The Wests Tigers have started preparing for life after Aaron Woods, James Tedesco and Mitch Moses by announcing the signing of Warriors forward Ben Matulino.
After a horror fortnight on the recruitment front for the Tigers, the signing of a prop forward with almost 200 NRL games experience, as well as 23 caps for New Zealand, could not have come at a better time.
Despite a lack of official announcements from the club, it is strongly believed that club captain Woods is headed to the Bulldogs next season, with Tedesco headed to the Roosters. They will join Mitch Moses, who is Eels-bound, possibly as early as this week.
Although comments from Tigers officials that the pending losses of arguably the club’s three best players are in any way “exciting” are downright ridiculous, perhaps the outlook for the club is not so bleak after all.
Matulino’s signing, reported to be on a deal worth around $700,000 a season, brings a vastly experienced and talented big man to the club to replace the outgoing Woods, who is rumoured to have signed a deal for around a million dollars a season.
Without going into the detailed stats, on the surface at least, the trade-off looks like one of value to the joint-venture club. That is if the rumoured figures are anywhere near the mark.
Matulino (28, with 198 NRL games and 23 test caps) arrives at the club on a contract $300,000 or so less a season than the one Woods (26, with 129 NRL games, 9 test caps, 11 Origins) will reportedly sign at Belmore.
Woods has been forced to shoulder a huge workload for many seasons, and perhaps the $300,000 a season saved on the trade-off could be reinvested in a partner for Matulino up front.
With Woods arriving on a big-money deal, and with reports that James Graham will remain at the club after stories circulated re his possible moving on, Aidan Tolman’s name suddenly comes into play. Tolman is an extremely hard working forward who warrants a run-on spot. The Tigers, armed with plenty of cap space, could present Tolman with the money and opportunity to entice him to shift across Western Sydney.
Joining Matulino from 2018 on-wards is former Queensland Origin backrower, Chris McQueen. The 29-year-old’s three-year deal is worth around $400,000 a season. Given McQueen’s abilities, this also looks like a signing that represents value.
In reality, the Tigers have swapped out one forward for two.
Despite plenty of criticism across social media, few could really argue that either Matulino nor McQueen will provide the influence of Woods, but given the Tigers current squad, a real argument could be made that the Tigers have come out ahead in this deal.
The Tigers desperately needed an overhaul in their engine room, and in Matulino and McQueen, they’ve gone a long way to achieving just that.
Elijah Taylor is a brilliant player who will tackle just as hard in the 80th minute as in the first, but he isn’t a major metre making big man, nor a creative back rower. Chris Lawrence never receives the attention he deserves since moving into the back row, however probably misses out on a spot in the run-on side at most other clubs.
Matulino is a metre-eater in every sense of the word, while McQueen, on his day, is a dangerous, wide running back rower who can bust a line and create second phase play.
Although the upcoming absence of Woods looks to be largely accounted for, one player who will be much harder to replace is outgoing superstar James Tedesco.
I am an unashamed fan of the Tigers number one, and genuinely believe him to be the second best fullback in the competition after Darius Boyd. He is the game’s most dangerous running player. Unless the club were to sign Boyd, or possibly a fully fit and firing RTS, there is no man who can replace Tedesco.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of very talented options available to the Tigers. With Tedesco moving to the Roosters, the likes of Ferguson, Gordon and possibly even Latrell Mitchell face an uncertain future.
Mitchell is a freakish talent and excelled in the fullback role last season. He will never see the number one jersey again in the tri-colours of the Roosters unless Tedesco was to suffer injury.
The offer of a long-term future at one could be used as an extremely juicy carrot to gain the young gun’s signature.
Michael Gordon, off-contract at the end of the season, could provide a very solid short-term option if the Tigers fail to grab someone the likes of Mitchell.
Or, there is the possibility that the recent re-signed David Nofoaluma moves back into the custodian role. Tedesco aside, Nofoaluma is the Tigers most exciting attacking player. He’s played plenty of fullback in the lower grades, and if the Tigers supposed ‘big-four’ were more than a media gimmick, he would surely be in that four.
His re-signing is a huge coup for the club, although was largely lost in the ridiculous Moses will he/won’t he drama of the past few weeks.
There’s also a pretty handy number one who is off-contract at the Dragons.
On the surface, the loss of two superstars, and their five-eighth looked like one that could cripple an already struggling club, but a few clever signings and a huge chunk of salary-cap still to be allocated for 2018 and beyond, perhaps the future in Tigers Town isn’t so dour after all.