high scoring games on both sides of the ball – see the Sharks trial – but I’ll take that over the disastrous attacking outings of last season. RIP, Taylor Ball.”

ADAM: “I have been most impressed with the Tigers talking up a big game in winning back the fans in the West. I think for the long term of the club they need to make the West a strong hold for the club and really commit to community more so in the past. Good signs to see the partnership with Campbelltown Council for the streaming of the trial game last weekend. There is great suburban footy ground there with excellent transport links let’s hope to fill it more often.”

2) Of our new recruits, I’m most excited about …

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Ballin

ADAM: “Matt Ballin is my signing of the year. And even though he has not laced up a boot as yet, the challenge has well and truly been laid out to Farah and the team in general. Putting pressure on Farah may see his game improve (let’s face it he is a great player but has not had the strongest 18 months). Further I think Taylor may have shown just a little bit that he may go to a highly mobile team for periods during the game under the new interchange rules. I also think we’ve done well with players we have released. Marty ‘seems’ to be a big loss on paper and he did have some big moments, but he also possessed the ability to have monumental brain fades and can be guilty of only running one line – unless he adds to his game at Manly he is somehow considered a one trick pony / draught horse!”

SCOTT: “Our upstairs department! No club functions when admin is out of control. I see a concerted effort to change the ‘let’s sweep it under the carpet’ mentality. As for players Matt Ballin is a big purchase for many reasons. We now have 3 fantastic hookers. We ‘could’ move Robbie to lock with Ballin and Cherry main hookers. His work ethic, professionalism and workman like attitude is a big plus.”

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Aloiai

STEVE: “Josh Aloiai. I didn’t know much about him when he was signed late last year from Parramatta’s U20 squad. I saw a number of Eels fans were upset he left, so that was a promising indication. But his trial performances were definitely eye-catching. He’s a big unit and boy can he lay on a hit! He looks to have wrapped up a bench spot for the NRL team, likely to rotate at lock with Sue.”

CHRIS: “Tim Grant. I know plenty have rubbished this signing for us but I think he is a great replacement for Keith Galloway. I still believe that the best spot for Seeyoulaterfunguy is on the bench, hitting tired packs with speed and offloads. Having Tim in our side provides a proven first grader who can start and do a more than capable job. He may not be the most spectacular prop going around but the guy can produce large minutes and I believe he was used entirely incorrectly at Souths last year. We’re not exactly paying the guy a lot and I believe that we will be thankful we had him, come the end of Round 26.”

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Addo-Carr

BRAD: “Josh Addo-Carr. You know what you’re getting with Tim Grant, Matt Ballin and Joel Edwards. Justin Hunt doesn’t move the needle and Jordan Rankin is nothing more than a young journeyman. Addo-Carr has electrifying speed and athleticism to go with more than a touch of lair and lout. His defence looks dusty but the former Shark could form a deadly combination with Simona, Nofo and Big Kev and gives the halves another genuine target with the ball.”

3) 2016 will be a big year for …

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Sue

CHRIS: “Jesse Sue. Everyone talks about the loss of Martin Taupau, but I believe that by the end of this year Sue will have a similar cult status with Wests Tigers fans. I think that he will don the 13 and play as a 3rd ‘middle forward’ that some coaches use their Lock as. He is fit as and can play big minutes. He has an offload in his game and while he may not quite be as openly aggressive as Taupau, he has a few less penalties and errors in him too.”

STEVE: “James Tedesco. Even before the Sharks trial I was thinking that Tedesco would have a big year. His phenomenal game last Saturday night all but cemented it. He will be the NSW Origin fullback, Dally M Fullback of the Year, and a decent shout for NRL top try scorer. He’ll top NRL try-assist category, at least! He’s our best attacking weapon and was our most consistent player in a mostly disappointing team in 2015. He looks to have only gotten better in the offseason. We saw what his great combinations with Brooks could achieve in patches early last year, and in Saturday’s trial. If we see that on a week-in week-out basis in 2016 we’ll be in good shape. Let’s face it, it’s now or never for this spine to deliver on their potential at the top level. Both Moses and Brooks have some big contract decisions due mid-year for 2017 and beyond, and I think their successful attacking combinations with Tedesco in a winning team will go a long way to deciding their fate.”

