2017 Season Kick-off

The long awaited season kick-off is almost upon us! So to get us in the mood the BWTF team are putting their thinking caps on and assessing what lies ahead for the Tigers in Season 2017.

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

STEVE: “Jamal Idris has stated his intentions loud and clear. He’s matured. He’s motivated. And he’s ready to hit blokes hard. We’ve already got some fairly speedy backs, but now having some size out wide will be a handy addition. Hopefully he can sure up our edge defence which was embarrassing at times in 2016.”

BRAD: “The club culture on display. Let’s look past Kyle Lovett’s affection for nose candy and Tim Simona’s penchant for the punt – the club is doing and saying the right things in terms of moving on from Robbie Farah. Mitchell Moses has quickly established himself as a leader of the new generation, and you can’t help but be impressed by big Jamal Idris.”

ADAM: “Matt McIlwrick. From the press interviews it seems Matt is honest with himself and where he is positioned at the club. Matt understands the opportunity is there BUT he needs to take it and for that to be the case he needs to ward off a much hyped (and rightfully) Jacob Liddle and nudge out Matt Ballin. McIlwrick has impressed in previous opportunities with Canberra last year and with the right headspace, commitment to improve and opportunity it would not surprise if he was the fulltime hooker come round 20.”

2) 2017 will be a big year for …

ADAM: “I want to say BWTF as we move past 1600 members and welcome back Tiger Brad from his year with Toulon. But asked in regards to Wests Tigers, it has to be Matt Ballin right? In recent history Ballin has struggled to take the field, and without game time and solid contributions his time at the Tigers must be under threat. Hoping Ballin gets his body in shape and can repay the faith (in terms of performance) over the next 26 rounds. Being a betting man, I suspect Ballin will be a mid year trade or we will see him sitting on the scoreboard drinking ciders come round 20.”

STEVE: “Jason Taylor. The way the squad reacts to the ongoing contract saga will primarily be down to him. He didn’t create the situation we’re in but he’s one of the key blokes who can help steer us through it. This should have been the first year of many where all off-field rubbish was sorted out. But the fact that 2018 contract negotiations have been a constant story over the off-season fanned by the NRL gutter-press has been an unwanted sideshow. Jason Taylor’s leadership and motivation will need to come to the fore. And I have confidence – at this stage – that he will deliver.”

BRAD: “Every single person associated with the club. While culture is one thing, the time for talk is done and the Wests Tigers must produce on and off the field. There’s little room for error with a tough start to the season and contract negotiations sure to be played out in the media in one way or another. The club needs to produce more than promises of potential. The Tigers need wins and they need them from Round 1.”

3) Apart from James Tedesco’s contract, the thing I’m most nervous about this year is …

BRAD: “Another year based on potential and hope – I just can’t cop that anymore and I hope the club feels the same. Since 2005 we’ve suffered through more false dawns than an Arctic winter and it’s starting to get old. The Tigers have once again taken a minimalist approach to recruitment, but I’m fine with that. The roster has a solid mix of youth and experience and is perfectly poised to build on a solid finish to 2016.”

ADAM: “Brooks/Moses combination. Firstly, getting them on the field together has been a challenge over the past 12 months, and when they are Brooks seems to take a step back. Can the Brooks/Moses combination finally bear fruit or will it be a case of communism (looks good on paper). I struggle with the concept of ‘The Big 4’, as the Brooks/Moses combination performance question that lingers drives me to the calculation ‘Big 2’ (Tedesco, Woods) + Brooks or Moses – I guess ‘Big 2 + 1’ is more apt. Right now Woods, Tedesco, Moses have stronger claims than Brooks for the contact money. For mine Brooks is under pressure to retain his spot, with Littlejohn pressing hard. That said, I wish Brooks a break out year.”

STEVE: “D-fence! It’s been our Achilles heel for too long. We still had a soft underbelly last year and got rolled far too easily at times, conceding a 40-burger or worse on three occasions. That needs to change in 2017. It’s an attitude thing as well as a technique thing. Overall JT has definitely improved some of the technical aspects in defence that was so carelessly neglected under the Sheens’ tenure, but we still have a ways to go in regards to our attitude over the full 80 before we can compete with the genuine premiership contenders.”

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

BRAD: “I expect them to finish in the Top 8 – anywhere between first and eighth – but like I said this time last year, nothing would surprise me with the Tigers. We could be minor premiers, we could be wooden spooners. So much depends on the first five to six weeks of the competition and how we deal with adversity as a club both on and off the field. I’m cautiously optimistic of a strong season.”

