They say that success starts from the top and such was the impact that Ivan Cleary had on the Wests Tigers in 2018 that it resonated to the Western Suburbs Magpies this season
Cleary, along with Tigers Assistant Coach and Magpies Head Coach, Brett Hodgson, built a strong foundation on defence early in the season that was evident across the two grades – The Magpies averaging just under 12 points conceded in their first five fixtures.
They finished the regular season in fifth place, just two competition points outside the all-important top-four, but were unable to progress further than week one of the finals after falling to the Roos in extra-time.
Much of their success came from a collective team effort on either side of the ball, but Josh Drinkwater and Mahe Fonua were two who stood out above the rest.
Before Drinkwater's departure to the Super League, he was simply unstoppable. He recorded 11 try-assists, six line-break assists and four line-breaks in just seven appearances, and for Fonua, he finished the season with six tries, five line-breaks and 44 tackle-breaks in just eight games.
It was a remarkable turnaround from 2017 after they (previously branded Wests Tigers) finished last on the competition ladder, but 2018 will serve as a great year for the Magpies, and with Hodgson at the helm it will make for a very promising upcoming season.
The Key Numbers
5.2 and 3.1
Drinkwater played a crucial role in the Magpies attack across his seven appearances, and such was his influence on the side that their attack wasn't as clinical is his absence – averaging two less tries per game for the rest of the regular season.
That's not to say the Magpies were any short of attacking flair, however, boasting the likes of Tui Lolohea, Braden Robson and Tyson Gamble in their side, but constant changes to their spine and roster proved telling.
The Rising Star
Tyson Gamble played well beyond his years in 2018 but Luke Garner's consistency throughout the entire season gets the nod over his trusted five-eighth.
He was rewarded with a First-Grade debut after he was signed to the Wests Tigers top 30 squad halfway through the year, and constantly lead from the front with his strong carries and heavy workload in defence.
His leadership in their tight tussles helped them claim some vital victories en route to the finals series, and will no doubt be one to watch in the near-future as he looks to make his name among the NRL ranks.
Room For Improvement
The Magpies made a habit of playing in some thrilling contests with five of their games decided by a field-goal – recording three losses and two wins.
Those two victories were thanks to the trusted boot of Tyson Gamble, but a top-four finish would have been guaranteed if two of those defeats were turned victories.
If the Magpies can capitalise on their leads and grind out more tight wins in 2019, they will be sure to compete heavily against the premiership contenders.
How It Will Be Remembered
For a team that came last in the previous season, 2018 will be viewed as a resounding success for Brett Hodgson's men.
They instilled some core values at the start of their campaign which were evident in their strong success early, and the strength of their re-build can only mean positives things for the Magpies in 2019 and beyond.