James Tamou believes the return of Tim Sheens, signings of Api Koroisau and Isaiah Papali’i and targeting of players by rival clubs is proof that the Wests Tigers are headed in the right direction.
Sheens, the architect of the club’s most successful period from 2003 to 2012, left in bitter circumstances a decade ago but is back as head of football performance and his involvement has coincided with a growing optimism about the Tigers.
Koroisau, a two-time premiership-winning hooker after helping South Sydney to grand final glory in 2014 and repeating the feat with Penrith this year, signed last Friday, while Papali’i rejected other interest before agreeing to join the Tigers from Parramatta.
Both will move to Concord in 2023 and while the Tigers have to wait a year for the services of Koroisau and Papali'i, their decision to sign is an endorsement of the club’s future after finishing 13th this season.
‘It gives me confidence that the club is in a great place,” Tamou, the club's 2021 captain, said as he and other representatives of the Wests Tigers Foundation handed out Christmas presents at Campbelltown Hospital on Tuesday.
“Tim brings a lot of footy knowledge, you can’t doubt that with Sheensy and some of the signings that the club has taken on - Api and Isaiah - are the best signings ever.
“The way the game has gone, and how many times a hooker touches a ball, you need a quick, decisive hooker like that to create.
“Api’s the best in the business after winning the grand final with the Panthers. He’s a great signing for us and an indicator of where this club is heading.”
The recruitment of Koroisau and Papali’i, who was widely regarded as the buy of the 2021 Telstra Premiership, continues a gradual rebuilding of the Tigers roster under Michael Maguire and the board’s decision to back him after an end-of-season review has provided stability.
The 2014 premiership-winning mentor previously coached Koroisau at the Rabbitohs, while he has had charge of Papali’i with the Kiwis, whose entire coaching staff of Maguire, Nathan Cayless and Ben Gardiner are now at the Tigers.
Maguire was largely hamstrung in his ability to recruit when he took charge in 2019 but he signed Adam Doueihi and Shawn Blore in 2020 and last season added boom rookies Stefano Utoikamanu and Daine Laurie, along with Tamou and Kiwis winger Ken Maumalo.
Former NSW Origin utility Tyrone Peachey and England internationals Jackson Hastings and Oliver Gildart are the club’s major signings for 2022, while Koroisau and Papali’i will further bolster the Tigers the year after.
However, rival clubs also have Tigers players in their sights, with speculation that Melbourne had identified Utoikamanu for a swap deal with Kiwis hooker Brandon Smith, while star halfback Luke Brooks has been linked with Newcastle.
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The Tigers have ruled out any possibility of releasing either Utoikamanu or Brooks but Tamou said the fact players were being targeted was a further endorsement of the club’s recruitment strategy.
“It’s a massive wrap for how we got [Utoikamanu] from Parramatta, first of all,” Taumo said. “He’s still a kid too, and as a front rower he’s got a lot of maturing to do."
“He’s an up-and-comer and every team would love to have him but he’s ours for the moment and he was a standout for us last year."
Tamou joined Tigers Harvey Norman NSW Women's Premiership hooker Sophie Curtain and 2005 grand final winner Pat Richards at Campbelltown Hospital on Tuesday to hand out Christmas presents.
“Coming here and being able to help put some smiles on kids’ faces really puts things in perspective when you start thinking about your own life,” Taumo said.
Curtain added: "I know how tough it is for families dealing with illnesses and cancer so hopefully we can make a little bit of a difference to their lives, particularly being Christmas and after the last few years, with COVID".
Richards, whose try from a Benji Marshall flick pass in the '05 decider will forever be remembered by NRL fans, said he was excited about the return of Sheens to the club.
"Tim obviously loves this club and his role is to look after the whole organisation all the way from the grassroots and helping the talent that we have in this club.
“He brings 40-odd years of experience in rugby league, he has seen everything, he has been in so many different organisations and he knows what works," Richards said. "I think already we can see the improvements he is bringing in."