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Wests Tigers 2006 season preview
Likely squad: Brett Hodgson, Daniel Fitzhenry, Shane Elford, Paul Whaitura, Jamaal Lolesi, Benji Marshall, Scott Prince, John Skandalis, Robbie Farah, Ryan O?Hara, Anthony Laffranchi, Ben Galea, Dene Halatau
Interchange: Bryce Gibbs, Liam Fulton, Chris Heighington, Sam Harris
The Tigers? great strengths are their skills level and athleticism. Those factors alone got them their premiership glory in 2005 and will enable them to continue that good form for the 2006 season.
The Tigers? depth is something to be admired. Young guns like Shannon McDonnell and Dean Collis and key forwards Keith Galloway and Bronson Harrison are left out of the team above. The Tigers purchased very wisely in the off season and as such have improved their roster for the upcoming season, something that would strike fears into the hearts of other teams.
The Tiger?s forward pack would rate among the most mobile yet underrated in the competition. Players like Fulton, Halatau and Heighington really shone a bright light for the Tigers in 2005 and will continue to do so for 2006.
The halves pairing would rate amongst the best in the competition also. The steadiness of Scott Prince and the creative brilliance of Benji Marshall are so vital for the Tigers? success.
Tim Sheens, one of the most experienced coaches in the NRL, is a great strength for the Tigers. He has the ability to turn dirt into gold and he will continue to do so as long as he remains coach.
Brett Hodgson is a key player for the Tigers. In 2005 he played like a man possessed. He was magnificent in that everything he touched turned into points. He was the form player of the competition and will be out to make sure it stays that way.
The loss of Pat Richards will be immense for the Tigers. The big winger?s goal-line dropouts, defence and finishing ability was a real highlight for the Tigers in 2005. But now he has departed and leaves a huge hole in a depleted backline.
Other teams will now be out to get the Tigers any way they can. This is a weakness for the Tigers whether they like it or not. Last season they slipped under the radar through to the Grand Final. This season teams will be better prepared, better drilled and mentally ready to take it to the Tigers. The Tigers need to be good enough to withstand such pressure.
One to Watch:
Shannon McDonnell is my player to watch for the Tigers. Shannon had a taste of First Grade in 2005 when he made his debut against Penrith. Unfortunately for Shannon it didn?t go as well as planned as he looked out of his depth and quite nervous in his first outing. He was brought into Tim Sheen?s squad for the WCC where he was again part of a losing side. Aside from only having two matches that resulted in losses, he remains the one to watch for the Tigers. He is an outstanding player with tremendous talent and electrifying speed.
Tim Sheens has a huge rap on this kid and it?s no wonder why. He has speed that would be up there with competitors in the Commonwealth Games trials for the 100m and he can finish off a try as good as anyone when given the opportunity. I have no doubt that if Shannon had a consistent spot in the team in 2006 that he would definitely not disappoint Tigers? fans.
Gains and Losses:
Gains: Sam Harris, Keith Galloway, Jamaal Lolesi, Ryan O'Hara, Filinga Filiga.
Losses: Pat Richards, John Wilson, Mark O'Neill, Matthew Rieck, Ray Cashmere.
I believe the Tigers have recruited brilliantly in the off-season. The acquisition of Harris, Galloway, Lolesi and O?Hara has really enhanced the Tigers? premiership prospects. It has given them valuable size, valuable experience and valuable depth in order to defend their title.
If you look at the past 5 years, you?ll find the premiers have all haemorrhaged players after their title win, but not the Tigers. They have increased their playing stocks and have a better squad, which is why I?m predicting that they will finish in the Top 4 and be the most likely team since Brisbane in 1992/1993 to take back-to-back premierships.