WESTS TIGERS - 2009 Season Preview

DOES the some of many brilliant parts make for a brilliant team?

Wests Tigers have a brilliant five-eighth (or this season halfback), an Origin-class hooker and several players whose heads you can find under “solid” in the dictionary. And their head coach could do his job for Australia. Oh, that’s right – he does!

Todd Payten is a fine prop, Dane Laurie a handful in the second row, and they’ve recruited a pommy called Gareth Ellis, hailed as one of the world’s best back-rowers.

Chris Heighington wouldn’t look out of place in a blue jumper, just as Taniela Tuaki doesn’t look out of place in black. But looking at the rest of their team list, with its mix of solid citizens and no-name kids, the obvious question is: how are they going to make the finals?

How They’ll Play It

It will all revolve around Benji Marshall. What this incredible player can do on the football field is nothing short of remarkable. The guy invented a move that looks like he’s stepping in mid-air; he throws passes that seem like he has eyes in the back of his head.

Kicks, runs, steps, jinks and scores – and does it all looking like he’s involved in some of sort of dance party rather than playing the toughest frontal contact game in the world, rugby league.

Coach Tim Sheens will have one game plan: Give the ball to Benji. And everyone else: look busy.

Keep An Eye On

Tim Moltzen played a handful of brilliant games last year and was named Wests Tigers Rookie of the Year.

It would be great to see him back it up with a storming Season II.

They’ll Really Miss

Brett Hodgson. Champion fullback. Enough said.

It’s Time To Stand Up

Blake Ayshford, Wayde Dunley, Blake Lazarus, Shannon McDonnell, Corey Payne, Beau Ryan, Peni Tagive and Rocky Trimarchi.

If the Wests Tigers are to feature anywhere near the finals, these kids have to step up and throw themselves into the fray. It’s a very big ask.

Coach Watch

Tim Sheens was once called a Super Coach. It’s not ringing un-true today, afterall he's now the Kangaroo's mentor.

He was a coach before his players were born. They’d sooner sack the mascot.

They’re All The Better For

Gareth Ellis has played 17 Tests for Great Britain, 8 for England, and won dual premierships with Leeds. At 27 he’s at the height of his powers and a canny coach like Sheens wouldn’t have signed him for three years if he didn’t believe there was value.

But the best thing for Tigers fans is that you can pretty much assume that with the Aussie dollar up there with the currency of war-torn Chad (the franc) Ellis isn’t coming out for the money.

He’s coming out to prove he can mix it up in the best comp in the world. Good luck to him.

Predicted Finish

After treading water for the past few seasons it’s time to sink or swim.

While they may not end up at the bottom of the pool they could well be left gasping for air during much of the season. Expect them to finish around 12th.

Under-20s

The Wests Tigers have cast their net far and wide in Season 2009 and come up with signings from Newcastle, the NSW south coast, Brisbane’s Keebra Sports High (Benji Marshall’s old school) and across the ditch to New Zealand.

In the forwards they’ll look to Matt Hyland, a lock with “first grade written all over him”, according to Tigers sources, and strong front- and back-rower Simon Dwyer. In the halves clever organisers Darren Nicholls and Robert Lui will look to get the ball to lightning-quick fullback Coedi Towney who has represented Australia in Rugby Sevens.

And keep an eye on former Wellington union player Ellery Wilson, now a tough and super-fit hooker-forward who Tigers staff reckon could be one of the smokies of the competition.

The junior Tigers missed their top eight by one game last season and with eight players backing up from last year and some astute signings, they look capable of going further this year.

New Breed

Despite playing just 10 games in the under-20s in 2008, Matt Hyland was rewarded with the Wests Tigers Toyota Cup Player of the Year award. Such is the hype around the 18-year-old back-rower you get the feeling he’ll only spend part of 2009 in the lower grade despite also being eligible in 2010.

If you are looking for a young gun to make a quick jum, look no further.

Keep an eye out for more on Matt Hyland when NRL.com brings you New Breed profiles in the coming weeks.