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More downs than ups for a side struggling to return to finals contention.
The Tigers headed into the 2017 season brimming with confidence after what was a surprisingly successful 2016 campaign. The Tigers finished last season in ninth position, denied a finals appearance by just one victory. Wests has a chance to snatch a finals spot in the last round when they faced off with the Raiders, yet a 52-10 defeat saw the Tigers farewell hooker Robbie Farah in a highly disappointing manner. Defence was the major issue for Jason Taylor's men, who conceded 105 tries in 2016, which was just one less than the lowly Knights. They also managed 30 missed tackles on average per game and it was ultimately these deficiencies in defence which costed Wests an unlikely finals berth last year.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, they were unable to fix up their defensive woes in 2017, conceding 104 tries - an average of four per game. However, that was not their only issue in what was an eventful year of controversies and significant departures. Most notably, James Tedesco and Aaron Woods both played their last games in Tigers colours in their Round 26 clash against the Warriors while Mitch Moses made a mid-season switch to Parramatta. On top of this, coach Jason Taylor was sacked after their 46-6 thumping at the hands of Canberra in Round 3 with Ivan Cleary taking the helm for the remainder of the season. The Tigers would finish the season with just seven victories in 2017, finishing in 14th position on the ladder.
Around mid-April, when news broke of Tedesco, Woods and Moses' departures from the Tigers, it became clear that their season would be crippled by a series of off-field distractions.
Wests would go on to lose eight of their next nine games, including a 28-8 loss to Souths, 36-0 drubbing from Brisbane and 40-18 defeat at the hands of the Roosters. By the end of this run, there was little hope of salvaging a lost season.
The Tigers did not do a whole lot well as a collective and that was reflected in their lowly ladder position. However, they were one of the best-disciplined sides in the competition, conceding 134 penalties - the second least in the competition.
This paragraph will be decidedly larger than the previous one and for good reasons. Unfortunately for the merged entity, the statistics prove that their 14th place finish this season was no allusion. Cleary's side finished the season with the second-least amount of points scored, only behind the uninspiring Bulldogs. In addition, as alluded to earlier, they were unable to fix up their defensive frailties, conceding the third-most tries in the competition and averaging the second-most missed tackles per game at 35.9. The Tigers also finished 2017 averaging the third-most errors per game at 10.9 - it is clear that Wests got all the fundamentals wrong this season.
Elijah Taylor was certainly a reliable competitor for the Tigers this season and deservedly received the Kelly-Barnes Award for the 2017 Wests Tigers Player of the Year. However, RLPA Players Champion Award winner James Tedesco must have been close to taking home the top gong on Tigers awards night. Some have claimed that Tedesco had a ‘quiet' season this year. Yet, the stats seem to point towards the opposite. In a side that finished with just seven wins all year, Tedesco still managed to average 175 running metres and 8.3 tackle busts (first in the competition) whilst also bagging five tries and setting up eight in an impressive 2017 campaign. He will be sorely missed next year.
One rookie who certainly made an impression in 2017 was Esan Marsters. Marsters played 11 full games this season, scoring five tries, averaging 3.3 tackle busts and making five line breaks in what was a commendable start to what appears to be a promising career in the centre position.
It was not much better for the Tigers in the lower grades.
Their Holden Cup side finished in 15th place with just five victories while their Intrust Super Premiership NSW team managed just four wins, languishing in last position.
It will take a fair effort for the Tigers to improve next season given that they will be without two highly influential players in Tedesco and Woods. The acquisition of Josh Reynolds and Benji Marshall, however, will give Cleary's side much needed experience in the halves while the likes of Russell Packer, Ben Matulino and Robbie Rochow will bolster their pack in Woods' absence.
Given the high level of competition expected next year, it would be a shock to me if the Tigers made the eight... however, they do have the ability to climb away from the bottom rungs of the ladder.