SEASON REVIEW | Wests Tigers
Ladder position: 3rd
Competition points: 34
Points scored (including finals): 599
Points conceded (including finals): 522
The Wests Tigers surprised many with a third-placed finish this season, following a disappointing 2015 in which they came 11th. A significant shake-up in the playing and coaching ranks brought about the change in fortunes this season and despite their Preliminary Finals exit to Mounties, 2016 should be considered a successful season at Concord.
An appreciation for the Tigers’ recruiting leading up to 2016 comes with a quick glance at their season preview; we tipped that “they may surprise some people,” but we never would have expected the immediate success the team experienced. The Tigers welcomed new coach Paul Stringer this season and he brought with him a host of talent that proved their worth, including the likes of Josh Addo-Carr, Michael Chee Kam, Rod Griffin and now-captain Jack Littlejohn. The signing of Josh Aloiai was also expected to bring good results for the Intrust Super Premiership NSW side, but the boom rookie played every game in the NRL this season – helping to maintain consistency in all grades.
The season got off to a good start for the Tigers, with a convincing Round 1 win over the Sea Eagles in blistering conditions at Campbelltown Sports Stadium. They would go on to win seven of their first 10 games and the flow of points was never an issue, pitting them among the best teams in the league early in the season. A three-game losing streak followed when the side faced three of the best teams in the competition and it signalled a trend that would haunt them throughout the year; like the fourth-placed Newtown Jets, the Tigers defeat top four teams just once in their eight opportunities, which came against the Jets with the assistance of Robbie Farah.
Having already asserted themselves as top four material over the opening 20 rounds, Farah’s timely arrival in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW boosted the Tigers’ chances even further to become instant favourites for the title. The NSW VB Blues hooker had immediate effect in the second-tier competition, setting up three tries and four line-breaks in an emotional return to Leichhardt Oval against the Jets and would win all three of his games in the competition. Unfortunately for Tigers fans, niggling injuries and the bottom-eight finish of the club’s NRL side prevented the Farah from playing finals football, which certainly could have delivered the club their first premiership as a joint venture.
A Qualifying Final loss to a rampant Cutters outfit denied the Tigers a week off in September, before Mounties eventually sealed their fate in the first Preliminary Final at Leichhardt. The Minor Premiers were not at their best that day, with 14 errors in the damp conditions assisting the Tigers, who led 18-6 at half-time. The lead stayed with the underdogs until the 70th minute, but eventually Mounties’ dominant second-rowers helped run 343 metres further and seal a memorable win.
It is fair to say that the Tigers’ two best performances of 2016 came in the three games that Farah was in the side: the 42-24 win over the Jets and, even more impressive than that, a 39-14 win over the Magpies in Round 23. As should be expected, the two-time NSW VB Blues captain was one standout with a try, a field goal, two try assists and two line-breaks to his name, but his outside backs also performed admirably. The left side pairing of Josh Addo-Carr (three) and Michael Chee Kam (two) combined for five of the team’s seven tries, while the back five in total ran for an enormous 713 metres.
The Magpies were nothing short of dismal that day in Campbelltown – 72 missed tackles was among the worst defensive efforts of 2016 – but three Tigers tries in the opening 15 minutes never gave the men from Wentworthville a chance. The 25-point win could have been even larger if the Tigers had achieved more than 56 per cent possession or if Farah, who spent some time at lock, had played the full 80 minutes.
The Tigers were inconsistent in the early stages of the year, with three good wins countered by three poor losses in the opening six rounds, and perhaps the worst of these came in Round 5 against Newtown. A convincing Round 4 win over the Bulldogs was followed up by a 38-14 drubbing at Henson Park, but it is testament to the Tigers’ season that they actually led in the early stages of their worst game.
The 10-4 lead would be surrendered, however, and an error-riddled showing culminated in the Jets getting the better of the Tigers for the remainder of the contest. A tally of 43 missed tackles handed the Jets the opportunity to put away a big score, with Mitch Brown and halves Fa’amanu Brown and Josh Cleeland paving the way for the convincing win.
He was a human highlights reel in both the Intrust Super Premiership NSW and the NRL this year, but Josh Addo-Carr’s double against the Bears in Round 15 will go down as vital to taking the Tigers into the top four.
It could only be described as a dour contest at North Sydney Oval, but Addo-Carr got his side on the board in the 12th minute – a lead the Bears wouldn’t chase down. The game was still in the balance at 8-6 with five minutes remaining, but Addo-Carr put forward one of the tries of the season to beat several defenders and run 100 metres across-field to seal the victory.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the merged entity and they would go on to win seven of their last nine regular season games, with just a valiant effort against Mounties and a 12-man effort against the Sea Eagles resulting in narrow losses.
As mentioned, Addo-Carr was a clear standout for the Tigers, with his 19 tries putting him at second on the competition’s try-scorers list. Farah, too, was obviously a step above the majority of the competition, albeit for only three games, while Michael Chee Kam, Rod Griffin and Jack Littlejohn were all worthwhile signings.
Having played in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW significantly more often than many expected, Curtis Sironen was one of the Tigers’ best, while former Rabbitoh, Eel and Dragon Justin Hunt was exceptional to bring his side to the Preliminary Finals and himself into the Intrust Super Premiership NSW Team Of The Year. Jeremy Marshall-King, undeniable talent Jacob Liddle and Cronulla-bound Manaia Cherrington all provided significant competition for the no.9 jersey this year, with Marshall-King in particular unlucky not to be selected among the competition’s best for 2016. As a top-four team should be, the Tigers demonstrated class all across the park and it bodes well for their future.
Destined for the NRL:
With Farah moving on and Dene Halatau retiring, the door opens for Liddle to step up to the NRL – but he will have to impress head coach Jason Taylor significantly to surpass a returning Matt Ballin as the Tigers’ number-one choice. Addo-Carr heads south to Melbourne with hopes of a regular place in first grade, but fellow backs Watson Heleta, Chance Peni and Michael Chee Kam all displayed qualities of first graders this year. Finally, with two years of Intrust Super Premiership NSW under his belt, prop Jordan Grant has the experience to earn an NRL debut in 2017.
Leading into the finals, the Tigers were the third-best attackers but sixth-best defenders in the competition, so defence will be a focus moving forward – and could have earned them a Grand Final berth if they maintained their composure in the second half against Mounties. In general, an exodus of players from the NRL squad this year has been met with just one signing – Elijah Taylor, who came mid-season – so how the playing group responds to that challenge will be telling in 2017.