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Simona

SCOTT: “In addition to our spine of the team, I think Timmy Simona. I believe his strength in defence and attack is top notch. I think if he stays fit he will be our most crucial player because of 2 reasons. 1: last year our biggest weakness was our defence in the centers when our first string players where injured. 2: he’s very strong and fast in attack, he reads the game very well and is one of our main strike weapons.”

ADAM: “I will focus on who needs a big year. For me it is Dene Halatau. He could be seen as a 3rd or even 4th option at hooker, with the Tiger’s now seeing some talent move through in the backrow. Dene is seen as a utility but even in this role he is under heavy competition. Unless somehow Dene finds a way to make the very most of his opportunities he may find himself in NSW Cup more often then he would like, and probably deserves. Another in this category is Curtis Sironen, he has now had a few seasons under his belt and needs to become the damaging force that his early potential showed. Moving from 5/8 to the forwards may have been a challenge, but he has now been solely in the forwards for over 2 seasons. Time for Curtis to move from being ‘promising’ and a ‘standard’ first grader to becoming a stand out player we know he can be. Personally I suspect that to have a great year the Tigers need Curtis to lead the way.”

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Sironen

BRAD: “Curtis Sironen. Maybe not a ‘big’ year as much as a ‘career defining year’. There are no excuses for Siro in 2016 – he knows where he’s playing and he knows what’s expected of him. Siro has seduced us with potential for far too long, a barnstorming run here and a huge hit there followed by a crucial dropped ball and a soft arm grab. Siro needs to show some consistency in terms of his aggression, focus and commitment.”

4) After 26 rounds I expect Wests Tigers to finish …

BRAD: “Anywhere between unbeaten minor premiers and winless wooden spooners. I honestly have no idea what to expect from this lot. A slow start to the season will see JT under all sorts of pressure, talk surrounding the futures of Brooks and Moses will intensify, and R. Farah could spontaneously combust. A solid start to the season will see talk of fools’ gold, dreams of a top eight finish, and R. Farah could spontaneously combust. We best buckle up.”

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Lawrence

SCOTT: “I see us scraping into the 8th position. Looking at pre-season, the theory of scoring more then the opposition, I think we can. We have more possible position changes if injuries occur. If our defence can stay positive and brutish we will go better then 8th. But reality I can’t see our defence improving until we start enjoying defence and putting in those extra 1-2% efforts. Bring on the 2016 finals.”

ADAM: “I have invested my solid $5 on premiers (just in case). I think the Tigers would call the year successful to qualify for the finals without for and against, so that would mean 6th is a successful year. I would suggest any lower than 13th and Jason Taylor might be lining up at Cambelltown Centrelink. Heart aside, and to answer the question without going Turnbull, I believe 8th/9th depending on for and against.”

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Woods

STEVE: “Mid-table. Obviously it’s really hard to gauge how all the teams are travelling at this stage of the year with heaps of offseason player movements and variable-strength squads in trials. But I’ve seen enough from the Tigers so far to expect significant improvement over 2015’s equal-last finish. Seriously, if we don’t I’ll probably suffer an aneurysm. JT has loosened the reigns on Moses and Brooks, so if we can continue to improve our discipline in defence and injuries are kind, we have enough points in us to win a good chunk of games. The squad looks well balanced on paper – better than last year at least. We’ve purged some of deadwood and from what I’ve seen in the trials we have better quality depth across the field, especially in the backrow and outside backs. We should also be able to avoid our traditional Origin-period slump this year. Somewhere around 10th feels like something this team should be capable of at least.”

