They were the surprise packets of the 2016 season but with yet another coaching change and high player turnover, the new season presents a clean slate for the Wests Tigers.
After finishing the regular season in third place, the Tigers were beaten by both the eventual grand finalists – Illawarra and Mounties – to exit the competition in the preliminary finals, but it was a huge improvement from their 11th-place finish in 2015. Their best performances were a long way from their worst, however, which was influenced by the shock inclusion of NSW VB Blues hooker Robbie Farah in the latter rounds.
It’s unlikely there will be any Origin-experienced players to help the side this year, of course, but the focus will be on bringing players of all levels together for a common goal. As new coach and 2016 assistant David Heath explains, that was one major positive to come out of last year.
“Everyone who came onto the field, wherever they were from – whether they’d come back from first grade, whether they’d played Intrust Super Premiership NSW all year or whether they were ’20s – had a specific attitude towards working for the team,” Heath tells NSWRL.com.au. “We’re looking to continue that.
“Like most clubs have got a part-time group and a full-time group,” Heath adds. “Both groups have worked well and we had a strong performance in our trial against Newtown (the Tigers won 20-8).
“It will remain to be seen what happens Round 1 and Round 2, but so far it’s been good.”
With a Round 1 match-up against the Roos – the side the Tigers sent packing from the 2016 semi-finals – it could be a fiery start to the year for Heath’s men.
2016 IN 16 WORDS OR LESS
Went just 10 minutes from a place in the decider, but 2016 was still a success.
THEIR BIG FIVE
The younger brother of Broncos recruit Benji Marshall, Jeremy Marshall-King was one of the Tigers’ best last year. A playmaking utility, the best is yet to come for the 21-year-old.
Jack Siejka arrives from Wyong and gets an opportunity to face his old club in Round 1. A reliable and experienced second-rower, one of the oldest in the squad at just 23.
With six games of NRL experience, Nathan Milone is on the cusp of regular first grade but otherwise will be valuable at centre in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW. Named to captain the side for the opening round.
Darcy Cox has come from the Sea Eagles’ Holden Cup side and will line up in jersey no.13 for Round 1. Expect him to be a workhorse in the second row this year.
Having come from rugby union, Christian Yassmin is an interesting product on the wing; a wealth of speed will help the side on the edges.
Heath takes over from new NRL Assistant Coach Paul Stringer in the lead role of the Intrust Super Premiership NSW side, having been his assistant last year. While he’s a fresh face for fans, he’s now been at Concord for 12 months and brings with him some valuable experience.
“The three years prior to (arriving at the Tigers) I was a head coach for Manly ’20s,” Heath explains. “It ended up that in 2015 we were in the Grand Final.
“Ultimately, I brought some experience from another club which was good. I came into a Wests Tigers culture which I’ve learned a bit from but I think I’ve been able to add something to that at the level I’ve coached.”
Continuing on the success that Stringer enjoyed last year will be no easy feat, but Heath will have talent at his disposal to give the competition a shake-up again this season.
The Tigers welcome the likes of Matt McIlwrick (Newtown Jets), Ash Nisbet (Cronulla Sharks), Darcy Cox (Manly Sea Eagles) and major signing Jamal Idris in 2017, but their departures list appears to be far more significant. Josh Addo-Carr (Melbourne Storm), Josh Drinkwater (Leigh Centurions), Manaia Cherrington (Newtown Jets), Tyler Cassel (Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles), Jesse Parahi (rugby sevens) and Rod Griffin (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs) are just some of the common names lost for the Tigers this year. How the crop of graduating Holden Cup stars can fit in to the new competition will be telling in the form of the team, which will be evident in the early rounds.
Given the exodus of some of their regulars, it’s hard to see the Tigers finishing in the top three again this year – although that’s a result that few would have predicted in 2016, either. With David Heath to take the reins and work with some young identified talent, we’ll tentatively place the Tigers in the bottom half of the top eight this year.