Filling in the gaps
The Tigers have been slugged with some heart-wrenching departures of major players, both in this season and for the start of 2018. Aaron Woods, the current Tigers captain, is jumping ship for the Canterbury Bulldogs next year. Mitchell Moses was granted an early release to play for Parramatta, leaving a hole in the halves after a stellar season with Luke Brooks in 2016. James Tedesco gave a standout performance in Game 1 of the Origin series as well as at club level, and will be departing to the Sydney Roosters for the 2018 season.
With these players heading for new teams, the Tigers will have to undergo a restructure of the squad from the backs to the forwards. The question is – can they do it?
After losing some key players, the Tigers have utilised the subsequent room in the salary cap to bring in some new blood. The most recent signings include a mix of younger talent and solid experience.
The most important signing for the Wests Tigers was Josh Reynolds from Canterbury. Reynolds will join Brooks in the halves and can’t help but shake things up in the 2018 season. Reynolds has an aggressive attacking style that will pair well with Brooks. Tuimoala Lolohea could potentially be challenging for a position in the halves; while he officially signed for next season, the Warriors decided to release him early and coach Ivan Cleary is getting an advance look at his capabilities.
Ben Matulino is another recent addition, coming into the second row next season. He’ll be joining new signings Chris McQueen and Russell Packer in the forwards. Connor Watson has been rumoured to replace Tedesco in the number 1 jersey, which could be a season-changing signing for the Tigers. The wildest rumour is that Cronk might choose the Tigers when he arrives in Sydney in 2018. He would certainly make a difference to the side, but as he maintains that he is undecided whether to even continue to play, at this stage it is no more than speculation.
Mitchell Moses was the leading points scorer for the Tigers but has since left for the Eels, and Kevin Naiqama is the leading try scorer but is rumoured to be considering a position in Super Rugby. These departures highlight the need for the Tigers to hold on to the talent that they already have, in addition to building on the recent signings.
After the Wests Tigers performance this year, it could be a challenge for Ivan Cleary to hold on to some players whose contracts are due to expire next year. He has managed to re-sign Luke Brooks, who might be young but has experience and ability. Jamal Idris is out for this season with an ACL injury and his future for the Tigers will be up for discussion in 2018. Tim Grant has been informed his contract will not be renewed, after a lacklustre season and the acquisition of Packer.
Ivan Cleary was the subject of a shock dismissal at the end of 2015, where he was fired without warning by Phil Gould. He was hired to coach the Tigers in April this year, and has yet to find his feet. However, it’s not surprising that he has been off to a shaky start with all the player movement and unstable foundation he has been left to work with.
As a winner of the 2014 Dally-M Medal for coaching and having 264 games under his belt as a coach, he has yet to show his true colours as the head of the Tigers. His contract has him staying on until 2020, so he has time to build the squad. While all the instability has been detrimental to this year’s title race, it does mean that he has some choice when it comes to signing new players and shaping the team he wants.
Next year’s performance is hard to predict, but it can certainly be said that the team that runs onto the field in Round 1 of 2018 will look very different to the team that has featured this year. Naming the Tigers as title contenders next year is probably pushing it too far, but with all the change in the air, they could well be set for a better season than 2017.
What do you think the Wests Tigers can achieve next year? Let us know in the comments below.
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?