Brooks, Maguire futures still clouded at eternally rebuilding Tigers

featured, League, NRL 2022, Wests Tigers

Wests Tigers will be in an eternal rebuild unless they can be patient with their roster, their coach and hardest of all, their long-suffering fans.

Owners of the NRL’s longest finals drought, stretching back to 2011, it seems they’ve been on the treadmill of mediocrity every season since.

Every two or three years there’s a roster clean-out, a new coach brought in, a different path to supposed success, and then it all gets torn down and the cycle perpetuates.

If you don’t do a full rebuild or go into one trying to keep a foot in both camps of finals contention and investing in youth, it doesn’t work.

They have moved in the past two seasons closer than ever before towards a proper rebuild.

The likes of Joey Leilua, Moses Mbye, Russell Packer are recent departures after the Tigers 12 months earlier said farewell to Ben Matulino, Chris Lawrence, Chris McQueen, Josh Reynolds, Josh Aloiai, Elijah Taylor and Benji Marshall.

Very few of these players were giving the club value for money and, apart from Aloiai who was lured to Manly with a more lucrative offer, were never going to be part of the Tigers’ future for 2022 and beyond.

Michael Maguire has invested in players who can be part of their next few seasons in fullback Daine Laurie, five-eighth Adam Doueihi, centre Tommy Talau and prop Stefano Utoikamanu.

Doueihi will miss the opening rounds of the season due to his torn ACL but these four players need to form the nucleus of their teams of the future.

The club has also done something which has been foreign to them in recent years and attracted top-tier talent rather than pick up the scraps when players have been offloaded from other teams.

Panthers hooker Api Koroisau and Eels forward Isaiah Papali’i will be welcome additions in 2023 and, unlike many marquee signings in recent years, they still have plenty of years left in them to give a decent return on their investment.

Tigers head coach Michael Maguire

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

The ongoing debate surrounding Luke Brooks’ place at halfback has shown no signs of letting up in the past few months and with Doueihi sidelined and the Knights still keen to get Brooks on their books, it will again be a talking point.

Wests Tigers’ new football supremo Tim Sheens has consistently stated he wants Brooks to stay but until he signs a contract extension, it will continue to be a distraction.

Speculation around Maguire’s employment will also rear its ugly head apart from the unlikely scenario of the Tigers rising into finals contention from the get-go.

The team finished a respectable if not frustrating ninth in his first season taking over after the dramatic and ultimately abrupt Ivan Cleary exit to Penrith, but they have gone backwards to place 11th in 2020 and 13th last season.

He barely survived a dreaded end-of-season review in October but that minimal show of faith won’t mean much if the team struggles again in 2022 and the notoriously fickle board gets tetchy.

Maguire has been around long enough to know that the ship needs to be heading in the right direction or he will be walking the plank.

What’s new
Jackson Hastings returns to the NRL and will be a handy replacement for Doueihi at five-eighth until he returns and then find a place somewhere in the 17 as a bench utility, lock or hooker.

Tyrone Peachey offers similar versatility after switching from the Titans while English international Oliver Gildart could be just what they need at centre – a player who can make a break or create for others. At 25, Gildart fits the Tigers’ timeline of steady growth over the next couple of seasons.

Star on the rise
Last season was supposed to be a breakout year for second-rower Shawn Blore but a serious pre-season wrist injury limited him to just 13 games. Possessing size and skill, he can give the Tigers a physical presence on the edge, complementing the go-forward of middle men Alex Twal, James Tamou and Stefano Utoikamanu.

Who’s under the pump
It should be the executives. This club has been run in a haphazard manner for most of the 22 seasons since the Magpies and Balmain entered into a shotgun marriage. Apart from the golden run to the 2005 premiership and the 2010 and ‘11 seasons, they have missed the finals 19 times. For the past decade in particular the board has zigzagged its direction all over the place and the lack of vision has blurred any chance of the team enjoying sustained success.

Best-case scenario
Probably ninth, as painful as that might sound to fans. It’s hard to see this roster making the finals but that shouldn’t matter. Even if the team isn’t in contention for a playoff berth for the majority of the season it’s not the end of the world as long as they’re improving and not taking on any more bad contracts.

Worst-case scenario
They could end up with the wooden spoon, particularly if the noise around Maguire’s tenure starts up again and they make a mid-season switch of coaches. Their depth chart is littered with a lot of squad members with minimal NRL experience and after already starting the season with Doueihi rehabbing his ACL tear, they can’t afford any more injuries to key players.

Round 1 predicted team

1. Daine Laurie
2. David Nofoaluma
3. Tommy Talau
4. Oliver Gildart
5. Ken Maumalo
6. Jackson Hastings
7. Luke Brooks
8. James Tamou
9. Jacob Liddle
10. Stefano Utoikamanu
11. Luciano Leilua
12. Shawn Blore
13. Alex Twal
14. Tyrone Peachey
15. Thomas Mikaele
16. Luke Garner
17. Joe Ofahengaue

Others: Adam Doueihi, Reece Hoffman, William Kei, Asu Kepaoa, Jock Madden, Alex Seyfarth, Jake Simpkin, Tuki Simpkins, Kelma Tuilagi, Junior Tupou, Zane Musgrove

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