As the National Rugby League season draws closer, we look at how the Wests Tigers will go in 2020.
After narrowly missing out on a top eight berth again last year, the Tigers will be looking to end their streak of ninth place finishes and play finals footy for the first time since 2011. With another full pre-season under coach Michael Maguire, and some fresh talent joining the club, the Tigers faithful have plenty of reason to believe the finals dream will become a reality in 2020.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Joseph Leilua (Canberra Raiders), Luciano Leilua (St George-Illawarra Dragons), Adam Doueihi (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Billy Walters (Melbourne Storm).
Esan Marsters (North Queensland Cowboys), Robbie Farah (retired), Ryan Matterson (Parramatta Eels), Mahe Fonua (Hull FC), Robbie Rochow (retired), Ben Matulino (retired).
TOP 30 SQUAD: Adam Doueihi, Alex Twal, Alex Seyfarth, Benji Marshall, Billy Walters, Chris McQueen, Chris Lawrence, Corey Thompson, David Nofoaluma, Dylan Smith, Elijah Taylor, Jacob Liddle, Joseph Leilua, Josh Aloiai, Josh Reynolds, Luciano Leilua, Luke Brooks, Luke Garner, Matt Eisenhuth, Michael Chee Kam, Moses Mbye, Oliver Clark, Paul Momirovski, Robert Jennings, Russell Packer, Sam McIntyre, Thomas Mikaele, Tommy Talau.
Development players: Jake Simpkin, Jock Madden, Kane Bradley, Reece Hoffman, Zac Cini.
Dragons (A), Knights (H), Bulldogs (H), Warriors (A), Eels (H)
WHAT TO EXPECT
Consistency at the coaching position is a big advantage for the Tigers in 2020. Last season was the first under Maguire, who inherited a roster that was put together by Ivan Cleary the year before. With the pieces he had available, he got the Tigers in a position to make the top eight in the final round of the regular season. If they’d beaten the Sharks at Leichhardt Oval in round 25, they would have played finals footy. While that scenario didn’t eventuate, it helped lay the foundation and set the tone for this season. With Maguire building a new culture at the club in year two, we should see the Tigers reach their full potential.
One of the keys to help them get there is a player who wasn’t at the club last year, Joseph Leilua. As unpredictable as he can be, he has the potential to be the missing piece to the Tigers’ backline puzzle. He has an X-factor in attack that can only be described as entertaining. At his best he’s hard to tackle and has the ball skills to break a game open at any moment. If given the opportunity to play alongside his brother Luciano this year, Joseph may help the Tigers become one of the more dangerous attacking teams in the competition.
Along with the Leilua brothers, former Rabbitoh Adam Doueihi comes into the club with big wraps and a big future. He will challenge Corey Thompson for the fullback position, which gives Maguire a good problem – two players that can excel at fullback. He is also expected to take the goal kicking duties, an area the club needs to improve in desperately.
One of the more intriguing signings is Billy Walters. After a strong performance at the Perth Nines, the former Melbourne Storm recruit has surged into contention for a bench utility role. With Jacob Liddle still recovering from an ACL injury, Robbie Farah retiring, and question marks over Josh Reynolds, the sky is the limit for Walters. He has the opportunity to make an impact and earn some minutes in the top grade. If given the time, he will be a player to watch.
The draw is kind to the Tigers early. In their first seven games, they only play one team that finished in the top eight last year (the Eels in round five). This should see them get off to a good start. The middle of the year is where things get tricky. Of the 10 games they play from rounds eight to 18, the majority are against teams who played finals footy last year (eight). That includes a gruelling run against the Storm (A), Rabbitohs (A) and Roosters (H) in successive games. The season ends better, with three games in Sydney against the Titans (H), Bulldogs (A) and Cowboys (H).
Top Tryscorer – David Nofoaluma
Top Pointscorer – Adam Doueihi
Club Player of the Year – Luke Garner
WHERE WILL THE WESTS TIGERS FINISH?
Expect the Tigers to once again challenge for a top eight spot. How far up the ladder they go depends on how well the new playing group can gel together. Good off-season signings have bolstered the talent at the club, and there’s a renewed sense of hope in Maguire’s second year. The Tigers can push teams the distance and cause some big upsets in 2020. With that in mind, they should do enough to sneak into the top eight and end their decade-long finals drought.