2017 was a huge year on and off the field for the Tigers, although unfortunately it was mainly for the wrong reasons.
The club lost three of its four biggest name stars, including its undoubted star in James Tedesco and club captain Aaron Woods. Mitchell Moses and his management kicked up such a stink that he was moved on halfway through last season.
Results didn't fare much better with the Tigers never really in the final's race. They finished just two wins above the last-placed Knights and a massive 12 points behind the Cowboys who finished in eighth position.
The one positive was the way the club reacted to the issues and started an 'on the bus' movement that seems to have rallied fans. They also added some big name recruits and extended the deals of some exciting players.
Recruitment Grading: B
Overall I think the Tigers have recruited pretty well. Yes they lost Woods and Tedesco (as well as Moses in 2017) but for the most part they have replaced those players, as well as adding in areas they lacked last season. Josh Reynolds looks a decent swap for Moses. He has Grand Final and Origin-winning success on his resume and comes with plenty of experience and aggression. Packer and Matulino form a much improved run on prop combination while McQueen and Rochow will be in the mix for spots in the 17. Taana Milne looks like a really good pick up after his impressive World Cup campaign. He will slot straight into a starting centre position and looks a real bargain buy. Benji Marshall's return to the club should provide valuable experience to help mentor younger players. Whether or not he plays a whole lot of football is yet to be seen. Alex Twal and Tuimoala Lolohea will benefit from a pre-season with the club they joined last season.
Star Player: Luke Brooks
2018 is the year that Luke Brooks finally realises his undoubted potential. For both club and player, it simply HAS to be the year that happens. A few seasons ago I confidently pronounced Brooks the best young player in the game and said I expected him to hit great heights. He's been good, not great, but I still believe he has all the talent in the world. With a much improved forward pack in front of him, as well as some handy weapons out wide, the stage is set. He now has a successful Origin number six by his side who will bring with him an unmatched aggression and will to win. He will train beside Benji Marshall, arguably the best player to ever grace the field as a Wests Tiger. Once again, the stage is set.
NRL 2018 Wooden Spooners?
— Moylan Mania 🍍 (@suthodan) January 15, 2018
Strength: Renewed Belief
Last year even the biggest of Tigers fans probably couldn't say they ever look finals bound. Players wanted out, why should fans believe? Step forward one of the best coaches in the game in Ivan Cleary who lead an aggressive recruitment drive. They brought back the club's biggest ever star in Benji Marshall. They brought in arguably the game's most aggressive and passionate half in Josh Reynolds. I'm saying right now that the Tigers can't make the eight, but try telling that to a player like Josh Reynolds. Try saying that to Benji Marshall, who really should never have parted ways with the club to begin with. It's amazing what a shift in attitude does. The fans have responded too with some impressive membership numbers.
Weakness: No genuine game-breaker
With most clubs, the 'Star Player' is an easy task. The usual difficulty is having to pick between two or three players, but with the Tigers, there was no clear standout. Brooks CAN be a star, Reynolds HAS been a star, Lolohea LOOKS like a star, but there is no genuine game-breaking star. That's not to say that there can't be, but as of right now there is no one player that will strike fear into opposition defensive lines. That used to be Tedesco, but his much talked about move to Bondi has left the Tigers looking short on attacking options. Hopefully that can be Brooks or Milne, but for now, I just don't see it.
Tigers fans have good reason to be excited in 2018. There will be no more agent-driven stories about players looking for the exit in big money deals. They also now have players who are committed and willing to fight for their side.
Lolohea and Reynolds should transform the Tigers attack, which was too side to side last season. Matulino and Packer are two monster forwards with amazing skills. Most Tigers fans agreed that you'd trade Woods for these two any day of the week.
I'm really excited to see what Taane Milne can produce out wide. Moses Suli had a wow of a 2017 season but has just been released to the Dogs in some breaking news. This should bring the likes of Fonua into the equation. That's a fairly exciting backline, especially when you throw in Fijian captain Kevin Naiqama.
Unfortunately, excitement doesn't always equal results. As improved as they may be, the forward pack is still too young and inexperienced to regularly take down the big guns. Don't get me wrong, they won't be bossed around as in previous years, but they don't have it in them yet to really take it to the elite forward packs.
As big a fan as I am of Josh Reynolds, his kicking game has been dire in recent seasons. That means Brooks will have to do the large majority of the kicking unless Lolohea or Marshall step up.
Just too many questions for mine to predict a finals finish. Although I see them being a FAR better side across the park in 2018, ultimately they'll finish around 14th just as last season.