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Preview 07: Wests Tigers - Australian Rugby league News
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globalrugbyleague - Sun, 11 Mar 2007 10:26:00 GMT
After failing to ever look like retaining their maiden premiership in 2006, the Wests Tigers will attempt to become contenders again under the radar.

However the statistics if they keep producing the trends we’ve seen over the past couple of seasons, might make taking the trophy back to Concord in 07 about as hard as finding a happy Queensland Reds fan.

Following the decision by former halfback Scott Prince to sign on with the Gold Coast Titans, Sheens recruited former Eels five-eighth John Morris.

Given the shortage of high-profile halfbacks who were off-contract after the June 30 anti-tampering deadline last season, this signing did make sense.

Morris – who made his first grade debut with Newcastle against the Eels in 2001 – hasn’t won too many premierships let alone get selected for State of Origin like Scott Prince did.

But he is consistent, hard working, young, ready to progress to that extra level in his game while proving extremely versatile.

Over the course of the past two seasons, he’s been tremendously reliable working inside both Tim and Jeremy Smith, so the signs are he’s capable of developing a good halves partnership fairly quickly with Marshall.

He’ll also add an extra general-play kicking option in the side next to names like Brett Hodgson, Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall.

But history says the game is already sewn up for the Tigers. Five of the past six teams that have won the NRL trophy since 2000 have been directed by halfbacks who have been at their clubs on average for at least five-years.

While Shane Perry (Brisbane – 2006) bucked the trend as a first-season halfback to win the premiership, this one in a million effort is like winning lotto.

It’s not a common occurrence that coaches or fans can rely heavily on and that’s what concerns me about the Tigers performance this season.

The Tigers didn’t score a win in the trials over any of their NRL opponents and did get beaten quite heavily by everyone’s tip for the wooden spoon, Canberra.

Then again in trial games coaches don’t have video footage of the other clubs who are also trialing out players that may or may not be up against you when you face them in the real competition.

Teams with new halves pairings can go very well as was evident when Morris and Tim Smith helped guide the Eels to a minor premiership in 2005 during Smith’s debut season.

But it all faltered in the preliminary final against the Cowboys. Many believe had the Eels had a more experienced halfback that day, they would’ve contested the Grand Final and probably won it.

The Eels had not been defeated by the Tigers in any of their clashes that season. But at the end of the day it was familiarity amongst the halves that helped the Tigers in 05.

So are there any self-doubts being carried by the team into the opening round? Probably not. But there is a steep learning curve ahead and patience will be needed in bulk.

A big concern is the durability of Benji Marshall. We know that the Tigers can only win 32.2% of their games without him, so they’ll want plenty of game time from him.

But is that feasible? Will Sheens be able to expect 80 minutes from Benji or will he let him play only forty minutes in his first few weeks back?

And do the Tigers have a better ‘life without Marshall’ contingency plan this year if he goes down? The name of Daniel Fitzhenry is brought up as Marshall’s replacement if the unthinkable happens.

He’s probably the only alternative available.

Although we’ve been told to look out for Tim Moltzen – an 82kg halfback from the Gold Coast – and Wayde Dunley (brother of Manly hooker Shayne), neither have played in Premier League (the grade directly below the NRL).

Moltzen apparently reads the game well and has a good passing game on both sides, so he might be looked at but I fear nothing more then that unless the stocks are really low.

On the forwards front, some points are lost in experience but this is something the Tigers were prepared for and can probably cope with.

Compared to Willie Mason or a Brad Thorn, Bryce Gibbs, Keith Galloway, Todd Payten and Ryan O’Hara may not look the most intimidating talent.

But if technique is right on game day and the club is on a roll, these players are capable of giving some big names a hard time on the field. They are no pushovers.

It’s always going to be their backline where the Tigers can least afford to have injuries.

Wests Tigers did have a problem with discipline last season also and were one of the worst teams when it came to conceding penalties, so that’s another area they need to improve in.

They became the first team since the formation of the NRL in 1998 not to make the top eight after winning the grand final the previous season.

Defense will be tightened up this year despite the Tigers conceding more tries and points overall in 2005 then last season.

WHAT THEY MUST DO IN 2007?

Make the top eight. There is a belief amongst critics that if they’ll either have a stellar year or a really bad one.

With a premiership under the belt, it’s easy to forget that this team struggled for years to make the eight and then when they did, they also grabbed a trophy.

A rare double achievement. But have they been too successful too soon?

They need to step up and play like a squad that is capable of giving their fans something to look forward to every year not every five seasons.

Coach: Tim Sheens
CEO: Steve Noyce
Predicted Finishing Position: 11th.

Gains: John Morris (Eels), Danny Galea (Panthers), Peter Lewis (Eels), Tom Haberecht (Dragons), Luke Harlen (Sharks), Michael Howell (France) and Jason Moodie (retirement).

Losses: John Skandalis (Huddersfield), Shane Elford (Huddersfield), Jamaal Lolesi (Huddersfield), Scott Prince (Titans), Anthony Laffranchi (Titans), Michael Crockett (Warriors), Sam Harris (Rugby).

Wests Tigers Squad: Dean Collis, Robbie Farah, Daniel Fitzhenry, Stuart Flanagan, Liam Fulton, Ben Galea, Danny Galea, Keith Galloway, Bryce Gibbs, Dene Halatau, Luke Harlen, Bronson Harrison, Chris Heighington, Brett Hodgson, Ben Jeffrey, Chris Lawrence, Benji Marshall, Shannon McDonnell, Tevita Metuisela, Jason Moodie, John Morris, Ryan O’Hara, Todd Payten, Taniela Tuiaki, Paul Whatuira. - Read More, Here