STEVE: “7th or 8th. We definitely have the squad to reach a long awaited finals berth. A bit of luck with injuries and a confidence boost along the way with favourable resolutions to at least three of the most critical ‘Big 4’ contracts should mean we play footy in September. I think at least two from the Sharks, Bulldogs and Titans drop out, and we’ll likely be battling with the Roosters and Warriors to move into the 8.”

ADAM: “Right I am going to call it. Tigers did not ‘just miss’ the finals last year. They were WAY off the pace for most of the year, getting beaten by Newcastle TWICE, thumped by Canberra TWICE and showing little real competition to the top 4. Additionally, if Parramatta were not stripped of points we would have finished 10th. Significant improvement must be found, I don’t think Jason Taylor has the answers, but he would want to find them ASAP. After 26 rounds I expect Tigers to finish with a new coach (Ivan Cleary), with a new hooker McIlwrick, with three out of four ‘Big 4’ players renewed and with Joel Edwards being a starting forward. Terms of position on the ladder … I do not see 8th as a pass mark, I see 6th as a pass mark, and top 4 as a successful season. Anything but 9th would do me!”

Contractually Obliged

A few weeks ago, the BWTF admins started sending a few emails around about plans for the year ahead. Article ideas on the challenges ahead, things the club needs to do for a successful year, etc. Down the list somewhere, our contract situation was listed. I didn’t intend to be writing the first blog of the year about this issue, however with the speculation currently surrounding our club I thought it important to get on the front foot so here we are. I’ve got a couple of home truths in this post, but I think it’s important that these things are said.

Decade Defining Decisions

The thing that instils fear in all of us is how important it is that the club gets the decisions ahead of these contracts right. I don’t envy Justin Pascoe, Go or Taylor in the year ahead. The club will come under fire from media and fans alike. Despite this, it’s important to remember that this is their job. Should the club make incorrect decisions around recruitment over the course of this year, it will put to waste the last 5 years of underperformance in the hope of raising home grown talent and put a significant portion of us as fans offside.  We can only hope they nail it and for all our sake, re-sign James Tedesco.

Speculation isn’t going to go away

Unfortunately, with all our big four players (and several others from our club and every other club with the new salary cap coming in 2018) you have to be prepared for what will be months and months of endless speculation and regurgitation of rumours with every sports media avenue vying for their piece of the clickbait/outrage pie. Unfortunately, it’s just the way it is going to be. Tedesco will be linked to every club even in slight need of a fullback. There will be articles of ‘unrest’ in the team, and ‘tensions’ with JT all in the effort of getting your click. The best thing you can do is ignore it.

 

We are going to lose juniors, no matter how hard the club tries

The sheer reality is that with the number of locally grown juniors we have in our club at first grade level, we are going to lose players and it’s going to hurt when it happens regardless of who it is. The fact that as fans, we’ve sat through lean years for the sake of blooding juniors only to see them leave will hurt at times. It is the nature of the business of sport, unfortunately.

 

We don’t need to keep everyone, and we can’t overpay

This may not sit well with some of you, but it’s something that needs to be said. We don’t need to keep everyone. Despite heading into a new cap era, as a team we can just not afford to overpay juniors for the sake of getting them to stay with us. Without hesitation, you could name players from every premiership team in the last ten years that were key to the success of that premiership that had stayed for unders. Everyone compares our boys to the Big 3, who have all stayed since 2010 on slight unders. When your high calibre players say for even $150k less than their market value each, it quickly adds up to enough cap space to afford even one more quality player that can make a difference to being a premiership team or not. If the Big 4 aren’t willing to take a slight pay cut compared to market value to stay together, then we have to be comfortable in letting them walk. This isn’t to say we need to underpay them, but the club needs to be firm in understanding what the market is truly saying about our players.

Grant Mayer got fans onside in 2013/2014 by signing all of our juniors up to the long-term contracts we are now dealing with. As we all know, these contracts significantly hampered our cap space for 2015, 2016 and now 2017. We just can’t afford to be constrained like this again – it will put us five years further back on the quest for a premiership.

 

If all else fails, we have the ability as fans to make our feelings known through appropriate channels such as membership renewals next year. Until such time as all the dominos fall into place, know that it’s going to be a long year. But we at BWTF will be with you the whole way.