In light of the defection of home-grown stars James Tedesco, Aaron Woods and Mitch Moses from Concord, the Tigers now find themselves with a blank canvas of a roster, and plenty of money to spend. The steps taken by management over the coming weeks and months will have ramifications on the years to follow, and decide how long the Tigers spend in a “re-building phase”, and how quickly they return to NRL relevancy. With this is mind, it seems like the perfect time to take stock of exactly where the Tigers stand, and what options remain for 2018.
Players Under Contract For 2018
Josh Aloai, back-rower
Luke Brooks, halfback
Michael Chee-Kam, centre/second row
JJ Felise, utility forward
Chris Lawrence, second row/centre
Jacob Liddle, hooker
Esan Marsters, second row
Chris McQueen, second row
David Nofoaluma, wing
Suaso Sue, utility forward
Moses Suli, centre/wing
Elijah Taylor, lock
That’s it. Which gives the Tigers a 2018 team which currently looks like this:
2) David Nofoaluma
3) Moses Suli
4) Michael Chee-Kam
7) Luke Brooks
9) Jacob Liddle
10) Suaso Sue
11) Chris Lawrence
12) Chris McQueen
13) Elijah Taylor
14) Josh Aloai
15) JJ Felise
16) Esan Marsters
Evidently, the Tigers have a lot of holes to fill. Assuming the NRL decides to move forward with 30-man squads, the Tigers have 18 remaining spots, to be be filled by players of varying quality. Gaping holes exist at fullback and five-eighth, as well as on the edges, where the Tigers have been notoriously weak defensively; but virtually every position will require some form of recruitment, if only for depth. Let’s break the situation down by position.
The biggest (and probably most disappointing) hole the Tigers have to fill is at fullback, where long-term custodian James Tedesco has reportedly left to join the Roosters. Available established options are relatively thin; Darius Boyd and Billy Slater are off-contract, but neither would be considered realistic chances of leaving their current clubs. Behind them, most options are either untested or over-valued. Consider the following players:
0.5 LB per game
0 LBA per game
1 TB per game
0.4 LB per game
0.4 LBA per game
6.6 TB per game
0.43 LB per game
0.57 LBA per game
1.43 TB per game
The first two players, Jarryd Hayne and Josh Dugan, are off-contract and available – at roughly $1 million per season. The 3rd player, Titans utility Tyrone Roberts, is also off-contract, but would likely cost a fraction of that. The point of this exercise isn’t to argue that Roberts is better than Hayne and Dugan – most would agree he is not. The point is to bring to your attention that in a salary cap situation, the goal shouldn’t be to sign the best player; it should be to sign the best value player. Are Dugan and Hayne better than Roberts? Probably. If they cost twice the salary cap hit, will they produce double the output? Almost certainly not. If they can find the gap in the output by spending the money elsewhere on the roster, then they’d do well to not waste over ten percent of their salary cap on players who, while very good, would likely not be among the very elite at their position.
Tyrone Roberts, Titans: Roberts has spent the majority of his seven-year NRL career to date as an enigmatic half who’s never really fulfilled his enormous promise. In 2017, he’s filled a utility role for the Titans, but it was in his month-long stint at fullback that Roberts started catching people’s eyes, with some judges suggesting Roberts’ form could push Jarryd Hayne to centre. Roberts would give fantastic roster flexibility, as well as provide a reliable goal-kicking option. Good option for a great price.
Jarryd Hayne, Titans: It’s widely speculated that Hayne will remain at the Titans for another year, mainly because nobody else will pay his $1.2 million dollar asking price. He’s undeniably talented, and his signing would surely put bums on seats – Campbelltown stadium is reportedly “his house” after all. Whether or not he’d provide good value though is questionable at best.
Josh Dugan, Dragons: Dugan is at a stand-off with the Dragons while he waits to see if any other club will offer him elite fullback money. Outside of the Tigers, it’s unlikely anyone else would. He’s probably the best fit if the Tigers were to choose to go the big-money route to fill the position, but again we’re unsure if he’d provide bang for their buck. Remember, Dugan has been a key piece for the Dragons for several seasons now, most of which they’ve been one of the least effective attacking units in the competition. He’s very good, but probably not good enough to rescue the Tigers’ offense on his own.
Other viable options: Kurt Mann, William Zillman, Michael Gordon, Alex Johnston
The Tigers are set on one wing, with the recent re-signing of David Nofoaluma. The other wing though, remains vacant. Moses Suli could fill that spot, though he projects as a long-term centre. Kevin Naiqama is off contract, as is utility Jordan Rankin.
Daniel Tupou, Roosters: Most expect Tupou to re-sign with the Roosters in the coming weeks, though with the recent addition of James Tedesco to their roster, it’s conceivable that they may not be able to afford him. A tall, Test-calibre winger, Tupou is a great finisher and is excellent under the high-ball, which may come in very handy if they no longer make line breaks with the frequency that they’re used to.
