2021 Season Review : Wests Tigers – The harsh tales from Tiger town

Tigers celebrating a try. Photo: NRL.com

The Wests Tigers struggles over recent years were highlighted in what can only be described as their worst season in recent memory.

The Tigers have been notorious for finishing 9th and became one of the laughing stocks of the NRL as a result.

They’ve managed to break that curse the past couple of years – finishing 11th and 13th in the last two respective seasons.

It’s been a below average season on and off the field and as the inconsistent results continue, the looming future of former-premiership winning coach Michael Maguire will continue to take the headlines for the Tigers, with Paul Green rumoured to be in talks for the 2022 season.

What worked?

Not much worked for the Tigers, it was a very inconsistent season with injuries and suspensions robbing the Tigers of fielding a consistent starting lineup.

However, there were some parts of their attack that should lead to a promising 2022, the key to all of this is the health of Adam Doueihi and Daine Laurie.

These two were the shining stars for a stagnated Tigers attack. Doueihi spent game one in the centres but still managed to make his presence felt, until eventually displacing Mose Mbye the next round.

Mbye started the season at six and was underwhelming compared to Doueihi when given the chance. Doueihi began to form a respectable spine combination with Laurie and hooker Jacob Liddle.

The consistency of this spine helped the Tigers grow in attack, it was their shaky edge defence that let them down and cost them crucial competition points during the middle of the season

Doueihi led the Tigers in attack with 9 tries, 17 try assists and 69 goals giving him an impressive 174 points for the season – finishing 4th on the total points scored list behind Rueben Garrick, Adam Reynolds and Nathan Cleary.

If they can remain fit, the trio of Tigers players in the spine will be crucial in pushing for a finals spot, the question still remains if they can upgrade their halfback to fit in better with their three key players.

What didn’t? 

As mentioned above not much seemed to work for the Tigers, the key issues seem to be the lack of experience in their forwards along with a constantly changing backline and an underperforming halfback.

The signing of James Tamou from Penrith began to turn heads as he was selected as the man to lead a young Tigers pack, Tamou did so, however, the lack of depth of the bench and reserve forwards did him no favours.

Maguire seemed to begin to phase out some of the older forwards for a younger look and it began to work, however like most rebuilding projects there were growing pains.

Outside of Tamou and Stefano Utoikamanu the Tigers forwards failed to lay a good ground for the attack and usually left the Tigers on the backfoot towards the end of sets.

The second key issue is the changing of positions and personnel in the backline, it is of note to mention a few major injuries, however, Maguire has become notorious for dropping players after one bad game and not giving them another chance to redeem themselves.

The Tigers were changing through backs throughout the season and the only certainties in the backline became David Nofoaluma and Laurie.

It was tough for the edges to begin to grow a combination with each other early on due to these changes and the results showed.

Finally, it has been a common thought amongst NRL fans that the Luke Brooks and Tigers’ relationship should end sooner rather than later.

Brooks by no means is a bad player, however, after a stellar 2018 season where Brooks was named Dally M Halfback of the year, it seems in the best interest of both sides to move on and start a new journey.

With the emergence of Doueihi, Liddle and Laurie as solid spine players the seeming missing piece looks like a solid half, Brooks for three seasons now just hasn’t given the Tigers enough and they should strongly consider looking elsewhere as he has not been working.

Who Impressed?

On a brighter note, it hasn’t been all doom and gloom for the Tigers’ faithful with many young stars proving their worth throughout the season.

Utoikamanu was undoubtedly the star of the show with his impressive outings earning him a spot on the extended bench for the NSW Blues in origin.

Utoikamanu showed out in his rookie season with 9 tries and an average of 97.1 run metres in just 21 appearances, it’s clear to see why many think the 21-year-old can be a star forward for years to come.

Laurie was another rookie who starred for the Tigers before his season ending injury, leading from the back with seven tries, eight try assists and 131 average run metres.

Laurie made his mark after his arrival from Penrith and has a bright future at fullback for the Tigers.

Adam Doueihi made the number six jersey his own this season and has a good case to be noted as the clubs most valuable player.

Doueihi made monumental strides in his game, becoming the sides go to man in attack and possessing an ‘x-factor’ that hasn’t been seen since the days of Benji Marshall.

Other notable mentions include Alex Twal who didn’t miss a tackle in the last six games of the season, Jacob Liddle for his ever-growing game from dummy-half and Tommy Talau who showed his flexibility in the backline scoring 11 tries on the season.

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Season Highlight 

In a disappointing there was few highlights. For the Tigers’ fans, it was beating an undermanned Penrith side, as the Leichhardt faithful got their revenge on former coach Ivan Cleary.

The packed house threw everything they had at him, chanting many non-family friendly words at him, paying him back for last season’s reverse fixture where Cleary’s Panthers got the win and Ivan blew many kisses at the enraged Tigers faithful.

Another high point had to be the growth of the Tigers’ youngsters culminating in Utoikamanu’s Origin selection. The enormous growth of the young players gave Tigers’ fans many reasons to stick around in what seemed a dead rubber season very early on.

Finally, a somewhat high point and a first of its kind in the NRL. Fox League’s production of the docuseries, ‘Wild Wests: Tales from Tiger Town’. The show gave all fans an unprecedented look into the behind the scenes of the club and gave a perspective from all sides including the fans.

 A groundbreaking documentary seems like a highlight but considering the season they had, many fans may of preferred the Tigers backroom workings were kept in private.

Season Lowlight 

The Tigers and NRL community alike mourned the death of iconic Rugby League player, coach and personality Tommy Raudonikis.

Raudonikis was beloved by all and starred in his playing days for the Western Suburbs. As the Tigers’ are a merger of this club they tried their best to pay tribute to the fallen great but failed on two attempts.

The first failed attempt was days after his death against North Queensland where the Tigers’ found themselves down by 22 points at halftime and were rained down by boos heading into the sheds.

On the second attempt at an official memorial day to Tommy, the Tigers conceded 36 points to the Titans in a 10 point defeat.

Western Suburbs fans were outraged by the club’s outing on a day where they wore the legendary Magpies kit, a kit that was made iconic by Raudonikis.

The final two season lowlights come from their 66-12 defeat at the hands of Melbourne and their last game of the season and shocking 38-0 loss to bottom of the table Bulldogs.

These losses are arguably just as bad as each other, however, the Bulldogs’ defeat would have stung the hardest as both sides had nothing to play for and the Tigers’ failed to show up.

Number one off-season priority?

The number one priority for the Wests Tigers in the 2021 off-season is a tie between the coach and halfback.

Rumours of Michael Maguire’s future have been swirling for weeks now and won’t go away anytime soon. 

In order to restore their pre-season, the coaching situation must be prioritised and addressed first as it could hinder their recruitment come November 1 and importantly may unsettle the playing group and fans alike.

It’s a similar situation for the halfback. It’s time to decide whether Brooks can continue or they’ll have to make it their mission to move on from him and begin to hunt for a new number seven.

Alternatively, they could look in house for a new halfback with Jock Madden and Jackson Hastings both proven halfbacks.

These two issues are crucial for the team’s success going forward and will have huge implications – either negative or positive.

Way to early best 17 for 2022

Final Say

It’s beginning to look like a make or break season in 2022 for many of the experienced players in the Tigers’ ranks and for the coach if he is retained going forwards.

Overall it was an below average season that will have to be forgotten about sooner rather than later.

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