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The first time the Wests Tigers brought in Tim Sheens to save them, they won a premiership in three years in one of the most stunning turnarounds in premiership history.
This time around, if he can just get them back to the final in that amount of time, that will be an amazing achievement.
Sheens took over as Wests Tigers coach in 2003 and after a lackluster start in which they finished 13th and ninth in his first two years in charge, they rose to the premiership in one of the most remarkable end-of-season races of all time.
After an acrimonious split when he was sacked nearly a decade ago, he was appointed last June to become their football performance manager, but travel restrictions meant he didn’t put the feet under his desk in Concord before November.
Sheens backed coach Michael Maguire, who survived a dreaded end-of-season overhaul last season, to turn things around for the team.
And boy is there a lot to fix. Since Maguire took over from Ivan Cleary when he controversially left for the Panthers three years ago, the Tigers’ results have gone from sixth to ninth place in 2019, to 11th the following year and at 13th last season.
Their roster was devoid of top-tier talent with Joe Ofahengaue, who was used off the bench in Origin I, their only player picked in the series.
They were behind the eight ball from the start with only one win coming in the first nine rounds and apart from a victory over a depleted Panthers side by Origin, they upset Newcastle twice and their other five wins were on others also. St George Illawarra, North Queensland (twice), the Bulldogs and Brisbane.
When they were whipped 38-0 in the final round by the Canterbury wooden spoons, Maguire’s tenure looked almost over, but eventually the board announced he would return for 2022.
However, with fifth-eighth Adam Doueihi, center Tommy Talau and second rower Shawn Blore sidelined long-term with knee injuries, Maguire’s hopes of a quick turnaround look dashed.
The Tigers’ problems stem from their toothless defense. Conceding 29.8 points per game is usually enough to easily be the worst in the NRL, but last year they were lucky the Cowboys were even more inept at 31.2.
North Queensland also saved from being the worst in tries conceded (5.3) and line breaks allowed (6.5).
New Starford signing To’A says he’s looking forward to earning his teammates’ trust during pre-season camp as the boys approach their first trial next Friday https://t.co/afmCOxifTe
— Wests Tigers (@WestsTigers) February 8, 2022
No team wants to be known as soft, but it’s hard to describe the Tigers’ defensive effort any other way — they’ve allowed more tries (22) on calls six times than any other team.
It’s the kind of tackle that’s impossible to defend.
Oddly enough, they ranked fourth in most missed tackles at 32.8 but were actually the top-ranked team in preventing offloads at 8.6.
With Doueihi, Talau and Blore sidelined, they are already exhausted before a ball is kicked in 2022.
Jackson Hastings will provide tenacity at five-eights, England import Oliver Gildart should provide a boost in crosses while former Titans utility Tyrone Peachey can add panache to their back row.
Other than that the squad is much the same as last year so Maguire, with a dash of Mr Sheens polish, needs to make the most of his choice lads in half-back Luke Brooks and second rower Luciano Leilua while continuing to grow. young prospects like prop Stefano Utoikamanu and full-back Daine Laurie for the Tigers have a chance to finish among the rest again.