It’s been nine long years since the Wests Tigers last appeared in the most exciting part of the season, the NRL finals series.
In that time the club has tried to take steps forward but in almost every instance has ended up moving backwards. That is until now.
With former premiership-winning coach Michael Maguire now in his second season at the Tigers, there is finally something to look forward to for the club’s fans as they continue to improve under Madge’s watch.
The Tigers have arguably seen their greatest improvement as a team over the past four weeks, beginning with the dropping of club legend Benji Marshall after their disappointing five-point loss to the Gold Coast Titans in Round 4.
Prior to the dropping of Marshall, the Tigers had the third-worst defence in the competition, having conceded 100 points in their opening four matches, behind only Gold Coast (129) and the Brisbane Broncos (132)
The Tigers have since improved to the seventh-worst defence in the competition and have conceded the fourth-fewest points (59) over the course of the past four weeks. Only Penrith (54), South Sydney (54) and the Sydney Roosters (55) have conceded fewer points than the joint venture since the beginning of Round 5.
Conceding 59 points in four weeks is a strange thought for most Tigers fans out there as the team has generally been one of the worst defending teams in the league over the past ten years. In fact the Tigers have conceded the third-most points (4714) since the start of the 2012 season, ahead of only the Gold Coast (4770) and the Newcastle Knights (4802).
This comes after a seven-point loss to the Penrith Panthers on Saturday night in a game in the Tigers uncharacteristically fought for the whole 80 minutes. This historically would’ve been a match in which the Tigers would’ve rolled over after conceding a try in the opening minute of the match.
The Tigers have shown their defensive improvements over the past four weeks, which have enabled them to stay competitive for the full 80 minutes against both Penrith and Canberra. The right edge of the Tigers, which has conceded 15 of 28 tries this season – per Stats Insider – faced a tough challenge on Saturday night against the ever so damaging Viliame Kikau.
In spite of conceding a try down the right edge in the opening minute, the Tigers defence was able to bounce back and prevent the Panthers from exposing their weakness on that right edge, just as they have done ever since the dropping of Marshall.
Despite their improvements in defence, the Tigers have struggled to come up with points recently when they’ve come up against sides in the top eight, scoring just six points against Canberra and just 12 against the Panthers. That said, they’ve had no trouble pilling on points against teams below them on the ladder, scoring 36 and 34 points respectively against the Cowboys and the Bulldogs.
Whether that’s down to the relatively fresh combination of Luke Brooks and Josh Reynolds or just their inability to break down good defensive structures, I’m not sure, but if they can figure out a way to enable a more free-flowing attack, they could well and truly make their first finals appearance since 2011.
In the meantime they’ve got an important match against the Rabbitohs on Friday night as the Tigers occupy the middle of the table on eight points with the Sharks, the Sea Eagles and their opponents this week. I guess we’ll see whether the Tigers can continue to improve over the coming weeks.