The battle for spots will be at an all-time high at Wests Tigers in 2018, with Coach Ivan Cleary putting together an extremely strong squad.
With 10 brand new faces “on the bus” for the year ahead and a great mixture of youthful talent and experience in the midst, the team that takes to the field in Round 1 against the Roosters will be vastly different from the one that ended 2017 at Leichhardt Oval against the Warriors.
In our "The Contenders” series, we take a look at those who will battle it out for spots in 2018, and the intriguing decisions that lie ahead for Cleary in selecting a team for Round 1!
First up, we look perhaps the most intriguing position for Wests Tigers heading in to 2018 —fullback. James Tedesco’s departure has opened up a spot in what is shaping as a highly contested backline for the year ahead, and there are a number of strong candidates in contention...
NRL Games: 65
At Wests Tigers since: 2017
Having made the transition from New Zealand to Australia midway through 2017 with aplomb, Lolohea is seemingly the front-runner for the vacant fullback position heading into the 2018 season. The electric playmaker showcased throughout the year with Wests Tigers and again at the World Cup with Tonga his skills through the middle of the field, with his support play in particular worth noting for a potential move to the back. Lolohea is certainly familiar with the number one jersey, having played 22 matches at the back in his career, as well as a Test match for Tonga in 2015, and his strong playmaking ability mixed with his good running game makes for an intriguing prospect. An endorsement from teammate Benji Marshall certainly doesn’t hurt his cause, either!
NRL Games: 92
At Wests Tigers since: 2015
Kevin Naiqama displayed his versatility on more than one occasion for Wests Tigers in 2017, playing every position in the backline and on both sides of the field throughout the year. In particular, Naiqama played at fullback when Tedesco was away on State of Origin duties, and certainly looms as a contender for the number one jersey as a result of that. The Fijian international captained the Bati to a remarkable semifinal berth at the recent Rugby League World Cup from fullback, and also has NRL experience at fullback for both Newcastle and Wests Tigers. Naiqama’s tireless work ethic and high fitness levels certainly make him an appealing candidate for the vacant number one jumper.
NRL Games: 35
Super League Games: 52
At Wests Tigers since: 2018
One of two players arriving at Wests Tigers in 2018 from Super League with NRL experience, Corey Thompson’s claims for the fullback position in 2018 stem from the fact that he most recently played the position of any player in the squad. Thompson featured at the back for Widnes Vikings in the 2017 Super League campaign, and while primarily considered a winger, the 28-year-old showed himself to be a good addition out the back with three tries in seven games. The former Bulldog will certainly feature in the “Wingers” article of our Contenders series more than he does here, but there’s still a good argument to be made for Thompson about why he’d be just fine for the No.1 jersey.
NRL Games: 87
At Wests Tigers since: 2013
While Nofoaluma has himself played down the notion of filling in at fullback, he sneaks on to this list as a bit of a dark horse option. Let’s be real — Nofoaluma will almost certainly start on the wing in Round 1 after another superb season of improvement that left him as one of the best wingers in the game — but the local junior does have fullback history in him, having grown up playing fullback through the grades. Nofoaluma also moved to the back in the latter stages of the 2015 season when Tedesco was sidelined with a broken jaw, with his power running game helping the team on kick returns and also in attacking positions. It would certainly be a surprise to see the winger don the number one jersey come Round 1, but it wouldn’t be the craziest idea out there given his proven ability and inherent talent as a footballer.