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Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire.

Wests Tigers fans wanting to know the make-up of the side in 2021 may have to wait until March with Michael Maguire leaving his options open across several key areas over the off-season.  

As he begins his third year at the helm, Maguire is far from satisfied with what the team has accomplished after falling short in their bid to end a dreaded nine-year finals drought.

Getting back into the finals next season will be tough considering arguably their three best players last season – Harry Grant, Benji Marshall and Josh Aloiai – won't be around for varying reasons.

The club now has money to spend with regards to the salary cap after Josh Reynolds' move to English Super League club Hull FC was confirmed on Monday morning.

Maguire didn't set a theme for his players upon their return to pre-season training last week but if there was one word he referred to most in the first week back it's opportunity.

"Are we satisfied with where we are? No, we want to be further ahead to where we are," Maguire told

"Like everyone you have to review it and look at where we can improve. I've been impressed with how the players have turned up back to pre-season so it's now doing the hard work heading towards Christmas and getting as much as we can done."

The Wests Tigers at pre-season training.
The Wests Tigers at pre-season training. ©

Despite opting not to renew Marshall's services, Grant returning to Melbourne after his loan deal and Aloiai controversially requesting a release to join Manly next season, Maguire is continuing to move pieces around in a bid to find success.

"We had great times with those boys and have great respect for them," Maguire said.

"But footy clubs go through change and for what we're trying to build we've made a few changes.

"The training levels are growing and we brought in a lot of young guys to debut who now have that understanding in what it takes to play at first-grade level.

"We've got a few fresh faces in and around the organisation so there's a good vibe around the squad."

Creating cultural change

Rumblings of player unrest surfaced towards the end of last season but if anything for Maguire, it showed the club was making necessary changes in a bid to find success after almost a decade without playing in the finals.

Club management has backed Maguire for the long haul and a contract extension is likely to be announced soon.

"There's a lot that has changed internally as well about how we're doing things," Maguire said.

"We need to set a different mindset around our defence, to change to where we want to be.

"We've got to build and concentrate on better processes with how we do things, whether we perform better in attack, defence or conversations – all those things.

"For what we're trying to achieve everyone is extremely hungry for the Wests Tigers to go upwards."

Wests Tigers young gun Shaun Blore.
Wests Tigers young gun Shaun Blore. ©

Maguire anticipates the arrival of former Panthers captain James Tamou will help revolutionise a culture that continues to undergo change each year.

"He's a champion fella and right up my alley in how he wants to be around the club," Maguire said.

"He enjoys a lot of things that bring success to a team – hard work and building strong bonds between teammates."

Does that make him captaincy material?

"I'll make a decision down the track with where we're going," Maguire said.

"I'll look at the dynamics and make a call for the team before the season starts."

Wests Tigers recruit Joe Ofahengaue.
Wests Tigers recruit Joe Ofahengaue. ©

Replacing Harry and Benji

Grant's brief stint at the club was bittersweet with the popular rake making a huge impact in his 15 appearances – leading to his Origin debut for Queensland – before returning to the Storm.

Along with Marshall, who remains on the lookout for a new club, the pair had 22 try assists between them.

"Jacob Liddle and Jake Simpkin have got a huge opportunity in front of them at dummy half," Maguire said.

"Lids had his knee injury 14 months ago and was going to be our hooker before that so it's his opportunity and Jake is developing well.

"Between those two I see them working really hard together."

As for who replaces Marshall and the rest of the side's spine, Maguire is keeping his playmaking options open.

Marshall's exit at the club, along with the early departure of Reynolds to Super League, leaves Luke Brooks, Moses Mbye and Adam Doueihi as the recognised playmakers in the squad.

Injured utility Billy Walters won't be available until mid-June at the earliest. 

"I want a stable combination moving forward and those options will build themselves throughout the pre-season," he said.

"I've got my thoughts on what it might look like but I want to make sure everyone is preparing the best they can before we make any decisions."

Contract noise

The club has become accustomed to never being out of the headlines for long over contract management and this short off-season has been no different.

Former player Josh Addo-Carr's mooted return to the club didn't eventuate, while Aloiai's sudden departure and Joe Ofahengaue's arrival have kept things ticking along over the past week.

However, the latest contract drama revolves around winger David Nofoaluma, who produced arguably his best season for the club in 2020 but has been free to negotiate with rivals since November.

"The stuff with Dave will sort itself out at some point, we've just got to be patient and keep working through it," Maguire said.

"The dealing of contracts is not something we like being brought out in public but that's the way rugby league is at the moment.

"It comes down to the professionalism of your players and understanding that part of the environment."

Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire.
Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire. ©

Maguire also wants to remain active in developing players from local areas.

"We've got a big area around Campbelltown and Balmain we need to keep working on," he said.

"You can't keep them all but you want to make sure you're giving them the opportunity.

"There's a lot of history at the club around losing players in the past but we've got to look forward at the next superstar coming through or great kid coming out of Balmain or Wests.

"They're out there, but you've got to provide the opportunities. I think this year we debuted a lot of guys who are going to help us next year – guys like Shawn Blore, Tommy Talau and Asu Kepaoa and Reece Hoffman."

Centre potential

On their day, James Roberts and Joey Leilua are among the more destructive centres in the game.

For the Wests Tigers, who have struggled with strike power out wide, the next step is to get them firing.

Roberts will be reuniting with Maguire following their brief time together at South Sydney in 2012.

"I think having that relationship is the starting point with Jimmy," Maguire said.

"He knows where he wants to get to and is working hard in that space to achieve it.

"He knows the quality of player he is at his best, it's just about giving himself the best opportunity week-in-week-out to do that.

"He's building himself away from footy. He's told me he'll play anywhere, which is always a good start.

"Both those boys are capable but it's about getting them healthy, fit and happy between the ears.

"If we get that right we know the football they can play, not just the attacking side but defensive aspect as well."

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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