Round 1 Predicted Teams – Wests Tigers: How far will high-priced recruits lift wooden spooners up ladder?

    As part of a daily series profiling the expected Round 1 sides for all 17 NRL clubs in 2023, the Wests Tigers have revamped their entire set-up in a bid to avoid another wooden spoon.

    After finishing 16th, it can’t get worse for the Wests Tigers, right? Well, they could finish 17th in 2023 with the Dolphins added to the competition.

    But the Tigers look to be on an upward trajectory after a bunch of key signings and a couple of their best young prospects fully fit again after a year on the sidelines.

    Following the mid-season sacking of Michael Maguire and Brett Kimmorley filling in as an interim, Tim Sheens is back as coach more than a decade after his first stint at the helm with Benji Marshall serving as his assistant for two years with a view to taking over in 2025. 

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    It wouldn’t be a surprise if Marshall assumes more responsibility over the course of the 2023 season and ends up taking on the post ahead of schedule the following year.

    (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    Who’s new? 

    The Tigers got in early to sign Panthers hooker Api Koroisau and Eels second-rower Isaiah Papali’i more than 12 months before they’d play a game for them and both recruits have only increased their value in the time since.

    Koroisau was arguably the best hooker in the NRL last season, taking over the NSW starting role from Damien Cook, while Papali’i was a powerful performer on the edge for Parramatta.

    The Tigers made another late addition with the recent signing of Knights prop David Klemmer who still has a few good years left in him after just turning 29. He gives the Tigers a veteran enforcer they’ve been lacking.

    They are still hopeful of landing English second-rower John Bateman before the start of the season to give their new-look pack an added dose of aggression and star power.

    Charlie Staines has also been added after being deemed surplus to requirements at Penrith. He has shown flashes of brilliance out wide but also been inconsistent during his first three seasons in the top grade. 

    They’ve also boosted their outside backs with former Waratahs speedster Triston Reilly returning to league after playing for Newcastle and Souths in the junior representative ranks while David Nofoaluma has lobbed back at Concord following his late-season loan stint with the Storm.

    Isaiah Papali’i. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

    Who’s gone? 

    Sheens offloaded Jackson Hastings to Newcastle in the Klemmer deal as he thought he could get by with Luke Brooks and Adam Doueihi in the halves. It’s a gamble because Hastings was far more consistent than those two last season.

    Veteran skipper James Tamou was unwanted but has avoided retirement by picking up a one-year deal back with the Cowboys. 

    Second-rowers Luke Garner (Penrith) and Kelma Tuilagi (Sea Eagles) were also allowed to leave because the Tigers were confident their roles could be replaced with their recruits.

    It’s been a clearing of the decks at Concord with Jacob Liddle and Zane Musgrove switching to St George Illawarra, veteran utility Tyrone Peachey released to the Panthers in the Staines deal, back-up playmaker Jock Madden joining the Broncos and Oliver Gildart linking with the Dolphins.

    Former Origin star James Roberts has retired after injured curtailed his effectiveness at the Tigers.

    Key spots to unlock 

    Fullback is the main question for Sheens with incumbent Daine Laurie facing a challenge from Staines for the role. Laurie has shown slightly more consistency than his counterpart in their first few seasons in the NRL but is yet to cement the spot long term.

    Sheens views Blore and Talau as additional recruits after they didn’t play a game last year and believes they are virtually automatic inclusions in their first-choice line-up.

    If they can sort out a deal for Bateman before the season starts, Blore could end up at lock with Ofahengaue switched into the front-row rotation.

    Their depth in the halves is super skinny so Sheens will need Doueihi and Brooks to not only click as a combination but to also avoid injury with Laurie as a potential five-eighth their only other playmaking option with NRL experience.

    Veteran journeyman Will Smith is on a train and trial deal so he may end up filling the back-up halves role on the roster.

    Daine Laurie. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

    Round 1 predicted team

    1 Daine Laurie
    2 Charlie Staines
    3 Tommy Talau
    4 Brent Naden
    5 David Nofoaluma
    6 Adam Doueihi
    7 Luke Brooks
    8 Stefano Utoikamanu
    9 Apisai Koroisau
    10 David Klemmer
    11 Shawn Blore
    12 Isaiah Papali’i
    13 Joe Ofahengaue
    14 Jake Simpkin
    15 Fonua Pole
    16 Alex Twal
    17 Alex Seyfarth

    Other squad members: Apisalome Saukuru, Brandon Tumeth, Junior Tupou, Justin Matamua, Ken Maumalo, Rua Ngatikaura, Sione Fainu, Starford To’a, Asu Kepaoa, Triston Reilly, Tukimihia Simpkins.

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