Revamped Wests Tigers out to spring surprises after big off-season
A more aggressive forward pack and a team-first attitude are the focus for the Wests Tigers after a strong off-season recruiting drive for 2018.
After losing big names Aaron Woods and James Tedesco following their 14th-placed finish last season, the Tigers have overhauled their line-up with forwards Russell Packer, Ben Matulino and Chris McQueen joining the back and Josh Reynolds and club legend Benji Marshall adding class and experience in the halves.
There was the perception last year that other teams were able to out-muscle the Tigers' forward pack, which ranked above only the Gold Coast Titans and Newcastle Knights for hit-up metres in 2017, but lock Sauaso Sue told NRL.com that would not be the case this year.
"We got a lot of new recruits now with Russell Packer, Ben Matulino and Chris McQueen. A lot of big forwards there and big aggressive guys, so I think we are going to lose that perception real quick in the first few rounds," Sue said.
"They bring a lot of aggression and experience. A lot of them have played finals so I'm looking forward to playing with those guys and hopefully they can lead us into a finals run and a premiership."
Sue said coach Ivan Cleary had put the team through their paces this pre-season, with the Tigers aiming to have an edge in fitness over their opponents at the start of the campaign.
"It's been pretty solid. Probably the hardest pre-season I've had in seven years so I'm looking forward to the season ahead," he said.
"Being fitter, having a higher level of intensity and trying to manipulate the game, its game speed and how tough it is."
Last season the Tigers had the fourth worst defensive record in the league, but a new mentality in the squad could be answer in 2017.
"Just looking like a team – no individuals, everyone on the same page and winning more games hopefully than we did the last few years," Sue said.
Outside back Malakai Watene-Zelezniak joined the squad last April and is excited about the additions of Marshall and Reynolds.
"They've been awesome. Benji's experience he's brought back to the club, to the younger boys and to the rest of the squad – he's brought the boys in tight, he's brought his character and charisma and it's been awesome for our culture," Watene-Zelezniak said.
"You go right through to Josh Reynolds who brings his competitiveness, his willingness to compete on every play."
The Tigers enjoyed an impressive win in their first trial against the North Queensland Cowboys before suffering a 12-point loss to the Cronulla Sharks last weekend. Watene-Zelezniak said the squad took away some positives from both matches but that there was still some work to be done.
"I think we are taking away the confidence we had after the Cowboys game but we had a real test up against the Sharks, they are a great side and they took it to us on Saturday," he said.
"They were a grinding team and they grinded away at us. It was good to test ourselves up against the Sharks.
"We definitely have a lot to improve on but it's a great start and we are taking confidence out of it."
The Tigers face the Sydney Roosters at ANZ Stadium in round one and Watene-Zelezniak told NRL.com their focus would be starting the game strong and maintaining that intensity throughout the match.
"Our main focus is getting through our structure, our phase-one sets which is getting into the game, feeling the rhythm of the game and completing our sets. That's what we're focusing on come round one and hopefully we can be competitive throughout the whole game."