Wests Tigers 2015 season review
A season that started brightly with two straight wins – and four wins from eight rounds – quickly fell in a hole with nine losses from the next 10 games starting from Round 9. But more than the on-field woes – which saw the club in contention for the wooden spoon right up until the final fortnight of the season – 2015 for Wests Tigers fans will be remembered as a season where the new administration pushed club captain and fan favourite Robbie Farah out the door while also revealing serious salary cap issues that could take years to recover from.
Where They Excelled: When the Tigers clicked into gear playing attacking football they looked decidedly dangerous. The Round 8 thumping of heavyweights Canterbury looked like it should be getting their season going, rather than precipitating a huge losing run. A 34-6 trouncing of premiers South Sydney in Round 14 minus Origin stars Farah and Aaron Woods turned plenty of heads. A good, old-fashioned Leichhardt ambush of title contenders Melbourne in Round 21 reaffirmed that even towards the end of a horror season, when young stars Luke Brooks, Mitch Moses and James Tedesco get it right they can match anyone on their day. The Tigers finished with the sixth-most points of any club so crossing the stripe wasn't their problem in 2015.
Where They Struggled: They ranked 11th for defence, leaking 23.4 points per game, which even on its own is generally enough to rule a side out of finals contention. But the real issues for the merged club seemed to be less tangible. A new-look administration, a new coach, some young players in key positions, a giant salary cap headache and everyone not seeming to be quite on the same page – these issues hamstrung the Tigers' season more than anything. An inability to win at their spiritual home of Leichhardt until the final attempt frustrated both the players – many of whom are local juniors – and fans.
Missing In Action: The Tigers had a relatively blessed run with injuries and suspensions compared to plenty of teams both above and below them on the ladder. Aside from skipper Robbie Farah missing a total of seven games through Origin duty and a couple of short terms injuries – a broken hand and AC joint injury during the Origin campaign – the rest of their key players all played 20 or more games. In fact from a first-choice 17 only winger David Nofoaluma (10 games after a delayed start to the year) missed significant game time.
Turning Point: Two early losses after having led comfortably tipped the season in the wrong direction. As mentioned the club won four of its first eight games. Two of those losses – against the Bulldogs in Round 4 and Raiders in Round 7 – should have been wins and could have put a very different complexion over the season. In the first they were up 24-6 with around 20 minutes to go and in the latter 22-0 after as many minutes before conceding 30 straight points. Six wins from the first eight rounds would have provided a real platform to build from.
Hold Your Head High: Fullback James Tedesco was the real shining light for the Tigers in 2015. The once injury-plagued custodian played all 24 games in 2015, broke easily the most tackles of any player in the competition with 167, while making 152 metres per game and scoring 17 tries (equal fourth in the NRL). Young halves Brooks and Moses produced enough good games to show they'll be a force in the future once their consistency catches up to their talent while Aaron Woods was again immense, making 163 metres per game (second-best prop).
2016 Crystal Ball: This must be the cloudiest crystal ball in the competition. Where will Robbie Farah end up? Will he find a home elsewhere in the NRL or overseas? If he stays will Jason Taylor relent and stick with him or make good on a threat to play him in reserve grade, soaking up a huge chunk of the salary cap in the process? If it's the latter, consider the season derailed before it begins. Elsewhere, the budding combination between Brooks, Moses and Tedesco continues to grow and will hopefully lay the foundations of plenty of attacking wins for the club in coming years.
Conclusion: It seemed to be a year with more problems than solutions and grimly, there are few indications an upward trend is immediately around the corner. The biggest asset is a youthful roster that will continue to develop without a significant injection of new talent but unless Jason Taylor can unlock the secret of getting his young stars to play aggressive, attacking football more often than not there could be more dark times ahead.
"It's been a tough year for us, at the start of the season we wanted to improve in the area of being consistent and I don't think we've done that," Taylor said after the Round 26 golden point loss to the Dragons.
"That's the most disappointing thing, we've learnt a lot and we've developed a lot and today's another example of it.
"We get some good performances then we have a game like today where we showed we're good enough to win it but we just weren't there at the start."
Home Record: 4-8
Away Record: 4-8
Longest Winning Streak: 2 (Round 1-2, Round 21-22)
Longest Losing Streak: 5 (Round 15-20)
Players Used: 25
Tries Scored: 87
Tries conceded: 99