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2013 Season Review: Wests Tigers

Quite a discouraging season for Tigers fans in 2013. They gained a new coach after the long reign of Tim Sheens but they ended it by parting ways with the best player ever to pull on their jersey. It was a turbulent start to first grade for coach Mick Potter as the Tigers were whipped 42-10 in Round 1. They rallied to win next two games but it was a false dawn as Manly pummelled them 26-nil in Round 4.

The low point came with hat-trick of heavy losses in Rounds 8, 9 and 10 as they were thrashed 40-4 by the Bulldogs, 30-6 by the Sharks and 54-10 by Souths.

They beat Cowboys 22-20 in Round 11 before the wheels fell off again in Round 14, defeated 32-12 by Brisbane. Their highlight was surprising Melbourne 22-4 in Round 16 with Slater and Cronk in opposition. Then came the worst possible news.

Having been benched, superstar Benji Marshall announced before Round 19 that he’d be leaving the Tigers – and the NRL. Wests went on to scare the life out of the highly touted Rabbitohs in round 25, but it was a dismal year overall, ending with a 50-point concession to the Cowboys. It’s baffling how a side so loaded with talent can achieve such outstanding mediocrity. They’ve become the butterflies of the competition: bright, elusive and harmless.

After so much sound and fury this season ended up looking pretty much like last, except this year, they conceded five more points per game and scored six fewer.

The Tigers ranked 14th for points scored (16.1), 14th for tries scored (2.9), last for metres gained, 13th for line-breaks (3.6), 13th for offloads (7.8), 14th for tackle-breaks (22.6), and topped the errors table with 11.1.

Where They Excelled: There were encouraging signs for the Tigers. Liam Fulton topped the list for one-on-one tackles, with 64. James Tedesco was ninth for kick-return metres, with 919, an indication he’s handled the pressure he was under relatively well. David Nofoaluma appeared at tenth for tackle breaks. The lion-hearted Robbie Farah effected 61 tackles in the round 11 match against the Cowboys.

Where They Struggled: Just two areas: defence and attack!

They kept inviting opposition into their half at a discounted rate with silly errors and penalties, putting undue pressure on themselves. They only had two players in the top 20 for missed tackles, but they're high-profile: Adam Blair (67) and Benji Marshall (60). Blair ranked fifth even though he bested last year’s woeful 77. Marshall was also equal-third for most missed tackles in a match (9). They conceded the second-most points (28.6) and tries (five), the fourth-most metres and second-most line-breaks behind the Eels. The 38 tackles they missed per game last year hurt them. This year they conceded 28.5, but were still third-highest on that list.

Last year, Liam Fulton topped the tackle count with 38.9 per game. On average, he missed a tackle more per game this season.

In attack, the Tigers fared little better. They gained an average 64 fewer metres per game compared with last year, and lag well behind the top teams by the length of a couple of fields per game. Another high-profile recruit, Eddy Pettybourne, was averaging 10 runs for the bunnies in 2012. This year his figure was eight.

With their kicking game, as witnessed against Souths in Round 25, the Tigers put unnecessary pressure on themselves. One field-goal attempt on a fourth tackle in the 39th minute by Anasta resulted in a Souths try, and another botched attempt at touch by Marshall (out in the full) gave the Rabbitohs some cheap land. Marshall was under no pressure. It typified their season.

They lost significant power up front, too. In 2012, their pack only averaged 30 tackle busts per game. Woods and Galloway saved a bit of face by topping the ton in metres gained. This year they were second-last with 22.3 tackle busts.  Woods made 18 from 16 games. Galloway chimed in with nine from nine matches.

Missing In Action: It’s difficult to accurately gauge their performance this year, as injury has sidelined important players at various times, like Tuqiri (played two games), Galloway, Moltzen, Lawrence and Ayshford.

The key to the Tigers’ penetration has always been Benji Marshall. His distribution has been inventive, often spectacular. What they didn’t need was Marshall signing off on his NRL career six months early.

Last year, despite missing the top eight, they had Marshall leading the way with try assists (35) and line-break assists (32). He gave them a basis. The way Marshall played this year, people could be forgiven for believing his stats are inversely proportional to the size of his Auckland Blues cheque. The normally formidable five-eighth suffered low numbers in just about every crucial area. In 21 games, he achieved eight try assists. His stat for line-break assists is comparatively anaemic (seven). Despite fewer errors this season (23, down from 38), it’s fair to say nothing was ventured, and nothing gained – including errors.

They also missed the brilliant Moltzen (seven games total played) and thrust of prop Galloway.

Turning Point: We’re going to float it: the turning point came when New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney stripped Marshall of the Kiwis captaincy. That happened in the pre-season. It gutted Marshall, and it flowed on to his performances at club level.

By the time their win against a lethargic Storm came along, the damage was done, but since Round 11, they sporadically lifted in key areas, especially metres gained across the ground and via their kicking game. Not much of a positive, but still a positive.

Best Games: Their Round 25 loss to Souths (32-18) was better in most areas, compared to their 54-10 loss in Round 10. They managed one more try, keeping the bunnies down to five fewer. Similarly, with their win against Storm, they managed two more tries in round 16 compared to the round 5 loss, and conceded three fewer. These late-season performances indicate that they had plugged their defensive leaks…

Worst Games: …however, their 56-14 slaughter at Sydney’s’ hands in Round 25 tells us they have a way to go before season kick-off in 2014. They missed a whopping 43 tackles – up there with their 48 in the Round 10 loss to Souths (54-10).

Hold Your Head High: There were several lights in a world of darkness for the Tigers. Robbie Farah averaged 42.9 tackles per match, one up on last year. He made seven line-breaks, 10 line-break assists, and had a hand in 13 tries, with 26 offloads and 25 tackle-breaks. His 2013 stats match last year’s, but he had to do so much more alone, with Marshall going through the motions.

The Tigers’ best performers included emerging wing talent David Nofoaluma who managed nearly 90 tackle busts in 20 games; NSW Origin debutant Aaron Woods; and under-20s revelation Luke Brooks – instrumental in their 34-18 win over the Dragons in Round 24.

Conclusion: A little more power and weight in their pack would be handy. They have thrilling backs to come. Nofoaluma and Fijian flyer Koroibete, are exciting but the latter has only managed 15 senior games in two seasons, despite an impressive three-figure average metes gained per game. Brooks could be anything. And Tim Simona has the makings of a representative player. However, the likes of Blair and Pettybourne (just 12 games) must continue to lift in key areas if the Tigers are to challenge in 2014.

SEASON STATISTICS
Wins:
7
Losses: 17
Position: 14th
Home Record: 5 wins, 7 losses (11th)
Away Record: 2 wins, 10 losses (14th)
Longest Winning Streak: 2 (Rounds 2-3; 11-13; 15-16)
Longest Losing Streak: 7 (Rounds 4 -10)
Players Used: 34 (most)
Tries Scored (after 26 rounds): 70 (14th)
Tries Conceded (after 26 rounds): 120 (second most)

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