2023 review: Wests Tigers

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Andrew Ferguson kicks off our 2023 season review series, today's edition looking at the Wests Tigers, who finished last for the second straight season.

The Wests Tigers came into the 2023 season having finally picked up the wooden spoon that they'd been destined to collect for several seasons, on the back a miserable 2022 campaign which saw them axe yet another coach, replaced by yet another interim coach. By the end of 2022 the coach-toll was at 8 in the 2012-22 period.

Tigers coaching director Tim Sheens, in a surprise to nobody, decided he would be the best person to move this club forward and - also in a surprise to nobody - wasn't. Sheens decided during the year that he would not continue beyond 2023 and that his replacement would be someone who has never coached in his life previously - assistant coach Benji Marshall.

And so by the end of the 2023 season, the Wests Tigers became the second club, behind the Wests Magpies of 1987-88, to fall further down the ladder after winning a wooden spoon the previous year (thanks, Dolphins).

The Tigers ended the year with the same win-loss record as they did in 2022: 4 wins and 20 losses. On the upside, their attack scored 1.38 more points per game and conceded 0.17 less points per game in 2023 than in 2022 - so there's that.

They go into 2024 without knowing who their halves combination will be for Round 1, and with depth issues across the park.

If it all sounds like a chaotic miserable mess, it isn't. It's worse.

This year, they started the season with seven straight losses, but it was only their Round 5 loss to Brisbane by 46-12 that was really poor out of that list. The other six were all by a margin of 12 points or less. Then it got exciting, albeit briefly.

After a Round 7 bye, they recorded three wins from their next four games - against Penrith (Round 9), Dragons (Round 10) and then on Luke Brooks' 200th NRL game, a 66-18 demolition of the Cowboys, followed by the bye. It was a run that saw the Tigers rack up 10 competition points in 7 weeks, moving them from last to third last and two wins away from the 8th-placed Warriors (or in more typical Tigers form from past years, two wins from the 9th placed Titans).

But then the Tigers lost 10 straight, including a 74-0 shellacking in a return of favour from the Cowboys, before snapping the streak by recording a 1-point win over the Dolphins in Round 25. The year ended with yet another heavy loss to the Roosters 32-8, and a 54-12 loss to Manly, cementing them in last place.

Turning point

Hiring Tim Sheens in 2022. Nothing improved, no structures changed, no genuine roster improvements were made - and in the end, he dug a hole under the sunken ship and then handed it over to a rookie coach.

Everything about his return has been an absolute mess and has made things worse for everyone involved.

What worked

The first half of the season they looked to be marginally better defensively.

Aside from than that, Api Koroisau managed to have another great season despite everything that was going on, or not going on, around him.

What didn't work

The constant changes to the spine. In 2023 they used 4 different fullbacks, 5 different five-eighths, 4 different halfbacks and 2 different hookers.

David Klemmer was the only player to appear in every game for the year, while half of their squad played 14 games or less. The constant changes made it impossible for the attack to have any cohesion, while their frail defence had no chance to improve.

2023 week-by-week

1Mar 5thSun 6:15pmHTitansL10-22Leichhardt14,66716th
2Mar 12thSun 4:05pmHKnightsL12-14Leichhardt13,21417th
3Mar 19thSun 4:05pmABulldogsL22-26Belmore16,40417th
4Mar 24thFri 6:00pmAStormL12-24AAMI Park11,66917th
5Apr 1stSat 6:35pmABroncosL12-46Suncorp27,55317th
6Apr 10thMon 4:00pmHEelsL22-28Accor28,61117th
8Apr 23rdSun 4:05pmHManlyL16-22Campbelltown10,03317th
9Apr 29thSat 7:35pmAPanthersW12-8Carrington11,05517th
10May 7thSun 1:50pmH*DragonsW18-16Suncorp46,83517th
11May 13thSat 3:00pmARabbitohsL0-20Accor21,01317th
12May 20thSat 5:30pmHCowboysW66-18Leichhardt12,24715th
14Jun 2ndFri 8:00pmHRaidersL19-20Campbelltown11,20116th
15Jun 8thThu 7:50pmATitansL12-28Cbus10,23217th
16Jun 17thSat 7:35pmHStormL6-28Campbelltown8,51716th
18Jul 1stSat 5:30pmACowboysL0-74QLD Country Bank20,53517th
19Jul 6thThu 7:50pmHSharksL12-36CommBank9,21517th
20Jul 14thFri 8:00pmAKnightsL18-34McDonald Jones18,47017th
21Jul 20thThu 7:50pmADragonsL14-18WIN Stadium7,24617th
22Jul 28thFri 6:00pmH*RabbitohsL18-32Scully Park10,45317th
23Aug 6thSun 4:05pmARaidersL18-22GIO Stadium12,84117th
24Aug 12thSat 7:30pmH*WarriorsL22-30FMG Stadium25,11817th
25Aug 19thSat 3:00pmHDolphinsW24-23CommBank9,24517th
26Aug 26thSat 5:30pmARoostersL8-32Allianz22,51117th
27Sep 1stFri 6:00pmASea EaglesL12-544 Pines Park16,50317th

Best players

Koroisau was clearly their best player, with the star rake splitting his time in attack between halfback and hooker at the back-end of the season, not too dissimilar to what former club great Robbie Farah used to have to do.

