In many other seasons, Wests Tigers' 12-12 record would have been enough for them to scrape into the finals but in the closest competition ever, they ended up in ninth with their finals hopes flickering out one week before the playoffs.
What they did well was underpinned by scrappy, scrambling defence and it earned them a few impressive low-scoring wins but an ongoing inability to consistently post points. Their failure to take advantage of attacking chances hurt them plenty of times.
They had to completely restructure their attack when their roster was overhauled mid-season with a new fullback and hooker in Moses Mbye and Robbie Farah, while big-name recruit Josh Reynolds was barely sighted at five-eighth due to injury. With all their 2019 playmakers on board through the pre-season, fans will be hoping to see more fluency with the ball.
Reynolds is hopeful of a clear run with injury through the pre-season and into next year; combined with a full pre-season for the re-jigged spine that should lead to more fluency in 2019.
″With the likes of Faf [Farah] and Moses coming, it changed the spine again,″ Reynolds told NRL.com.
″I wasn't a part of that [due to injury] but looking from the outside in at what those boys could do as a four was really good.
″Combinations don't just happen, they've got to be formed. Hopefully we can get into pre-season and work on that and build on some of the attack the boys did towards the end of the season.
″One of the big things we look at is where we finish our sets. I definitely need to work on my finishes to sets with kicks. It is a massive thing, you want them coming out of their corner. I think we were up there in repeat sets so the boys kicked well near the line.
″At stages our ball handling, we were on top in a lot of games but we'd drop a ball out of nowhere and it takes three or four sets to get back into it.
″That's probably every team but we were a new team and had to work out what we were good at and what we needed to work on and we can do that this pre-season.″
The Tigers made a habit of winning close games earlier in the year but that slipped away a bit as the season went on.
″Winning one or two more of those close games gets us into the semis and we have to look at that,″ he added.
″You go through the year at the end of the year and think 'we should have won this one, we should have won that one' but you don't want to rely on that.
″This pre-season we'll be talking about making sure we do the little things right because that's our team, we're not a team full of superstars. We've got a few here or there but we're a group of blokes that want to work hard for each other and if we stick to that we'll get more wins than losses.″
Home & Away record
7-5 at home, 5-7 away
Wests Tigers managed a slight winning record at home and a slight losing record away. Neither was dramatic but the sum total was not quite enough wins to bank a finals berth. Their home games were split between five venues, with one game each in Auckland and Tamworth (for one win and one loss) and a losing record of one win and two losses at both Leichhardt and Campbelltown. They had a perfect 4-0 record in home games at ANZ Stadium.
Leading try scorers
Unsurprisingly, given they scored the fewest tries in the NRL, the club had no individuals crack double figures in 2018. Impressive recruit Corey Thompson was the best, with nine tries in 20 games across fullback and wing. Veteran second-rower Chris Lawrence crossed for seven while outside backs Ken Naiqama and David Nofoaluma managed six each.
The Tigers were among the less-effective teams at punching through contact with the ball, finish 13th for post-contact metres. Their best performer was bustling centre Mahe Fonua, whose per-game average of 57.6 post-contact metres was fifth-best across the NRL. Sauaso Sue's 4.18 post-contact metres per-carry was seventh best across all players in the NRL. Off the ball, the Tigers conceded the equal-most post-contact metres per game with 525.
Try scoring – attacking channels
A decent majority of their tries originated on the left part of the field, resulting in 26 of their 61 tries for the season scored on the left or centre-left channel. Just seven of their tries were scored in the centre-right channel. Their overall tally in 24 games placed them last in the NRL.
Tries conceded – defending channels
The Tigers mostly defended fairly well in 2018 which is an encouraging platform heading into next season. Like most clubs a fair proportion of tries conceded came on the flanks, with 18 on the left wing and 19 conceded on the right wing.
However more than a quarter of tries were caused through the middle of the field, resulting in 17 tries scored in the centre part of the field. They had the sixth-best record overall with 75 tries conceded.
Reynolds said the team's defence underpinned what they did well in 2018, while the attack took something of a back seat. ″We were probably defending well enough that we said 'this is our blueprint' and went off the back of that,″ he said.
″We didn't really talk much about the attack, we said 'it will come' because we're a new team. We had a pretty new spine. We could have attacked better at stages but definitely our blueprint at the start of the year was our defence.″
Tries conceded from penalties
The Tigers were just inside the top half of the competition when it comes to tries conceded from penalties, with 28. Five clubs performed better with the Dragons and Storm at just 21, while the Eels and Titans fared worst with 42 each. The club's most-penalised players – Luke Brooks and Elijah Taylor (20 each in 2018) – were both equal 16th on the list ofmost-penalised players. The Tigers had six sin-binnings which is again in the top half of the competition but they did pay a price for it, averaging 3.3 points worse off than their opponents during sin-bin periods – the fourth-worst in the NRL.
Metres gained from offloads
The Tigers were right in the middle of the pack for offloads in 2018 with their 268 placing them seventh. Esan Marsters (54) and David Nofoaluma (33) led the way. The club was third best in the NRL in terms of most metres gained per game from offloads, with 74.9. Marsters (271 metres for the season), Nofoaluma (251 metres) and Michael Chee Kam (219 metres) gained the most total metres for the club from offloads.
The Tigers finished with a 75.6% goal-kicking success rate with 65 goals from 86 attempts, placing them ninth in the NRL (Bulldogs at 86.5% were top). Marsters was the main kicker with 56 from 73 at 76.7%. The only other attempts were by Tui Lolohea, who had nine from 12 at 75%.
The Tigers missed plenty of tackles in 2018 – their 956 at almost 40 per game was comfortably an NRL high – but their steady defensive record means those missed tackles were easily the least expensive of any team. The club averaged one try conceded for every 12.7 tackles missed, highlighting how well they covered for missed tackles. At the other end of the scale, Manly conceded a try for every 6.9 missed tackles.
Best running half
Halfback Luke Brooks had a breakout season and among other facets of his game his ball-running really came to the fore. Brooks averaged 83 run-metres per game, the best of his career. Nathan Cleary's 78 was next best among NRL halves. No halfback managed more than his 11 line breaks and 65 tackle busts either.