For many teams, a new season brings with it new hope. Every side across the competition will line up differently to start 2018 than they ended 2017. The pre-season is the best time of the year in terms of excitement for what may come.
I’m not one to write a team off before a ball has even been kicked or passed but after attending Saturday’s trial game between the Wests Tigers and the Cronulla Sharks I really worry about the Tigers prospects in 2018.
For the record, I tipped the Tigers to finish 14th, above only the Titans and Warriors, although as I was compiling the report I second guessed myself.
They’ve recruited very well and look a far different side this year. I love the front line of Packer and Matulino and I’m a big fan of Elija Taylor, although I had major concerns that the halves would not be able to produce the opportunities for the likes of Lolohea and Nofoaluma and I did worry that the back row would lose plenty of battles.
Unfortunately, after Saturday’s trial game I have no reason to think otherwise.
Of course, the keyword in the previous statement is ‘trial’. You can never truly replicate an NRL premiership game even in a full strength trial hit out. Benji and Taylor aside the Tigers were full strength.
That said, the Tigers were pretty much woeful in attack. Their only tries came from diving on a ball after a horror Valentine Holmes error and diving over from dummy half after the majority of the Sharks first-grade side already had their feet up.
I literally had to check to see if David Nofoluma was on the field such was his lack of impact. I still genuinely can’t remember any involvement. That’s not a huge statement considering it was a trial in heated conditions and I was there primarily to catch up with friends, but for the Tigers, superstar attacking weapon that isn’t encouraging.
The other player I expected to really make an impact in Tuimoala Lolohea was nowhere to be seen after turning in a shocker for the Wests Magpies reserve grade side. His major involvements were throwing an intercept pass that led to a Jets try and sending a cut out pass over the head of the touch judge after working a three-on-two overlap.
Full disclosure I’m a big fan of Josh Reynolds. I love his aggression and I’ll always be indebted to him for the Origin winning series he played a starring role in. I went to Campbelltown excited to see him play for his new club.
Unfortunately, despite one or two half breaks, his night was summed up by handling errors and a lack of penetration. He ran the ball a few times and will be better for the hit out but ultimately he did not have me reaching for my laptop to write a retraction statement on my ‘the Tigers halves will struggle to create points’ comment.
Luke Brookes put in a few clever kicks but offered very little otherwise. He was targeted by the Sharks big men in defense and although I can’t remember anything overly negative from his performance it’s safe to say that if he doesn’t fire this season the Tigers are in big trouble.
For the life of me I cannot believe that Taane Milne was not selected for the trial and looks to be outside the top 17. I’m hoping this is a smokescreen as I had Milne as one of the players who could genuinely spark this attack.
The positives from the game came in the form of Corey Thompson, who looks like a brilliant signing in the number one, and the fact the Tigers only conceded one second-half try. That try in itself was a piece of magic from Ramien and Katoa who combined for a late try.
Elijah Taylor will add a fair bit, especially in defence, when he returns and I think the performance made it impossible to leave Benji Marshall out of the 17 man match-day squad. They need his ability to break the line or produce something ridiculous out of nowhere.
All of the above said, I really hope I’m wrong.
I want to see David Nofoaluma break tackles at will, bust defences open and score highlight reel tries. I want to see Josh Reynolds punching the air after a late, match-winning line break and try. I think most people want to see some Benji Marshall magic to cap off the amazing story that is his return to the club.
Esan Marsters is an absolute giant out wide. His night was cut short due to a head injury but all reports are he will be fine for round one. He and Milne are the two men I’d have in the centres with Nofa and Naiqama outside them.
That is where I believe the points will have to come from.
I just can’t see them scoring enough points to worry sides consistently.
That said, if they do, it’ll be one hell of a ride to enjoy.