CHRIS: “12th. The year will have it’s frustrating moments, it’s great ones and will overall be improved on the last couple of years but WT will be at the bottom of the usual ‘8th spot log jam’ based on for and against.”

Time to Spine

This year, the expectations of every Rugby League commentator and fan of other club seems to have Wests Tigers booked to finish in 16th, if not 15th spot. If you’re reading this there is every chance you bleed Black, White and Orange and these comments sting as if someone is insulting your very own Mother. Face it, with our performance record since 2012 it’s not exactly an unfair assumption to make. So, what could be different about this year? Are the Wests Tigers capable of surprising 95% of the Rugby League community?

When you look at our recruitment decisions over the off season, they have been made almost entirely based around our current salary cap restraints. While these moves have not exactly been exciting, they have provided the club with Players that are hungry to cement spots in first grade and I quite like that. However while our cheaper buys in recent years have brought us Martin Taupau and Blake Austin, they also brought us Cory Paterson, Ed Pettyborne and Matt Bell. If we’re to succeed in 2016 we can’t be reliant upon Michael Chee-Kam or Jordan Rankin having break out years. Again, I wish those players every bit of luck, but they’re not the answer.

Simply put, it’s the Wests Tigers time to spine.

I’ll exclude James Tedesco from our discussions as I think that after his 2015 season, you can hardly criticise his playmaking and what he brings to our team. My focus instead moves on to Brooks, Moses and Farah.

With the better part of the last two years embroiled in coach problems that have been widely covered through the media, Robbie Farah insists that he is ‘back to loving Footy again’ and has a weight off his shoulders after being relieved of the captaincy. I covered in one of my last pieces of last year that I thought it was time for Farah to move on, having barely played any of the Footy that we know he is capable of within the last 18 months or so. Now that he is relieved of the captaincy, and standing firm after the club offered him the ability to find a new footy home the simple fact is that we have to start seeing his best footy from him again. He currently is the Tigers marquee player, and he needs to play like it. Let’s hope that this year sees him play the attacking footy we know he can, while managing to give Brooks and Moses time to shine.

With Brooks and Moses having the option in their favour to extend into 2017, we could potentially be paying the two a rumoured $1.3 million next year if they stay. I don’t actually have too much of a problem with that, when Moses Mbye is supposedly commanding $800k himself, and DCE is on close to the same amount on his own. I’ve seen fans judging this rumoured pay packet on their 2015 performances, which is pretty grossly unfair. $650k is pretty reasonable for any decently performing half in the NRL. However it looks expensive very quickly if Brooks & Moses don’t grow their game.

Mitch Moses cops a little less heat from me than he may cop elsewhere. Rugby League fans love to throw Mitch under the bus, but he’s only played 34 games so far and spent more than his fair share of games at fullback in 2014 while Teddy was injured. I must say that in my opinion, Moses improved his game a lot in the back half of last year. If he continues to apply JT’s supposed new game plan and can continue to grow his game, he will be a more than serviceable half.

Brooks has a little less leeway in my eyes. In 2013, I watched him absolutely dominate the U20’s Origin game with brilliant attack and a good kicking game. By Round 6 this year, Luke Brooks hits the 50 game mark which is already longer than the average NRL Career. If he stays fit, he hits around 68 games this season which is very quickly creeping towards Veteran status. I know he is 21, but game experience is far more important than his age. In my opinion, his age is quickly becoming irrelevant. Anthony Milford is also 21, currently on 69 games and performing well. Billy Slater debuted at 19 and was playing Origin at age 20. If Brooks is going to become of one the game’s best halves, his development will have to find another gear this year.

Wests Tigers played Blackjack by banking on Moses and Brooks developing into first grade players. The dealer has 17 on the table, and Moses and Brooks could easily be the 4 we need, or come up bust. I’m not going to be the first person this year that says they need to step up – but I’m not saying they can’t. It’s time to see what they’re made of.