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Wests Tigers 2020 season preview

Wests Tigers fans should not need a reminder but the past four years of ladder finishes in the Telstra Premiership tells the story -ninth, ninth, 15th, ninth.

Close, but not close enough. 

The Tigers' final-round shootout against the Sharks at Leichhardt Oval for a spot in the top eight was their best chance of breaking their eight-year finals drought - the longest in the NRL by any club.

Michael Maguire's response to falling short of a finals appearance in 2019 was to keep his team on the training paddock up until the grand final. 

While they may not be tipped by many to do well in 2020, the Tigers' latest recruitment drive and the unpredictability of the NRL is enough to keep them flying under the radar, at least for the first half of the season. 

The 2020 outlook

What's new

Perhaps the biggest change around the club comes with the new coaching structure announced last November for the 2020 season.

Along with a couple of new additions to the playing roster, fresh faces have also been added to the coaching staff under Michael Maguire.

Andrew Gray was announced as the club's new Head of Performance in November after four seasons at Cronulla, while former Rabbitohs Canterbury Cup coach Shane Millard has signed on as Maguire's assistant.

Time will tell how the squad reacts to the new level of methods and standards set by the staff.

Joey Leilua relishing reunion with Luciano

The draw

According to NRL data analysis, Wests Tigers were handed the second easiest draw based on 2019 results.

The side kick off their NRL campaign away to St George Illawarra in round one with their first month of the season played against teams that finished below them on the 2019 ladder.

The representative period could prove a big advantage given the limited number of cattle selected for higher honours in recent years.

They'll clash against Parramatta in round 13 just four days after Origin I, followed by another four-day turnaround for Origin II with a home game against St George Illawarra – who may rest players.

Their next opponents, Melbourne, will be minus their representative stars leading into Origin III, while South Sydney will have just three days to regroup for the final game of the series before meeting the joint venture.

Their final three games of the season – two at home and one at Bankwest Stadium – against the Titans, Bulldogs and Cowboys, could prove to be a pivotal run leading into the finals.

The stat that gives you hope

It was only the fourth time in club history that the Wests Tigers conceded less than 500 points in a season last year, finishing with 486 points against.

That figure was slightly more than their 2018 defensive effort but the difference under Maguire came through attack with 4.1 points scored more per game than 12 months earlier. 

Another increase with their attack and an improvement in defence should lift the Tigers to greater heights.

Five key match-ups of the Wests Tigers' 2020 draw

The coach

Maguire, who inherited most of the squad from previous coaches, enters his second season at the club and is slowly building a side that showed promising signs last year.

In comparison to other mentors in the game, Maguire's job is not necessarily considered under threat, but he'll still feel the pressure if everything falls apart.

The club is desperate for a successful year and anything above their ninth-place finish in 2019 will be considered a 'one step forward two steps back' result.

What you need to know NRL Fantasy-wise

"Luciano Leilua ($503k) has switched clubs, trimmed down and linked up with his big brother Joey and has a huge amount of potential if he can get big minutes in the back row. Tommy Talau ($246k) is a young gun with a lot of attacking upside if he gets called up in the centres while Billy Walters ($246k) is another smokey if he gets time at hooker." - Lone Scout

Wests Tigers buoyed by new recruits

Contract matters

The club will have a few decisions to make around some of their long-serving players, most notably Chris Lawrence and Benji Marshall.

The pair extended their contracts for another 12 months last year and could hang up the boots at season's end.

Matt Eisenhuth looms as a priority for the Wests Tigers to extend, while fellow forwards Elijah Taylor and Chris McQueen are also without deals beyond the 2020 season.

The burning question

Where does Adam Doueihi fit in? 

The former Rabbitohs utility arrives at Concord under some immediate pressure after signing a lucrative deal based on potential. Doueihi's advantage is his versatility but the Wests Tigers aren't short on that in the back line so they'll want to find his spot quickly and stick with it.

Doueihi relieved to be 'back home' at Tigers

Breakout player to watch

Tommy Talau

The 19-year-old got a taste of first grade in round 22 last season and is rated one of the next big stars at the club. 

The son of former Bulldog Willie Talau, Tommy joined the Wests Tigers in 2018 on a development deal. 

The arrival of former Raiders centre Joey Leilua will hamper Talau's chances of nabbing a centre spot so he's likely to be up against Paul Momirovski and Moses Mbye, if he's not selected at hooker, for the other berth.

Adam Doueihi's arrival could also have a domino effect for Talau.

The quote

One thing I've learnt is if you want to work hard at something you'll achieve something. That's the mentality the boys have had coming into the pre-season. I can see the buy-in around the place that we want to be successful. The club has been through plenty but we've been able to put that behind us over time and look forward to what's ahead.

- Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire