A good night for the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys in Townsville, outlasting the Vodafone Warriors...
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After 2010, where the Tigers returned to finals football for the first time since their maiden premiership in 2005, the Tigers were one of the strong contenders for the title in 2011 for many pundits.
However a list of unfortunate injuries to most of their backline throughout the year threatened to send them back to the bottom half of the table.
The Tigers fell into a mid-season slump yet again, and after 16 games they were sitting at ninth and looking uninterested. But they managed to win their last 8 straight games and charge into the finals for the consecutive year.
They toppled the World Champions in week 1 of the finals before being beaten on the siren by a spirited Warriors side.
The fact the Tigers managed to make the finals despite being without big name players Chris Lawrence (17 weeks), Lote Tuqiri (17 weeks), Simon Dwyer (12 weeks), Todd Payten (14 weeks), Wade McKinnon (10 games) and Bryce Gibbs (6 weeks) is a credit to the young players who filled their places in the side, most notably Matt Groat and Aaron Woods.
The Tigers put in a brilliant display to defeat St.George-Illawarra in the first week of the finals, possibly one of the best performances in the entire finals series. By week 2 they lacked the same intensity and a fast finishing and determined Warriors side reeled the Tigers in on the full-time siren.
The Tigers will once again consider themselves one of the stronger teams in the 2012 competition and they should push for a spot in the top 4 once again, but if injuries hit hard again, then their depth will be sorely tested, as they have sacrificed some quality players to bring new recruit Adam Blair to the club.
2011 Comings and Goings
Gains: Matt Utai, Jacob Miller (Sydney)
Losses: Willie Mataka (Sydney), Daniel Fitzhenry (Wagga Wagga), Blake Lazarus (Newtown), John Skandalis (retired),
The last 8 games before the finals. The Tigers were sitting in ninth at the end of Round 18, with 7 wins and 9 losses. They then won 8 straight games and finished in 4th on the ladder on the run home to the finals. They then defeated World Champions and defending premiers St.George-Illawarra in the first week of the finals before losing on the siren. The Tigers end of season form is exactly the sort of consistency that Tim Sheens would like to see for the majority of 2012, especially during mid-season when the Tigers have a record of nodding off.
The freakish injuries which left key players sidelined for extended periods. Lawrence dislocated his hip in Round 3, Tuqiri broke his arm also in Round 3, Dwyer suffered a freakish nerve injury in Round 16, Gibbs cut his knee on the head of a sprinkler during a game, McKinnon's chronic knee troubles continued to hound him, Payten was sidelined by injury in Round 6 and Ellis left to head home for several weeks after the Tigers Round 8 clash. This saw the Tigers playing stocks drastically tested. While injuries are part and parcel for every club and player in the NRL, the freakish nature of some of the injuries to Tigers players was something almost like a jinx.
Round 19 at Townsville. The Tigers had 7 wins, 9 losses and were coming off 3 straight losses where they scored a combined total of just 16 points. It was also the return of Chris Lawrence from an almost career ending hip dislocation injury. He pulled through fine and the Tigers were convincing winners. They went on to win the next 7 straight games to charge into the finals in red hot form.
Blake Ayshford was a stand-out player for the Tigers in the backs. With both Tuqiri and Lawrence out for extended periods, Ayshford needed to stand up and become a dependable and reliable attacking weapon. He did just that and then some, surprising many people.
Up front, Liam Fulton and Bryce Gibbs had possibly their best seasons yet for the club. Fulton started the season slowly, but his agility and stubborn defence in the second half of the season was exceptional. Gibbs' has always been regarded as one of the best defensive props in the game, a title he showed time and again throughout 2011, even when playing with injury.
And then there's Benji Marshall. Benji's form in the last 10 weeks was red hot, and if it wasn't for a stellar performance by Farah in Round 26, Benji may have gone very close to being crowned Dally M Player of the year.
Matt Groat was the pick of the rookies for the Tigers in 2012. The young prop played with a lot of might and determination and he is being tipped as a future rep player already at this early stage of the young prop's career. Young half Jacob Miller also impressed in his limited time on the field and also looks to be a player the club will try and groom into a genuine halfback alongside Benji Marshall.
The Tigers have added some starch to the forward pack with the signing of Kiwi test forward Adam Blair. They have also added good depth players in Bell, Reddy, Humble and Chisholm. If the players can avoid the freakish injuries which cursed the club in 2011, they will stand a very strong chance to be premiers in 2012. They need to ensure they don't fall into another mid-season slump though.
2012 Comings and Goings
Gains: Adam Blair (Melbourne), Joel Reddy (Parramatta), Matthew Bell (Penrith), Tom Humble (Parramatta), John Grant (Rugby Union), Dane Chisholm (Melbourne), Jack Spencer (Salford)
Losses: Bryce Gibbs (Cronulla), Andrew Fifita (Cronulla), Robert Lui (North Queensland), Mark Flanagan (St.Helens), Geoff Daniela (Penrith), Jason Schirnack (Mackay), Jason Cayless (Retired), Taniela Tuiaki (Retired), Simon Dwyer (De-Registered - Injury)
Re-Signed: Chris Lawrence, Blake Ayshford, Aaron Woods, Matt Utai.
Best Line-up for 2012
1 - Mitch Brown 2 - Lote Tuqiri 3 - Blake Ayshford 4 - Chris Lawrence 5 - Beau Ryan 6 - Benji Marshall 7 - Tim Moltzen 8 - Aaron Woods 9 - Robbie Farah 10 - Keith Galloway 11 - Adam Blair 12 - Gareth Ellis 13 - Chris Heighington
Interchange: 14 - Matthew Bell 15 - Matt Groat 16 - Liam Fulton 17 - Dane Chisholm