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.