Wests Tigers 2017 Season in Review
The end of a frustrating era. In NRL.com's club-by-club series delving into the 2017 season analytics, Paul Zalunardo and Alicia Newton examine how the Wests Tigers went backwards on the paddock after an improved 2016 season and how off-field drama played its part in their whirlwind year.
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After a promising start beating Robbie Farah's South Sydney Rabbitohs outfit, it all came to a head when the club let go of former coach Jason Taylor three weeks later.
Rarely do clubs recover too quickly following a coach sacking, and the side struggled to build any momentum with stars James Tedesco, Mitchell Moses and Aaron Woods all on the outer for a variety of reasons.
"It was a tough year," Wests Tigers halfback Luke Brooks told NRL.com.
"We started with a great game against Souths but then sacking JT [Taylor] and bringing in a new coach after four rounds wasn't ideal because it took us a while to learn how to play under Ivan and what he wanted.
"Towards the end of the year we really started to play well and even though we didn't win too many games I thought we should have won somewhere we were leading for most but ended up losing."
Ivan Cleary - who replaced Taylor as coach - has made a plethora of new signings, led by experienced campaigners Josh Reynolds, Ben Matulino and Russell Packer, but it is the youth that came through the system towards the end of the year in Matt Eisenhuth, Alex Twal and Esan Marsters that should provide enough firepower to give the squad a good mix leading into a new era at the joint venture in 2018.
The Tigers struggles were equally shared between home and away matches. Three wins from 12 starts in home fixtures is a sure sign of a rough season. Giving their loyal fans a few more things to cheer about in 2018 will be high on their list of priorities.
"If you're down near the bottom of the table it generally means you're not winning away," Cleary told NRL.com.
"But we won four games away and when you only win seven all up, that's not bad. I didn't look at it like we were terrible. We won at some difficult places like up in Townsville, the Gold Coast, we played well at Brookvale and had a close match against the Roosters.
"So we seem to travel well out of Sydney but not so much within Sydney. Next season we've got five home grounds with games in Tamworth and Mt Smart – we're a bit like the Travelling Wilburys."
Not having a player reach double figures for the year is a concern. Despite scoring just five tries, ex-Tiger James Tedesco led the NRL with 172 tackle breaks.
"I don't think you can replace him because you're not going to find players available like him," Brooks said.
"The stuff he can do other people can't, you've just got to find someone who can do the job of a fullback and not the role Teddy played."
According to NRL.com/stats, Luke Brooks was the club’s best, but the overall result was among the worst in the NRL. Brooks also finished seventh in the NRL in average kicking metres.
The Tigers registered the fourth-lowest average in this department. They were also the fourth worst in terms of line breaks made per match.
Matt McIlwrick was the second best in the NRL when it came to this area. Teammates David Nofoaluma and James Tedesco finished in the NRL’s top 10 in the run metres category.
"He was signed before I came on but he really took his opportunity with Robbie Farah leaving and the injury to Matt Ballin which pretty much wiped out his season," Cleary said.
"It was him and young Jacob (Liddle) basically sharing the role and he played a few 80 minute games. I think the most NRL games he'd played in a year before he came here was six and he played 23 last season.
"His game really improved despite the ebbs and flows of the season."
They found it tough going in many other areas, but the Tigers fared well in the penalties department. They finished the season without anyone in the top 10 for penalties conceded.
"All I can say that we definitely got some traction towards the end of the year in where we want to get to [in terms of discipline]," Cleary said.
"The biggest thing for us is being able to finish off games. And that's a combination of the physical and mental things that can lead to making errors.
"I certainly never looked at the area of ill-discipline as something to concern myself with. I never found that out on the paddock. We always trained well and with a good work ethic."
The Tigers made the fifth-highest number of errors, but three of the four teams that made more still qualified for the finals. James Tedesco, David Nofoaluma and Kevin Naiqama filled the top three individual spots.
Departing prop Aaron Woods was clearly the leader in this department. Winger David Nofoaluma finished seventh in the NRL in average runmetres per game.
Considering their lowly ladder position, it comes as no surprise that the Tigers didn’t have anyone in the top 12 in this category.
David Nofoaluma’s impressive season from a statistical standpoint continues when you look at effective offloads. His ability to keep plays alive helped his side mount many an attack.
"He's very good with the ball – without it he's still got some work to do," Cleary said.
"But he played every game and had surgery on a double hernia straight after the end of the season. He was in discomfort the whole second half of the year.
"So, he played well under trying circumstances. He proved again how good a player he's going to be."