The problems at the Wests Tigers have been discussed at great length on The Roar, and everyone has their own theories as to what got the club to such a level of flat-line mediocrity.
The reasons and excuses include the merger, the dysfunctional board, Michael Maguire, the crazy recruitment policy, the lack of identity, Joey Leilua, Ivan Cleary’s bus and the playing squad.
In reality, most of the above factors have played their part in the Tigers’ poor record since the club’s inception in 2000.
In their 22-year history, the Tigers have made the top eight just three times, winning the competition in 2005, and being eliminated in the preliminary final in 2010 and in the qualifying final in 2011.
In other words, the Tigers have languished in the bottom half of the competition for 19 of the 22 years they’ve been in existence. Incredible!
The last decade has been particularly bleak for the Tigers, and the club has found itself in a downward spiral over the last three years, finishing in ninth, 11th and 13th place in those years.
There was no lower point for the club, though, than when they lost their Round 25 match last year against wooden spooners Canterbury by 38-0.
That game showed anyone who was watching that the Tigers weren’t playing with any heart and had just given up. There wasn’t one player who looked like they believed in either themselves or the team.
So on the back of that recent history, how do things shape up for the Tigers in 2022?
Not good, I’m afraid, and unless the Tigers take some immediate action, they’ll be picking up their first ever wooden spoon next year to add to their trophy cabinet.
At this late hour, and with the 2022 competition now just months away, it’s far too late for the Tigers’ hierarchy to address the underlying problems within the club, and to turn the team into top-eight contenders in 2022.
That outcome will take some time. But what Tim Sheens and company can do are two relatively easy things that should see them avoid the wooden spoon. They need to:
1. Sign Josh Hodgson
2. Say goodbye to Luke Brooks.
Although still contracted to the Raiders for 2022, Hodgson’s time with Canberra looks to be up, and the 32-year-old English international is effectively looking for a new club for 2022.
The Wests Tigers have shown some interest, but it appears that the two clubs are haggling over how much Canberra will contribute to Hodgson’s contract next season.
The Tigers should bite the bullet, pay an extra $100,000 out of their own pockets if necessary, and get Hodgson on board for 2022 and 2023.
Hodgson is a very experienced player, with over 270 first grade games and 23 Test matches in his career, and knows what it takes to win, and win ugly when required.
Sure, he’s fallen out with Canberra coach Ricky Stuart, but who hasn’t. Hodgson is the type of player who can instill some grit into the Tigers, get their sets moving forward, and control the game’s big moments. He’s a scrapper, a tough competitor, an old pro, and he doesn’t like to lose.
If the Tigers do get Hodgson on board, they should go the whole hog and also make him captain. As nice a guy as James Tamou is, his leadership leaves a lot to be desired, and seems to end once they emerge from the dressing sheds. Hodgson is the man that can instill some pride in the team again.
It’s now been confirmed that Mitchell Pearce is off to the south of France and that the Knights are desperately seeking his replacement, so what better chance for the Tigers to offload the perennially disappointing Luke Brooks than right now.
Reportedly on $850,000 per year for the next two seasons, Brooks looks like the worst investment decision since Apple co-founder Ron Wayne sold his share of the company for $800 in 1976.
Brooks was always going to be the next big thing, and a player with promise, but broken promises aren’t what the Tigers need right now.
Let’s look at his history. Brooks became the Tigers’ first-choice number seven in 2014 and just completed his eighth full season with the club. In that time he has had an overall average win rate of just over 41 per cent, and has never taken his side to finals football.
His win rate has dropped alarmingly in recent years, from 46 per cent in 2019, 35 per cent in 2020 and to just 31 per cent in 2021. Even Corey Norman has a better average career win rate at 43 per cent.
Let’s face it, if Luke Brooks was a starting NFL quarterback he’d have been run out of town long ago. Sure, Brooks can’t play the opposition by himself, but in the modern game it all starts and ends with the halfback.
The Tigers have signed halfback Jackson Hastings for the next couple of years and despite some troubles and inflated ego early in his career, his time in England has improved his game to the point that he looks to be a far better option for the Tigers than Brooks.
Hastings has had three very successful seasons in the UK with an average win rate of 64 per cent, won the Man of Steel Award in 2019, played in two Super League grand finals, and also played Test football for England.
He knows what it’s like to win, and has big game experience. The Tigers don’t need two starting halfbacks next season and it’s time not only that they moved on from Brooks, but also that Brooks moved on from the Tigers, and takes the opportunity to rejuvenate his career with Newcastle.
With these couple of changes, the Tigers could line up this way in 2022.
1. Daine Laurie (age 22) – He had a break-out season for the Tigers in 2021.
2. David Nofoaluma (age 27) – He is one of the hardest wingers to contain in the game.
3. Oliver Gildart (age 25) – He has played four Test matches and won two Super League grand finals with Wigan.
4. Tommy Talau (age 21) – He is a rapidly improving outside back who can score a try, and just needs to improve his consistency.
5. Ken Maumalo (age 27) – He is a big, powerful and experienced winger who knows his way to the try line.
6. Adam Doueihi (age 23) – He has been the Tigers’ most dangerous attacking player since he arrived in 2020.
7. Jackson Hastings (age 25) – He has the big game experience and winning attitude to turn the tide for the Tigers.
8. Stefano Utoikamanu (age 21) – He is a massive weapon and the big improver in the Tigers’ pack in 2021.
9. Josh Hodgson (age 32) – He is an experienced international who likes to play the game hard and is an ideal leader for the relatively young Tigers team.
10. James Tamou (age 32) – He is the most experienced player in the club who has a good work ethic.
11. Luciano Leilua (age 25) – He is a rapidly improving back-rower who is a destructive runner with great ball skills.
12. Luke Garner (age 26) – He is an underrated back-rower who works hard in defence and scores more than his fair share of tries.
13. Alex Twal (age 25) – He is a rugged performer who doesn’t shirk the hard work for his team.
14. Tyrone Peachey (age 30) – He is an experienced and versatile performer who can spark the attack from the bench.
15. Shawn Blore (age 21) – He is a big unit who likes to mix it and doesn’t take a backward step.
16. Thomas Mikaele (age 23) – He is a bruising forward whose game will go to the next level if he can reduce his error rate.
17. Alex Seyfarth (age 22) – He is big, mobile and looks like a natural.
If they can play at their best, that’s not such a bad squad, with an excellent spine, some good outside backs and a bruising pack of forwards.
2022 won’t be anything to celebrate for the Tigers. But if they make these couple of 11th hour recruitment calls, benefit from the fresh set of eyes that new director of football Tim Sheens will hopefully bring, and get the best out of their brand new centre of excellence, they can stop the slide down the premiership ladder, avoid the 2022 wooden spoon, and build a foundation on which they can look forward to some future success.
And who knows, they may even return to the top eight sometime this decade.