The Wests Tigers are looking down the barrel of a tenth straight season without seeing September footy.
Their coach Michael Maguire has been upset at the team’s poor on-field performance, swinging the sword at his halves combinations throughout the year.
At the season’s end, the Tigers released eight players, including club veteran Benji Marshall. With Sam McIntyre and Josh Addo-Carr not signing – and both were priorities for the club – the Tigers will be looking for a shake-up in the spine. One substantial position the club must address is fullback.
Since the departure of local junior James Tedesco, the club has yet to lock down a long-term number one. With the release of development player Dylan Smith, the Tigers will be in the market for a fullback if they can fit one inside the cap. In the current squad, these are the contenders.
Doueihi joined the Tigers in January after being released by Souths after the club signed prized target Latrell Mitchell. The local junior played all 20 games for the club in 2020, averaging 155 metres per game.
Doueihi has some clear talent but is fullback his position? He had a match-winning performance against Manly in Round 17, in which he played at centre, and has been touted as the long-term replacement for Benji Marshall in the halves.
He has had a few errors in the role against the Eels and Bulldogs where early kicks in the set resulted in tries. Doueihi also misses some speed, which would come in handy. For example in Round 8 against the Panthers, Doueihi was chased down by opposing fullback Dylan Edwards after picking up a grubber kick in his in goal.
Mbye has been and will be until 2022 a stone in the shoe for the Tigers. Originally coming to the club as a replacement for Tedesco, Mbye started as club captain in 2019 wearing the number one.
In 2020, he only played one full game in the role, just making 68 metres. Yes, Mbye has huge talent, which the club is yet to exploit, but his versatility to play at every position in the backs and hooker makes him the perfect number 14, where he played for the Maroons in 2019.
Maguire may start him at fullback or he may join Josh Reynolds and Russell Packer in fighting for an interchange role.
Kepaoa has played five games for Wests after a mid-season release from the Roosters to have an available spot for Sonny Bill Williams.
Kepaoa has looked encouraging on the left wing, scoring four tries in five games. In Round 20, Kepaoa had a brilliant match, getting past his opposing winger Blake Ferguson multiple times in the nail-biting match.
But questions are surrounding his ability under the high ball. In Round 13, Kepaoa had six handling errors and against the Eels in Round 20 he dropped a crucial kick from Mitch Moses, which almost led to a Waqa Blake try.
But Maguire sees something in him. He is signed until 2023. If he can fix his handling off kicks and being under pressure, Kepaoa could be a real threat in the Tigers’ spine.
The Tigers are missing, among several other positions, a fullback who has played consistent footy in that position.
Daine Laurie, a Panthers youngster, has had his name floated a few times, with the possibility that he is very close to signing a two-year deal. We’ll see.
Tedesco is off contract at the end of the year, but I doubt he would even consider the Tigers with their low-ball offers and ten-year finals drought.