The Wests Tigers come into the 2012 season as Premiership favorites. They had made a number of big moves in the off season and many felt that they would kick on and go all the way this year after falling just short the last few seasons.
Things don’t always follow the script.
After starting the season with just 1 win in 5 games, the Tigers are officially in trouble.
It is not just the fact that they are losing games. In a competition as close as the NRL, you just just be a bit unlucky over the course of a month and find yourself on a losing streak. They Tigers in their losses have been beaten in ways that point ominously to a season of struggle for the Black, White and Golds.
When I look at the Wests Tigers I feel like I’m looking at a team that was put together in a certain way. Tim Sheens coaches this side very differently from other clubs. He rightly makes this team play to their strength, which is their back line led by Benji Marshall.
The Tigers spread the ball from sideline to sideline more than any other team. They like to use their forwards out wide ball runners and decoy runners. It is a great brand of football to watch and in some season, this idea probably would work. There is one problem though…
Over the last few years the NRL has seen a shift in the quality and size of forward packs. For a while there NRL forward packs were based more along the lines of the Tigers, teams wanted mobility and endurance over everything else.
In 2012, size matters (Thats what she said).
If you look at the forward packs across the NRL, most of them are full of monsters. Look at a team like the Bulldogs who have Sam Kasiano, Frank Pritchard, James Graham, and Greg Eastwood….all in the one lineup and two of them coming off the bench!
Forward play in the NRL in 2012 is brutal. It is a real golden age of forward battle and if you lose that battle, you lose the game.
The Tigers forward pack is simply not up for the battle right now. They don’t have the size or the fire power to match it with other teams. When the likes of the Sea Eagles, Dragons and Raiders decided to drive the ball right up the middle of the field and let their forward packs win the game, the Tigers couldn’t stop them.
On the flip side, when the Tigers have got themselves into a position to win games, they haven’t been able to rely on go forward. They have had to reply exclusively on the play of their backs.
This is a real issue that will not be going away any time soon.
A lot of Tigers fans have pointed to to the loss of Bryce Gibbs and Andrew Fifita as a reason why the Tigers are lacking up front. They also are critical of the play of Adam Blair, which I think is understandable considering that he was their big off season signing. The problem is, the Tigers has issues up front last season too. Gibbs I think is over rated by Tigers fans and Fifita was a best, erratic for the Tigers.
I think letting both go was a good move.
As for Adam Blair, I think he looks a bit lost. I think if the Tigers told him to play as a go forward front rower, he would. I think if they wanted him as a work horse back rower, he would get the job done. I think he they had him running wide and doing a bit of ball playing, he could do that without too many problems.
What I’m seeing from him is almost a mix of all of these things. He is trying to cover so many areas and it just isn’t working.
Blair comes to the Tigers from a Storm team very regimented style of play where Craig Bellemy gives players just a couple of simple tasks he wants them to do in a game, but do them very well. Blair probably has a lot more freedom now, but its not necessarily a good thing. There is a reason we have coaches…
I think if Sheens gave Blair a more defined role, he would really kick on and give the Tigers value for money.
As for the lack of grunt up front, now the Tigers are having to scramble. They are desperately trying to get Ray Cashmere from the St George/Illawarra Dragons lower grades right now, but understandably the Dragons aren’t jumping through hoops to help the Tigers after the way they handled the Tim Moltzen affair last year.
If I was running the Wests Tigers I’d be looking into getting the likes of Jeff Lima from Wigan or maybe a few of the New Zealand Warriors lower graders. If it means having to move other players to stay under the cap, the club needs to do it. They need size and power up front, and they need it right now!
There is the possibility that the club may still sign Willie Mason, and I think at some point they will be desperate enough to pull the trigger on a move like that. I personally believe Willie Mason’s career is over, but for a club that has a backline set with the goals of winning the Premiership and a forward pack that looks like it will take the team to the wooden spoon, you have to try something!
Tim Sheens is a great coach, and you can really see how his coaching comes through in the way the Tigers play. They come out with plays no other teams even attempt. I just think they build this team based on a plan, I can understand why they thought that plan would work, but in practice, it has failed.
Until the Tigers get some grunt up front, some hard nosed forward that just tuck the ball under their arm and punch holes right in the middle of an opposition defense, they are not going to be true premiership contenders.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com
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