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Wests Tigers 2021 season preview: Cavalry arrives to end drought

A new year brings a fresh start for the Wests Tigers and in many ways the dawn of a new era under Michael Maguire.

The departures of club legends Benji Marshall and Chris Lawrence at the end of last season were two of 14 squad changes made ahead of their new campaign.

Maguire's squad remains a work in progress with many predicting their nine-year finals drought will extend to a decade of despair in 2021.

However, the ability to fly under the radar might suit a team that will take on a very different look to last year and a different attitude under James Tamou's leadership.

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The 2021 outlook

What's new

A new-look spine appears to be the biggest challenge for Maguire to navigate, with the Wests Tigers mentor slowly putting the team he wants together after taking over from Ivan Cleary in 2019.

Harry Grant's return to Melbourne opens the door for Jacob Liddle and Jake Simpkin to make their mark at hooker, while Moses Mbye and Daine Laurie are in line to fill the fullback role with Adam Doueihi shifting to the halves.

New faces James Tamou, James Roberts and Joe Ofahengaue have all played rep football and bring 521 games of NRL experience to the table.

Tamou's impact has already been felt with Maguire handing the former Panther the captaincy in February.

The draw

A tough opening month of the season with clashes against the Raiders, Roosters, Knights and Eels to start. There is also another difficult four-game block from rounds 13-16. We should know by then whether the finals drought can finally be broken or another season of disappointment awaits.

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The burning question

Can the new-look halves pair fire without Benji Marshall?

Whether you agreed with Maguire's decision to let Marshall go at the end of last season or not, the club legend leaves a hole that will immediately turn the focus onto Doueihi and Luke Brooks this season.

Marshall produced 17 try assists in 16 games last year but Brooks struggled to back up his impressive 2019 stats with just three of his own in 17 outings.

The Tigers showed sides of defensive resolve in 2020 but will need to find the points to match it.

Brooks has shown glimpses of his best throughout his career but as he edges closer to 150 games, the time is now for him to stand up.

The Wests Tigers' 2020 season in review

Stat that gives you hope

The Wests Tigers matched it with last year's heavyweight sides through line-breaks per game, indicating they're creating enough chances either individually or as a unit.

Their 4.2 average had them alongside the likes of the Panthers, Raiders and Sharks.

If the engine room can match it with rival packs there's enough strike out wide in Joey Leilua and James Roberts to find some space.

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Breakout player to watch

Daine Laurie

Laurie only arrived at the club in February but many predict the former Panther will own the No.1 jersey by season's end. His footwork and ball-playing ability could spark a backline that hasn't quite nailed the No.1 position since James Tedesco left in 2017.

Laurie made his NRL debut for the Panthers on the wing last season and is capable of playing in the halves if required. A breakout year is not out of the question if he lands a starting role.

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Contract matters

Relatively settled in the retention space with David Nofoaluma's new four-year deal signed off in January their biggest priority.

Eight other players are without contracts beyond this season including Thomas Mikaele, Michael Chee Kam and Russell Packer.

Star centres Joey Leilua and James Roberts have options for 2022 in the club's favour that could be activated during the season.

Michael Maguire has made no secret that hooker remains a position worth targeting a big-name player to help complement a developing spine.

What you need to know NRL Fantasy-wise

This could be the year to pack your team with Tigers players. With a great price tag and an 80-minute hooker role, Jacob Liddle ($304k) is a must-have player despite a worrying injury history.

Shawn Blore ($246k) is another good cash cow option if he gets a starting spot, new signing James Roberts ($336k) has plenty of potential to improve in the centres, and Daine Laurie ($246k) will be one of Fantasy's most popular players if he starts at fullback.

Even Luke Brooks ($544k) looks good value as the team's chief playmaker following Benji Marshall's exit.

The quote

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

- Michael Maguire on the season ahead

The good, the bad and the likely

The good: A finals appearance of any sort will satisfy the long-suffering fan base, particularly with a squad not predicted by many to reach the top eight this season.

The bad: A 10th straight year with no finals action is definitely on the cards for a club that has shown signs of improvement but just struggles to put things together on a weekly basis. A 12th-16th place finish would spell danger for many of the side's key players and coach Michael Maguire.

The likely: Some handy wins along the way but the departures of Benji Marshall and Harry Grant means points will be hard to come by and the big guns will again pack too much power for the Tigers.

Wests Tigers in 2021

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