Wests Tigers season preview
It has been a lean few years for the Wests Tigers, but you can bet they are pumped up for the season which brings a fresh new hope. They are very much still a work in progress, but showed last year they have enough talent to compete with the best teams in the competition, knocking over several top 8 sides. The challenge for the relatively young Wests Tigers squad is to find consistency.
Gains and losses
Gains: Matt Ballin (Manly Sea Eagles), Jack Littlejohn (Manly Sea Eagles), Michael Chee-Kam (Manly Sea Eagles), Jesse Parahi (rugby union), Justin Hunt (St George Illawarra Dragons), Jordan Rankin (Hull FC), Josh Addo-Carr (Cronulla Sharks), Joel Edwards (Canberra Raiders), Rod Griffin (Ipswich Jets), William McConnachie (Ipswich Jets), Josh Aloai (Parramatta Eels)
Losses: Martin Taupau (Manly Sea Eagles), Pat Richards (Catalan Dragons), Keith Galloway (Leeds Rhinos), Shannon McDonnell (St Helens), Te Maire Martin (Penrith Panthers), Tim Moltzen (Manly Sea Eagles), Matthew Woods (Parramatta Eels), Salesi Funaki (Brisbane Broncos), Delouise Hoeter (Townsville Blackhawks)
The departures of Martin Taupau and Keith Galloway will leave a gaping hole in the Wests Tigers' stocks up front. The club's leading point-scorer for the past two seasons, Pat Richards, headed back to the UK Super League, while Te Maire Martin is taking his promising playmaking abilities to the foot of the mountains. The Tigers have added plenty of depth in the outside backs, while Jesse Parahi joins the club after starring for Australia in rugby sevens.
What we know
The Tigers are in the unenviable position of having missed the finals for the past four seasons. Optimists will say they were one win away from finishing 11th last year. Realists will say they only avoided the wooden spoon thanks to points differential. At times they showed they had the attacking flair to trouble the best sides, beating top eight teams the Bulldogs, Dragons, Rabbitohs and Storm. Defensively they were frail, conceding 30+ points in nine matches last season. The club possesses one of the most promising spines in the NRL, but consistency is needed from their young halves.
How will the ongoing tension between Robbie Farah and Jason Taylor affect the club? That's the elephant in the room that could derail the Tigers' campaign in 2016. The former skipper was told he would not play first-grade in 2016 if he stayed at the club, with Matt Ballin the preferred option at No.9. It is still unclear who will replace Pat Richards as chief goal-kicker. The veteran scored 342 points after rejoining the club in 2014. Mitchell Moses was the only other Tiger to take a shot at goal last year, while Jordan Rankin had the duties in the trials.
The name Jesse Parahi mightn't mean much in rugby league circles, but that could all change in 2016. The former sevens star has foregone an opportunity to play at the Rio Olympics, instead choosing to try his luck in the 13-a-side game. The 26-year-old is set to be unleashed on an edge back-row, with his footwork and ball skills likely to cause nightmares for opposition defenders. Devoid of any back-row brutes, Billy McConnachie could be the enforcer to replace Martin Taupau. The Mount Isa junior won the Duncan Hall Medal for best player in the Intrust Super Cup grand final last year, and is renowned for his stinging defence and damaging carries.
The recruitment of experienced rake Ballin means the Tigers have two Origin calibre players at the club, as well as the more dynamic Manaia Cherrington. It remains unclear how Jason Taylor will juggle the trio, but expect two of them to feature each week. The loss of Te Maire Martin has been slightly tempered by the acquisition of Jack Littlejohn and Jordan Rankin; the latter returning from a stint with Hull FC. Hard hitters Joel Edwards and William McConnachie will add some much needed starch to the back-row, but the undeniable fact is the Tigers lack out-and-out big men who can wreak havoc through the middle.
James Tedesco ($482,000) was second only to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in terms of scoring amongst the wingers/fullbacks. Aaron Woods ($440,000) had a stellar 2015 Fantasy campaign averaging just shy of 50 points per game. Chris Lawrence hasn't always been a Fantasy banker, but could represent value as a dual role player. If you have the need for speed, then store Josh Addo-Carr ($130,000) in your Fantasy garage. The former Shark is a flyer who could prove to be a cash-cow if given an opportunity.
Jason Taylor enters his second season as Wests Tigers coach as a man under fire. Plenty has been made about his relationship with former skipper Robbie Farah, which has threatened to boil over numerous times. While Taylor isn't blessed with the greatest of rosters, there are expectations in Tiger-land that the club will improve on their 15th placed finish in 2015. The Tigers have a fairly soft start to 2016, playing four of the bottom eight teams in the first six weeks.
Having narrowly avoided the spoon in 2015, it's hard to see the Tigers returning to the finals for the first time since 2011. Aaron Woods will lead a forward pack that lacks big names. Given the relative ease of their draw, and the Tigers' ability to score points, they should win enough games to steer clear of the bottom, but we don't think they'll play in the finals.