2010 SEASON REVIEW: Wests Tigers

Regular Season
WINS: 15
LOSSES: 9
POSITION: 3rd
HOME RECORD: 9 wins, 3 losses (=1st)
AWAY RECORD: 6 wins, 6 losses (=3rd)

Finals results
Lost 19-15 v Roosters in Week One, won 26-24 v Raiders in Week Two, lost 13-12 v Dragons in Week Three to finish third.

BEST WINNING STREAK: 4 (rounds 11-15)
LONGEST LOSING STREAK: 4 (rounds 6-10)
PLAYERS USED: 31
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Gareth Ellis
TRIES SCORED (After 26 rounds): 98 (Equal third)
TRIES CONCEDED (After 26 rounds): 83 (Equal fourth fewest)

ONE solitary point… Just one measly point stood in the way of a grand final appearance for the Wests Tigers, who will be haunted all summer by Dragons five-eighth Jamie Soward’s 76th-minute clutch field goal in the preliminary final.

It’s one helluva “shoulda, coulda, woulda” for the black and gold, who instead were cast back into the pool of 14 teams not featuring on the first Sunday in October. Sure, there’ll be plenty of positives to take from what was their best season in four years, but the fact that they were so close to premiership glory will sting right throughout the pre-season.

Despite making the finals for the first time since 2005, it wasn’t so much the Tigers of old in 2010. Yes, the razzle-dazzle from Benji Marshall was still there, as was the comic relief that usually resides at Concord Oval from pranksters Liam Fulton and Bryce Gibbs. And then there was the opening of Tiger Tiger restaurant, and Beau Ryan’s comic run on The Footy Show.

But this year was different. While the merged club is renowned for their attacking prowess, this year they were winning ‘ugly’, an attribute that wasn’t there for the previous four campaigns. Yes, season 2010 was both pretty and ugly at the same time, but this year it was a good thing.

With only assistant coach Royce Simmons the only departure from Tigers HQ over the off-season, 2010 has set the bar for what shapes to be another enthralling season for the Tigers faithful.

Where They Excelled… Of their 16 games this year decided by 10 points or less, the Tigers won 10 of them. Despite showing an ability, particularly through the middle of the year, to grind out a result, they were criticised and not taken seriously as premiership contenders. It was, however, an attribute that saw them finish equal second at the end of the regular season. Mental toughness is an intangible quality but it was no doubt a major factor in a run that saw them finish one point away from a grand final.

After all, they did lose their last three losses by a combined nine points.

The 20.5 points (equal fifth fewest in the NRL) and 3.4 tries (third fewest) the Tigers conceded meant they were an above average defensive team this season – an aspect of their game that has drawn heavy criticism in previous years. They also missed just 30.8 tackles a game, the second fewest in the competition. That’s not to say they’ve turned themselves into the Dragons. Their attacking brilliance is still there, as evidenced by 4.1 tries scored per game, third highest in the competition.

Where They Struggled… Just six of their 15 wins, and five of their nine losses, came against top-eight opposition – a fact that perhaps needs addressing over the off-season. Especially in light of their last three losses of the year – against the Titans, Roosters and Dragons – the Tigers will need to improve that record if they are to reach again travel deep into the finals next season.

Also, their 10 offloads a game – fewest in the competition – could be an area of focus over the summer. Although that might have more to do with their style of play, than the team’s inability to throw the ball around… something we all know they can do.

Missing In Action… It says much about the Tigers’ season when you begin to see who went in and out of their casualty ward throughout the year.

Their 2009 Winger of the Year Taniela Tuiaki was by far the biggest loss, spending the entire season recuperating from an ankle injury, even raising questions about his future at the club.

Veteran prop Jason Cayless, who was brought in from England, didn’t see past Round 3 because of a knee problem, while it’s hard to remember that rising star Tim Moltzen (knee) was actually the preferred halfback at the beginning of the year when he was sidelined in Round 5.

People also forget that the Tigers were without a No.7 for over a month when Lui sat out with an ankle injury. Even mid-season recruit Wade McKinnon couldn’t escape the injury curse, managing just six games before being hampered by a dodgy hamstring.

Turning Point… An emergency camp in Newcastle following their 50-6 thrashing by the Rabbitohs at the SCG was pivotal to a turnaround that yielded 11 wins in 15 games. Prior to that, the Tigers had lost four in a row and the knives were out from fans and media alike.

But a breakthrough 23-6 victory over the Knights in dreadful conditions kick-started a four-game winning streak and a second half of the season that saw them finish third on the competition ladder after the regular season.

Best Games… The Knights triumph was their most important of the season in terms of where the Tigers were situated at that stage of the year.

There was the two-point win over Brisbane and the one-point thriller over the Titans, which came after a tough 34-10 loss to the Dragons, and the Tigers were beginning to make some noise.

The win over the Broncos came via a Mitch Brown try in the corner in the shadows of fulltime, while a remarkable 50-metre field goal from Benji Marshall on the stroke of half-time was the difference against Gold Coast in Campbelltown.

Lastly, the Tigers’ 24-22 semi-final win in the nation’s capital came after a 100-minute heart-stopper against the Roosters the week before, when Marshall failed to play out the final 30 minutes of the game with a knee injury that threatened his place against Canberra. It was also one of their bravest performances of the year.

Worst Games… Their no-show against South Sydney at the traditional venue of the SCG was by far their most inept performance of the season, as was a hard-to-watch 12-4 loss against stragglers the Bulldogs in Round 6.

Hold Your Head High… Superstars Benji Marshall, Lote Tuqiri, Robbie Farah and Chris Heighington appeared in all 27 games of the year, a feat that helped the team tremendously as they suffered injuries in other areas.

In fact, playmakers Marshall (23 try assists) and Farah (25) were directly responsible for creating almost half of the team’s 107 tries this year. The duo also combined for 40 line-break assists – no other Tiger appeared in double figures. Farah’s effort earned him Dally M Hooker of the Year honours.

Brit Gareth Ellis was also phenomenal in his second year, averaging 103 metres and 31 tackles in 76 minutes a game. Team-mate Heighington was even more effective, running 110 metres and making 31 tackles in just 74 minutes.

Captain Robbie Farah says… “At the end of the day, the season was a success. But to have gotten so close and to miss out is very disappointing.

“But looking back, we hadn’t made the semi-finals in a long time and we had the best win/loss record that the club’s ever had. But we thought we had the team to win the comp and fell short. So yeah, it is disappointing.”

Conclusion… To make the finals, the Tigers had to start grinding out some tough wins, something they weren’t given much credit for when they did.

In saying that, while they did finish third at the end of the regular season and were one point away from a shot at premiership glory, there were still a few games – the Roosters and Dragons finals, for example – where the Tigers failed to put away the opposition when they should have. Chalk it up as a missed opportunity.