Kyle Feldt, Cowboys: Another excellent finisher, Feldt comes from a team with a winning culture, and would give the Tigers a noted try-scorer on both flanks.
Michael Gordon, Roosters: If Tupou were to be re-signed, Gordon would almost certainly be cut loose. Though he’s known these days primarily as a fullback, he made his name as a winger at Penrith, and was an exceptionally good defensive one at that. Would give added roster flexibility, and goal-kicking as well.
Kevin Naiqama, Tigers: Though we think they can do a lot better than Naiqama as a first-choice NRL outside back, he’d likely come cheap, is familiar with the team, and can fill-in at wing or centre. Would provide excellent depth.
Other viable options: Bryson Goodwin, Brendan Elliott, Kalifa Fai Fai Loa, Alex Johnston, Jason Nightingale, Jorge Taufua
The Tigers have future superstar Moses Suli under contract, and they’ll be expected to persist with him through his development due to his unquestioned potential. Whether that comes at centre or wing for the time being though, remains to be seen. Jamal Idris is off-contract, but at his best is one of the league’s top defensive centres, and has played some of his best football under new Tigers coach Ivan Cleary. If they re-sign Idris, centre is the least of their concerns.
Jamal Idris, Tigers: As mentioned, Idris is an excellent fit if he remains at the Tigers. He provides an extra forward when required, and defends the edges very well.
Will Chambers, Storm: Another excellent defensive centre, Chambers has been in outstanding touch so far in 2017. With the loss of Cronk in Melbourne and a shortage of established halves with which to replace him, they should comfortably be able to afford to keep Chambers though.
Will Hopoate, Bulldogs: Hot garbage as a fullback, Hopoate remains an excellent centre, and is a sound defender. Should be available as the Bulldogs look to re-jig their attack.
Blake Ferguson, Roosters: Another off-contract Rooster who could be looked at as a result of their splash signing of Tedesco. Can make questionable decisions in defense, but is undeniably talented with the ball in hand.
James Roberts, Broncos: One of the league’s most exciting offensive players, Roberts would go a long way to replacing the spark lost by absence of Tedesco. It’s worth noting though that Cleary was coaching at Penrith when Roberts was let go for disciplinary reasons, and it’s unclear what their relationship is like now.
Other viable options: Kirisome Auva’a, Gerard Beale, Kerrod Holland, George Jennings, Tim Lafai, Dane Nielsen
With Mitch Moses expected to be gone to the Eels, the Tigers have a gaping hole to fill at five-eighth. Few would regard Luke Brooks as an elite half, leaving the Tigers in dire need of help in the number 6 jersey.
Anthony Milford, Broncos: The best half available outside aging superstars Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston, Milford would give the Tigers the sort of match-winning talent they require next to Brooks. They likely couldn’t fit Milford in with a million-dollar fullback, but if they were to go with an option like Tyrone Roberts, they could afford to drop a million on a five-eighth like Milford, who we regard as better relative to his position than Dugan and Hayne are to theirs.
Cooper Cronk, Storm: We were of the view that the best fits for Cronk were the Bulldogs and Dragons, but those ships have likely sailed with the signings of Kieran Foran and Gareth Widdop respectively. That leaves few realistic options for Cronk, outside retirement. We doubt whether paying over a million dollars a season for a short-term rental is good business for a rebuilding club such as the Tigers, and we doubt whether Cronk would be interested in participating.
Tyrone Roberts, Titans: Though we would prefer a Roberts/Milford combo at fullback and five-eighth, in the event that the Tigers chose to go with a top-dollar fullback, Dugan/Roberts would be just fine as well. We think Roberts has looked better in limited outings as a fullback than he has in several seasons in the halves, but he has the ability and experience to be a perfectly serviceable five-eighth, if not an elite one.
Josh Reynolds, Bulldogs: We don’t think Reynolds offers great value for his likely asking price – we’ve long considered him a better fit at hooker than five-eighth. Reynolds would be a serviceable 6 for a team with an elite halfback, but Brooks isn’t that. Having said that, we love Reynolds as a footballer, and he’d add the right kind of attitude to the team.
Jack Littlejohn, Tigers: The Tigers would be in deep trouble if Littlejohn were to be their first-choice five-eighth, but as a depth option, Littlejohn has been excellent, and would come cheap. We’d definitely re-sign him.
Benji Marshall, Broncos: Like Cronk, we don’t love the idea of a short-term rental at five-eighth, though Marshall would come at a fairer price, and would surely be a sentimental favourite of the local fans. We wouldn’t normally consider him, but given the dire state of available NRL halves, he has to be mentioned.
