With the season opener just around the corner we look at how the Wests Tigers will go in 2018. After a turbulent 2017 season, head coach Ivan Cleary will be looking for his side to play a more consistent brand of footy in 2018.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Mahe Fonua (Hull FC), Tyson Gamble (Redcliffe Dolphins), Heath Gibbs (Newcastle Knights), Pita Godinet (Manly Sea Eagles), Benji Marshall (Brisbane Broncos), Ben Matulino (New Zealand Warriors), Russell Packer (St. George Illawarra Dragons), Josh Reynolds (Canterbury Bulldogs), Corey Thompson (Widnes Vikings), Taane Milne (St. George Illawarra Dragons), Chris McQueen (Gold Coast Titans), Sam McIntyre (Newcastle Knights), Robbie Rochow (Melbourne Storm), Dylan Smith (Cronulla Sharks).
James Tedesco (Sydney Roosters), Aaron Woods (Canterbury Bulldogs), Ava Seumanufagai (Cronulla Sharks), Jack Littlejohn (Salford Red Devils), Kyle Lovett (Leigh Centurions), Jeremy Marshall-King (Canterbury Bulldogs), Junior Tatola (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Ryan Papenhuyzen (Melbourne Storm), Moses Suli (Canterbury Bulldogs), Matt Ballin (Retired), Jamal Idris (Retired), Justin Hunt (Retired), Joel Edwards (Released).
Roosters (H), Storm (A), Broncos (H), Eels (H), Storm (H)
WHAT TO EXPECT
After a season to forget in 2017, the fresh-faced Wests Tigers will be looking to give their fans something to cheer for in 2018, as they enter a new era under Ivan Cleary. They have recruited well and now boast quite a talented roster featuring the likes of local juniors David Nofoaluma and Luke Brooks, as well as star signings such as Josh Reynolds and Ben Matulino. However Tigers fans shouldn’t just expect sunshine and rainbows this season. With so many new faces it may take the side some time to gel as a playing group. Another question mark lays over the quality of their spine, especially compared to the sides around them. Brooks and Tuimoala Lolohea are still looking to hit their potential, while Josh Reynolds is a real hit or miss signing. A spot in the top 8 won’t be easy to come by, and I think the Tigers will struggle to get there this season.
A player who will be very important to the Tigers in 2018 will be Lolohea. The young Kiwi playmaker is the front-runner for the fullback jersey, and has pretty big shoes to fill following the exit of superstar James Tedesco to the Sydney Roosters. The Tigers attack in recent years has been very reliant on Tedesco, and while Cleary will no doubt have the team playing more as a team this year, Lolohea will still have a lot of pressure on him to bring the added spark and unpredictability to the number one jumper. If Tui has a good year, expect a few more wins from the Wests Tigers in 2018.
It’s no secret that the Tigers have undergone a massive squad overhaul. No less than fourteen new faces arrived at the club for preseason training, and they’ll all be looking to contribute to the success of the Wests Tigers. Two extremely important signings are those of Kiwi forward duo Ben Matulino and Russell Packer. The loss of metre eating front rower Aaron Woods has more than been accounted for with these two acquisitions. Matulino at his best is one of the top forwards running around in the competition, while Packer is fresh off a great year with the Dragons, and adds a certain aggression to the Tigers pack that has been lacking. Both men have also represented New Zealand on the international stage, and have racked up over 350 NRL games between them. That sort of experience will be invaluable for the Tigers this season.
You only have to look as far as the opening five rounds to see that the Tigers don’t have the easiest run in 2018. They play all the 2017 top four teams over the first five weeks, including defending premiers Melbourne twice. They follow these games up with a tough match against the Sea Eagles at Lottloland, an intriguing clash against the Knights in Tamworth, before playing the Eels again in round 8. The draw does even out a bit and their run home is quite pleasant, only playing one 2017 top eight team in the last 10 rounds. If they can grab some points early against the big teams, it will set them up for a potentially great season.
Top Tryscorer – David Nofoaluma
Top Pointscorer – Tuimoala Lolohea
Club Player of the Year – Esan Marsters
WHERE WILL THE WESTS TIGERS FINISH?