The Tigers achieved well below par in 2021, as the side with the longest finals drought in the NRL (ten years), can Michael Maguire’s men build some much needed momentum ahead of a massive year in 2023?
The Tigers’ were well below average in 2021 – even by their standards.
The second-worst defence in the league was on full display as Maguire struggled to find a consistent formula in order to string together some wins in search of a finals appearance.
With a mix of devastating injuries, persistent transfer rumours and some underperforming players, the Tigers were never able to maintain any type of consistency, leading to a poor year.
The two rookies stole the show in 2021, Stefano Utoikamanu and Daine Laurie were arguably the Tigers’ best and most consistent players in their official debut years.
Utoikamanu made his name as one of the deadliest enforcers in the game, tallying up an impressive six tries and an average of 97.1 run metres in just 21 appearances.
The 21-year-old was also rewarded with a spot on the extended bench in the NSW Blues side for State of Origin.
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.
Both players fell just short of the Dally M rookie of the year award – with Sam Walker edging out the impressive duo.
These two gave Tigers’ fans a glimmer of hope, in a season where good moments became a rarity.
Jackson Hastings (Wigan Warriors), Oliver Gildart (Wigan Warriors), Tyrone Peachey (Gold Coast Titans), Fonua Pole , Henry O’Kane, Apisalome Saukuru, Satford To’a (Newcastle Knights), Junior Topou, Brandon Tumeth
Michael Chee-Kam (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Reece Hoffman (Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs), Joey Leilua (Featherstone Rovers), Moses Mbye (St George Illawarra Dragons), Billy Walters (Brisbane Broncos), Russell Packer (retired)
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After the first hit out in preseason trials, it’s clear to see the Tigers’ recruitment for 2022 will be their biggest asset.
New recruits Starford To’a, Tyrone Peachey and Oliver Gildart all crossed over the line in a losing effort against Manly.
Peachey’s impact on his new side can’t be understated and is a player to keep an eye on throughout 2022.
The former Gold Coast Titan has also been announced as a part of a new look leadership group, consisting of five players including James Tamou, Adam Doueihi, Ken Maumalo and Luke Brooks.
The aforementioned trio of signings, along with Ken Maumolo will play a huge role in filling the void left by injured players, Doueihi and Tommy Talau.
The two starters for the Tigers will miss a good part of the start of the season and will be sure to cause a selection headache for Michael Maguire upon their returns.
When Doueihi does return, it will be tough to leave him out of the five-eight role, a position where he was remarkably successful last year.
Many fans have been calling for incumbent halfback, Luke Brooks to be moved on as rumours swirled in the off-season for a potential move to the Knights to replace Mitchell Pearce.
Brooks has been under performing his status as a franchise halfback and relied on a relatively inexperienced Doueihi to carry the majority of the attacking load last year.
With the signing of Jackson Hastings, many believe Doueihi and Hastings should be the halves pairing when fit, however Hastings flexibility to move to the forward pack as a ball playing lock seems to be the inevitable move.
What to expect
It could be another difficult year for the Tigers, as they await the arrival of marquee signings Api Kporisau and Isaiah Papali’i in 2023.
Although the Tigers recruits for the upcoming season have impressed thus far, It will take a massive leap from Brooks or Jacob Liddle in order for the spine to gel.
The Tigers’ defence is also another aspect that has to improve, otherwise it could be more of the same for the loyal fans.
The Tigers’ players and fans will have to consider this year as a bridge year to next year when the new signings arrive, a finals berth or considerable improvement would be seen as a success.
Building a strong culture and chemistry on the field will be crucial in order to make a real push for a spot near the top in 2023.
With such a focus on next season and a massive amount of pressure on Brooks and coach Maguire, the season could go one of two ways.
With little expectation for this year, the Tigers’ fans could be in for yet another dull season, however if the team gets their act together on both sides of the field, it could be an enjoyable and surprising year for all involved.
It’s a big year for
With a mountain of pressure on his shoulders and what seems like an impending departure if things don’t go his way, Brooks may be under the most pressure in the NRL.
Brooks by no means is an average player, he has shown flashes of his potential but has yet been able to string together the same consistency that saw him win the Dally M halfback of the year in 2018.
The 27-year-old has been a cornerstone of the franchise since exploding onto the scene in 2014, however due to a number of external and internal factors, he has struggled to get his side their much needed finals appearance.
As a now experienced and seasoned NRL veteran, Brooks must step up in the absence of his halves partner Doueihi and lead his side in attack.
With more quality supporting him going forward, it could be a massive bounce back year for Brooks and with Hastings now breathing down his neck, his current halves partner could be an asset and or his future replacement.
All of this could give Brooks’ the motivation he needs to take his game to the next level and win back the support of his fans.
After being named as a part of the five-man leadership group, Brooks needs to display his leadership on and off the field through his actions and words.
Biggest unanswered question
What will the Tigers spine look like if everyone is fit?
Doueihi has proven his quality at both centre and five-eighth, however his immense display in the six jersey should be enough to persuade Maguire to let him regain his spot upon his return.
With such depth and quality in the background, it’s gonna be a tough selection process for Maguire if he gets his squad back at full fitness.
It’s not only the selection headache that is a massive unanswered question, who will be making the selections is another burning question yet to be answered.
Madge came under massive fire last year, with many suggesting he and his side gave up last year.
The depleted Tigers’ gave up 118 points in the last three games last year – highlighted with a 38-0 loss to the bottom placed Bulldogs in the final round.
It seemed inevitable that Maguire would be given his marching orders after such a poor performance, however to the shock of many he was retained and given the green light to continue this year.
With this situation looming over their heads, if they are to start off the season poorly, this question will be the number one talking topic for the club.
Coach pressure index
Madge is under a very hot flame right now, with many pundits predicting he could be the first coach to be sacked in 2022.
After many years of similar disappointment and a build up of missed finals appearances, patience is running very thin for the former-premiership winning coach.
This season will more than likely be make or break for Maguire, his side is going to have to demonstrate some significant improvements in order to keep the pressure off.
The biggest obstacle Madge will have to overcome may be out of his control, as he must maintain a healthy and consistent squad.
This was a large part of his undoing last year, as he continually changed his side due to poor performances but was then left with a thin squad as his players began to pick up season ending injuries.
Although a lot of this comes down to luck, Maguire now has a very deep squad and will be very hopeful that his new signings can fill in the void if another key player was to go down with an injury.
Predicted Round 1 lineup
Luciano Leilua will start in the back-row, regardless of his impending move to the Cowboys in 2023.
Tha halves pairing of Hastings and Brooks may only have a limited number of games to impress before Doueihi returns from injury.
New signing, Starford To’a narrowly edges out James Roberts for the final spot in the backline as he is forced to the 18 jersey.
New captain Tyrone Peachey’s value as a utility is too hard to pass on and will ultimately cost him a spot in the starting line-up.
The Tigers have been seen by many as a good contender for last place.
However there is plenty of depth and quality and the looming rumours of Maguire’s coaching future could be the fuel that boosts this side higher up the ladder.
Irrespective of the positioning this year, the Tigers’ fans will have plenty to cheer about as they look forward to a monumental year in 2023.
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