Wests Tigers - 2012 Preview
The Wests Tigers for the past few seasons have had the cattle to be premiership favourites, but have somehow found a way to butcher their prospects mid-season and have had to rely on a strong run to the finals to get themselves back in the hunt.
2011 was a very disruptive season due to the Tigers being forced to drop integral players in their pursuit of new recruit Adam Blair. This was followed by the messy debacle over Tim Moltzen with the Dragons and the off-field issues surrounding Robert Lui. This was combined with long spells on the sideline to key players Chris Lawrence, Lote Tuqiri, Simon Dwyer, Bryce Gibbs and Todd Payten, while Gareth Ellis and Wade McKinnon also had interrupted seasons.
However they all returned in time for a run into the finals and it took a last gasp try to the Warriors on the stroke of fulltime to sink the Tigers.
2012 sees Wests Tigers with a more aggressive pack, a fit and energetic three-quarter line, a more consistent and reliable Benji Marshall with the only real question marks in the halfback and fullback roles. This however isn't too different to the last 2 seasons, but it may be the reason why the Tigers will fall one rung short of a second Grand Final appearance.
Why they'll win it
The Tigers have world class players in nearly every section of the park. They have an uncanny ability to score points when you least expect them to, from anywhere on the park. They have several players capable of creating try scoring plays and they can put a bunch of tries on a team in a short space of time. This means that they haven't ever really needed to be the best team on the field for 80 minutes and their opponents have to be on their A-game from the start to the very end. They have fast, strong, agile centres, elusive halves, hard-working back rowers, a clever and creative hooker and aggressive props with quality depth: the perfect recipe for a successful squad.
Why they won't win it
June - The Tigers have won 50% of their games in June just 4 times from 2005-2011. On 3 of those occasions they have made the finals. This year poses a bigger risk with Robbie Farah and Chris Lawrence strong chances to be playing Origin. The Tigers have won just 15 of 45 games without Farah since his debut in 2003. Also, the loss of Bryce Gibbs will have a massive effect on the Tigers defence. His ability to shut down second phase play will be sorely missed. Depth in the Tigers backline is very thin, thus they can ill-afford an injury toll similar to that suffered in 2011. They also lack top quality/experienced players in the 1 and 7 jumpers.
Player to watch
Adam Blair - Blair will be linking up with fellow international forwards Chris Heighington, Keith Galloway, Robbie Farah and Gareth Ellis. It won't be easy to be a shining light, but if anyone has the ability to do so, it's Blair. He will add yet another aggressive, ball playing, strong running forward to the Tigers pack, which just a few years ago was considered lightweight and easily dominated. With Blair and Ellis offloading at will to players like Marshall, Farah, Moltzen, Lawrence, Ayshford and Tuqiri, this will create twice as much second phase play across the width of the park, which is exactly what the Tigers attack thrives on.
Rookie to watch
James Tedesco - The rookie fullback is a strong chance to claim the number 1 jumper at the start of the season. With the loss of Robert Lui, it's very possible that Tim Moltzen will vacate the fullback role to take up a spot at the scrum base. With only part time fullbacks available, Tedesco is a capable of making the fullback spot his own in 2012. Tedesco is an Australian schoolboy who is safe under the high ball, quick off the mark and will relish running off Marshall. He also has an amazing ability to score tries, making him a perfect fit for the Tigers NRL squad.
Matthew Bell (Penrith), Adam Blair (Melbourne), Dane Chisholm (Melbourne), John Grant (Rugby Union), Tom Humble (Parramatta), Joel Reddy (Parramatta), Jack Spencer (Salford)
Andrew Fifita (Cronulla), Mark Flanagan (St.Helens), Geoff Daniela (Penrith), Bryce Gibbs (Cronulla), Robert Lui (North Queensland), Jason Schirnack (Mackay), Simon Dwyer (released - injury)
1 - James Tedesco,