It’s been a season to forget for many Wests Tigers fans, but Saturday afternoon’s victory over St George Illawarra was a glimmer of hope for the future. Not only was it their first win in six weeks, moving them one place up on the ladder, but it was a win that displayed just how good the next decade could be for the joint venture if they keep the majority of their youngsters together.
Their 17 man squad had 10 players aged 22 or under, five of whom are still eligible of the Holden Cup competition. The average age of the squad was 23.8, and that was including Lote Tuqiri (33) and Braith Anasta (31). The names have been talked about internally for a few years, the likes of James Tedesco, David Nofoaluma, Tim Simona, Luke Brooks and Curtis Sironen. Add to that Aaron Woods (22) and Marika Koroibete (21) on the injured list, and a host of names in the Holden Cup squad who are expected to star in the future, and things can only look bright for the club.
All these players have the talent, the work ethic and the football smarts to succeed, but the most important thing they have is a winning culture and attitude. Unlike the early years of the joint venture, these kids have been successful in their junior representative years. In 2012 & 2013, Balmain won the SG Ball competition and the National Under 18 Championship, their first victories at that age group in 30 years. Western Suburbs have been regular finalists in the Harold Matthews competition, and SG Ball finalists in 2011. In 2012, Wests Tigers won the Holden Cup for the first time. This group of players has emerged in a time where not only were they winning regularly, but they expected to win.
When Tim Sheens joined the club in 2003 the club was in turmoil on and off the field. He only had one option, to invest in the junior resources, and (ironically) it was a premiership winning SG Ball team from Western Suburbs and a team of finalists from Balmain which formed the bulk of his squad over the next 3-4 years. The club knew they were on a winner, but their shock premiership in 2005 was even somewhat of a shock to themselves.
New CEO Grant Mayer has made no secret of the fact that the club are targeting 2016 onwards as their big success years, and with a group like they have it is the logical approach. They probably don’t need to set direct limits on such progress, as Wests Tigers would have learned when they won their only NRL premiership in 2005.
As Luke Brooks and Nathan Brown showed on Saturday, an NRL debut at the SCG doesn’t faze them, and if that’s a sign of things to come for this group of kids at Wests Tigers, Vision 2016 may just come a year or two early.
Jim Beam Smooth Move of the Week
The result may have meant nothing in regards to the finals, but games like the one between the Tigers and Dragons can still produce big moments. Two of these happened within two minutes, as James Tedesco managed to squeeze his hand under the ball as Leeson Ah Mau looked certain to score right on halftime, then Curtis Sironen snapped up a Bronson Harrison offload and sent Tim Simona away for what is becoming his trademark runaway try.