Wests Tigers 2017 season review
Where to begin on the season that was for the Wests Tigers?
It was a rollercoaster year that started with victory over Robbie Farah's Rabbitohs in the opening round of the season, before former Wests Tigers coach Jason Taylor was shown the door a fortnight later.
Then more trouble struck Concord with skipper Aaron Woods announcing his departure, followed by strike weapon James Tedesco confirming a move to the Sydney Roosters in 2018.
Ivan Cleary was announced as head coach only days before the pair confirmed their moves, and immediately added stability declaring he only wanted players who were willing to be "on the bus" in 2018.
Five-eighth Mitchell Moses wasn't one of those players after agreeing to join Parramatta next season, and Cleary let him go in a sour exit to his career at the club.
And in-between all that (believe it or not), there were games of football played.
After finishing ninth and missing the finals by a single miserable point in 2016, the signs were there for the club to continue a charge towards playing September football.
But their slide down the Telstra Premiership ladder was a fair assessment of the impact off-field drama can have on a club.
Where they excelled: There are some positives to take out of the season for Cleary to build on next season. Statistically the Wests Tigers ranked fourth best in the Telstra Premiership for offloads after a quiet 2016 in that department. The Tigers' second-phase play returned predominantly on the back of Woods and David Nofoaluma, while the forward pack were notorious for passing between each other in the lead up to a run – doing so the most of any side in the competition. Cleary's men also finished with the second best disciplinary record in the league, conceding only 5.6 penalties per game on average.
Where they struggled: The Tigers couldn't string back-to-back wins together all year and suffered eight losses by a margin of eight points or less – with the inability to come up with a big play in critical stages of a game highlighted by Cleary in post-game press conferences. Their defence was again an issue, ranked fourth worst in the league, while they were ranked second behind Penrith for most missed tackles over the course of the season. Injuries to key personnel and representative duties also hurt them, with Tedesco missing games during the Origin period for the club.
Missing in action: It was built up to be a signing to fire the Wests Tigers' edge attack, but the recruitment of one-time Kangaroo Jamal Idris proved luckless from the start. Former coach Taylor used Idris off the bench in the early rounds before Cleary give him a permanent spot in the centres, but the season was soon over for the big-name signing in May with the 27-year-old suffering a torn ACL. Back-rower Chris Lawrence was also disrupted with injury throughout the year, while Matt Ballin announced his retirement after managing just three games in two seasons at the club.
Turning point: Cleary's takeover was no doubt the turning point for the club. He added stability in settling the futures of Tedesco and Woods as quickly as possible, before agreeing to release Moses and signing a host of new recruits both mid-season and for 2018. The on-field improvement began to prosper as the season went on, with victories over the North Queensland Cowboys and Gold Coast Titans impressive on the road, and the last-minute win against Manly in Round 23 at Leichhardt Oval another season highlight.
Hold your head high: Matt McIlwrick. With conjecture over the hooking role in 2017 following the departure of Farah, the 26-year-old journeyman has found a home at Concord on the back of a solid year. McIlwrick managed 23 out of a possible 24 games – missing the final clash of the season through suspension – and along with ever-consistent forward Elijah Taylor got through plenty of defensive work throughout the year. Both McIlwrick and Taylor secured their futures at the club long-term and are set to gel well with the new recruits next season.
Nofoaluma was another who returned to career-best form and never missed a minute in 2017, leading the side for metres gained (174 on average), offloads (54) and line breaks (15) to finish the season. Rookies Esan Marsters and Matt Eisenhuth were also shining lights at the backend of the season after receiving NRL call-ups and will no doubt feature heavily in the squad for the future.
2018 crystal ball: A new era will begin for the Wests Tigers with a host of new recruits headlined by Bulldogs five-eighth Josh Reynolds and Kiwi internationals Russell Packer and Ben Matulino arriving at Concord. The club may have bid farewell to Tedesco and Woods, but will welcome the return of life member and crowd favourite Benji Marshall to help keep the club's identity and a taste of the past in tact. Like any side that will undergo vast changes in the roster over a pre-season, combinations will need to stick early, but there is no reason why they can't be aiming for a top eight spot next season.
Conclusion: It was a season to forget for the joint venture off the paddock with a coach sacking and some home-grown talent choosing to depart at season's end creating all the headlines. But with Cleary adding some stability and a host of new talent unearthed to join big name recruits next season, it shapes as a positive outlook for the short-term chances of success for suffering Wests Tigers fans in 2018.
Home Record: 3-9
Away Record: 4-8
Longest Winning Streak: 1 game
Longest Losing Streak: 7 games (Round 10-16)
Players Used: 30
Tries Scored: 70
Tries Conceded: 104