Other viable options: John Sutton, Ray Thompson, Fa’amanu Brown, Josh McCrone
The Tigers have featured pathetic forward packs going back at least as far as the Tim Sheens era. Indeed it says a lot about the Tigers that an honest workman like Aaron Woods is the best forward they’ve had in years (if not ever). The Tigers now have a blank slate in the front row and the opportunity to craft their forward pack in whatever image they like. It’s subjective, but here at The Obstruction Rule, we like our forwards big and nasty.
Ben Matulino, Warriors: Matulino has been heavily linked to the Tigers already, largely because of his connection to former Warriors coach, Cleary. Matulino is an outstanding prop, and would immediately become a forward leader at the club.
Russell Packer, Dragons: Another player with ties to Cleary, Packer has added plenty of aggression and thuggery to the Dragons much-vaunted 2017 forward pack. Packer is currently in contention for a New Zealand Test jumper, and would make the Tigers forward pack one that opposition teams fear.
Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Storm: Probably the best prop available at the moment, Asofa-Solomona is a giant human from a formidable forward pack. We’d be surprised if the Storm were to let him walk, given that they’ve already lost Jordan McLean for next year, but stranger things have happened.
Mose Masoe, Dragons: Masoe spent a year under Cleary in 2013, and produced some great football for the Panthers. He missed a whole year in 2016 after suffering a major knee injury, but if he could recapture his best form, he’d provide a lot of impact from the bench.
Ava Seumanufagai, Tigers: Seumanufagai has established himself as a solid first grader through five seasons with the Tigers, and would be a perfect companion piece to a formidable pack, but is not the sort of player you’d want as your top dog.
Jeremy Latimore, Sharks: A reasonably priced bench forward, Latimore has spent time under Cleary at both the Warriors and Panthers. He offers very little punch with the ball in hand, but is a fantastic defender, and offers reliable, affordable depth for his team. Would be an astute signing.
Jack Stockwell, Knights: Another suitable bench option, Stockwell has been one of the better players in an awful Newcastle forward pack. Purely a depth option.
Other viable options: Adam Blair, James Gavet, Tim Grant, Patrick Kaufusi, Francis Molo, Agnatius Paasi, Andy Saunders, Dave Taylor, Peni Terepo, David Tyrell, Sitaleki Akauola
In the back row, the Tigers are relatively well covered for starters. Elijah Taylor has been fantastic at lock, and Chris McQueen has been added from the Titans to give them some punch on one edge. We don’t love Chris Lawrence as a starting second-row option, we think he fits better as a utility from the bench. So, we’d be looking for a starting second-rower, preferably one who’s a stout defender and can run good lines, as well as a few depth options.
Luke Lewis, Sharks: We wouldn’t typically recommend a short-term rental, but given the lack of top options at the position, the Tigers could do worse than to add Lewis in the mean-time. He’s an elite edge player, a fantastic defender, and could well be surplus to requirements at Cronulla as they try to keep their squad together.
Corey Harawira-Naera, Panthers: Though he’s only played a few first grade matches, Harawira-Naera has shown extraordinary potential as an edge runner. Given that Penrith have re-signed almost their entire top roster for 2018, they might struggle to keep this boom youngster.
Alex Glenn, Broncos: Out of sorts of late, Glenn has regressed into something of a poor man’s Matt Gillett. However, once again, with the shortage of viable options, Glenn would provide a capable edge defender from a winning culture.
Bodene Thompson, Warriors: In a weak class of second-rowers, Thompson provides good line running and plenty of first grade experience. Again, we prefer him as a high-end reserve rather than a first-choice starter, but beggars, choosers and all that.
Tony Williams, Sharks: Apparently unhappy with his lack of opportunities at Cronulla, Williams would likely be available for a song. Whether Cleary would be keen to add a notoriously lazy under-achiever remains to be seen, but as a low-risk, high-reward potential bench option, they could do worse.
Other viable options: Joel Edwards, Aidan Guerra, Chris Heighnington, Ryan Hoffman, Frank Winterstein, Joseph Paulo
At hooker, the Tigers are relatively well stocked, assuming that they re-sign the in-form Matt McIlwrick. Jacob Liddle is considered to be a future superstar, and they would only really require depth at the position.
Matt McIlwrick, Tigers: McIlwrick is the perfect complement to Liddle. He’s in terrific form, is well-established in first grade, would be affordable, and wouldn’t create a drama when Liddle is ready to take over. We’d re-sign him immediately.
Nathan Peats, Titans: The only other established first-grade hooker available, Peats would however effectively block Liddle’s progress to the top job, and cost money that would be better spent elsewhere.
Other viable options: Sione Katoa, Manaia Cherrington, Cameron King, Travis Waddell
So what say you, Tiger fans? Who would YOU sign for your team?