It’s been a long 10 year wait, but previous seasons mean nothing. Every season sees every team back to zero. Here is why Wests Tigers are top eight bound in 2021.
Wests Tigers announced on Friday, February 12th that new Penrith Panthers recruit James Tamou will be the captain of the side in 2021. On paper or to an outsider, that probably is a shock. But to those within the club, or those who follow the club’s every word intensely (we are the latter), it was very predictable. Jimmy lead the Penrith Panthers to a minor premiership and grand final while in 2015 he scored a try in the North Queensland Cowboys’ only grand final win. Throw in 12 tests and 14 Origins, he knows what it’s like on the big stage. He knows what winning culture and elite teams look like. The captaincy is among several changes that coach Michael Maguire has made this summer. Unlike in previous years and with previous coaches, player recruitment has been well calculated and the spending on salaries much more cautious. There hasn’t been a superstar signed, but there hasn’t been superstar coin added to the salary cap. Former Origin star James Roberts is on close to minimum wage. Joe Ofahengaue has his contract topped up by his former club the Brisbane Broncos. Former Penrith Panthers captain James Tamou is on just $400,000 (that’s not a lot for a starting front row forward, if you didn’t know).Young gun Stefano Utoikamanu is on decent coin for an inexperienced player, but if he lives up to his hype he will be more than worth every dollar. Many Wests Tigers fans felt like the signings lacked a marquee signing. While that’s somewhat true, our current cap situation means that it’s probably not going to happen until the 2022 and 2023 seasons when our highest paid players are coming off contract. In terms of the outs, the 2021 season will be the first since 2006 without veteran Chris Lawrence. Benji Marshall was offered an off the field role but declined and has signed with Souths. Josh Reynolds has gone to the UK Super League as has Elijah Taylor. Chris McQueen and Matt Eisenhuth are also on the list of players whom have not only been released, they’re all closer to the end of their careers than they are to the start. Tamou is the only player signed that was born in the 80s. Our squad’s average age has dropped significantly. The joke about the Wests Tigers being the superannuation club is coming to an end.
The signings that are coming in all have either speed, size and power. The forwards incoming like Joe Ofahengaue, Tukimihia Simpkins, James Tamou and Stefano Utoikamanu are exactly what the doctor ordered. In recent seasons, our team just seemed to lack that momentum and consistency in the forwards that the top teams have. While one of our best forwards in Josh Aloiai did a runner to the Northern Beaches, Tamou, Ofahengaue and Utoikamanu all have one thing in common: they’re all post contact machines. Also don’t underestimate how much we missed Zane Musgrove in 2020 as well. Injury meant he only played six games and he was impressive in almost all of them. There’s also our guy Shawn Blore who’ll be better for his first offseason as an NRL player. We got a good taste of what he can do in his rookie year and apparently he’s been training the house down. Expect more of Blore flooring blokes in 2021.
We here at WestsLife have been one of the shrinking number of people on Luke Brooks island and maintained that the kid (wait, he’s 26 already!) needs a forward pack around him to work with. We stand by that. But with the big boppas in front of him now, this is his time to shine. Halves partners, be it Adam Doueihi or Jock Madden, should suit him well. It’s a popular opinion that he goes missing when he’s paired up with a game dominator like Benji Marshall. Well the king has become a peasant of Redfern now. Brooksy, this is your team now. Prove us right (we’re due to be). The aspirations for even the most one-eyed Wests Tigers fans this season is eighth place. We’re desperate for it. Experts are saying it’s impossible. The memes about our beloved club are endless. But 2012 to 2020 are run and won. 2021 is a new year and we’ve got a premiership winning coach with a premiership experienced captain. It just smells a little different around Concord this year. Here’s hoping that’s a waft of finals footy in the air. Bring. It. On.
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