They had their moments in 2015, but ultimately last season was a disappointing one for the Wests Tigers. Finishing 11th, the Tigers were left to rue several surrendered leads – results that have brought about a shake-up of their playing and coaching rosters. With the fresh faces, however, and a few notable performers in 2015, comes an air of confidence and optimism at Concord.
Competition in the first grade hooking role will have a healthy effect on the Intrust Super Premiership NSW side, with 2015 standout Manaia Cherrington and new signing Matt Ballin looking to make the most of uncertainty surrounding Robbie Farah’s long-held NRL position. Some good recruiting – including two from 2015 State Champions Ipswich Jets – has the Tigers well poised to vastly improve in the season ahead.
Off-season focus: With 586 points scored against them in 2015, the Tigers held their opponents to less than 20 on just three occasions; this will be an obvious area of improvement if they are to climb the ladder this season. “Stop the other team scoring points and we win,” simplifies incoming coach Paul Stringer. “Discipline on and off the field, and being good defensively.” The relatively young side will need to aim up in defence if they are to show improvement this year.
Biggest gain: Jesse Parahi is by no means a young gun, but is an intriguing prospect nonetheless having made the switch from Rugby Sevens. A regular Australian representative in the shorter rugby union format, the 26-year-old joins the Tigers on a one-year deal and will try his hand at the 13-man code. Another interesting signing is second rower Michael Chee Kam, who was a much-hyped prospect when he made the Holden Cup Team of the Year in 2012. These two could provide vital opportunities to the Tigers.
Toughest loss: While he rotated between the Holden Cup and NSW Cup last season, 20-year-old Te Maire Martin established himself as a genuine young gun through his 35 try assists in 24 games for the club. The young half was quickly snapped up by the Penrith Panthers, for which he impressed at the Auckland Nines, and appears to have secured a starting Intrust Super Premiership NSW berth this year. Compounded by the loss of fellow half Tim Moltzen, new signing Jack Littlejohn will have big shoes to fill.
Coach Stringer says: “It’s the start of a new year, it’s going to be a completely different squad of players there – it’s all fresh. We played a nines tournament up on the Central Coast, won that tournament, and then we had a trial game against the Wyong Roos and we were pretty solid in things, but need some improvement in others. I’m pretty happy with how they’ve trained and the way they’ve applied themselves so far.
“It’s about being their father, being their brother, being their psychologist and working with them; it’s not just about football, it’s about getting these guys believing in what we’re trying to do and play some footy – and most of all to enjoy what we’re doing.”
Future star: Former Cronulla Sharks speedster Josh Addo-Carr is another key signing for the Tigers, and will likely find a place somewhere in their backline. He was a rare highlight for the 15th-placed Sharks in the 2015 Holden Cup and may find himself in first grade at some point in the upcoming season.
We reckon: There’s no doubt that there is an air of uncertainty at Concord this year – at all levels. The NSW Cup outfit was negatively affected by the club’s poor NRL showing in 2015, but this season may reap the rewards for a better-performing Holden Cup team. While the NRL side is largely tipped to miss the finals again and uncertainty surrounds some key positions, this could provide both a danger and an opportunity for the side; if there is some healthy competition for places in both grades, they may surprise some people on the field as well.
Comings and goings
Gains: Joshua Addo-Carr (Cronulla), Josh Aloiai (Parramatta), Michael Chee Kam, Jack Littlejohn (both Sea Eagles), Rod Griffin, Billy McConnachie (both Ipswich), Jesse Parahi (Australian Rugby Sevens), Matt Eisenhuth (Penrith), Billy Tsikrikas (Roosters).
Losses: Sitaleki Akauola (Panthers), Joel Luani (released), Penani Manumalealii (released), Tim Moltzen (Manly), Kurtis Rowe (Burleigh Bears), Brenden Santi (released), Michael Bullock (released), Keith Lulia (released), Delouise Hoeter (Townsville), Salesi Funaki (Brisbane).