Starford To'a was also solid throughout the year, topping the club's tryscoring list with seven, while rookie Jahream Bula was a great find, making the fullback spot his own.


Jahream Bula was the absolute standout, finishing the season being nominated for Dally M Rookie of the Year. He looks right at home in the custodian role, is good fielding kicks, has a great kick return and is developing a nice passing game too. He will only go from strength to strength.

Tallyn Da Silva is just 18 and played 5 games off the bench and looks to be the Tigers long-term hooker, but in the meantime, he is going to benefit immensely under the tutelage of both Koroisau and assistant coach Robbie Farah.

2023 player list

KLEMMER, David29241--4--
PAPALI'I, Isaiah24232--8--
POLE, Fonua21234--16--
TUPOU, Junior21226--24--
TWAL, Alex27221--41-
KOROISAU, Apisai3021618-60--
UTOIKAMANU, Stefano23212--8--
BATEMAN, John29202--8--
KEPAOA, Asu23195--20--
SIMPKIN, Jake21192--8--
BULA, Jahream21185--20--
TO'A, Starford23187--28--
NOFOALUMA, David29175--20--
BROOKS, Luke281633119--
BLORE, Shawn23151--4--
WAKEHAM, Brandon2415227-62--
SEYFARTH, Alex24141--4--
TALAU, Tommy23121--4--
LAURIE, Daine24112--8--
OFAHENGAUE, Joe2791--4--
STAINES, Charlie2293--12--
NADEN, Brent2782--81-
DOUEIHI, Adam256112-28--
DA SILVA, Tallyn185------
JAMES, Aitasi225------
MATAMUA, Justin205------
SMITH, Will314------
REILLY, Triston2431--4--
FELEDY, Josh-1------
LAULILII, Kit-1------
TUMETH, Brandon201------

31 players, average age 24.76 years

Season Snapshot

Coach: Tim Sheens
Captains: Api Koroisau (21 games), John Bateman (3 games)
Top Pointscorer: Brandon Wakeham (62)
Top Tryscorer: Starford To'a (7)

Average home crowd: 11,042
Biggest home crowd: 14,667 v Titans, Round 1, Leichhardt Oval

Club Award Winners

  • Kelly-Barnes Medal — Jahream Bula
  • NRL Players' Player — Jahream Bula
  • NRL Rookie of the Year — Jahream Bula
  • NSW Cup Player of the Year — Triston Reilly
  • NSW Cup Players' Player — Jack Boyling
  • Jersey Flegg Player of the Year — Sione Vaihu
  • Jersey Flegg Players' Player — Josh Feledy
  • Wayne Pearce Community Award — Brent Naden
  • Wests Tigers Club Person of the Year — John Skandalis

Looking ahead

The Tigers recruitment has been disappointingly quiet, given their shortcomings and losses moving forward. Currently, they have Api Saukuru, Brandon Wakeham and Charlie Staines off-contract and next year will have 7 more players off-contract. They have little depth in all 4 spine roles, as well in the three-quarter line. Their defensive structures and systems are non-existent and need immense work and should almost be their entire focus during the off-season.

It's hard to see the Tigers improving by enough to get themselves away from the wooden spoon for a third consecutive season, especially with an unknown entity as a coach, boardroom discontent and an inability to attract elite players. They will be playing more games at Campbelltown and Leichhardt in 2024 which is one of the very very few good decisions this club has made in the last decade.

Best 17 for 2024

As at the time of writing - 19 October 2023

1 - Jahream Bula
2 - Junior Tupou
3 - Adam Doueihi
4 - Starford To'a
5 - Asu Kepaoa
6 - Jayden Sullivan
7 - Aidan Sezer
8 - David Klemmer
9 - Api Koroisau
10 - Stefano Utoikamanu
11 - Isaiah Papali'i
12 - John Bateman
13 - Alex Twal

14 - Alex Seyfarth
15 - Samuela Fainu
16 - Latu Fainu
17 - Fonua Pole