The Wests Tigers were one of the great disappointments in 2021, and while fans will be hoping for a mass transformation, a quiet recruitment period and more questions than a stick could be poked at could leave them looking at a similar fate in 2022.
Luke Brooks and Michael Maguire have spent more of the off-season under pressure, and only early victories will prevent that from becoming the normal, but with a Round 1 clash against the Melbourne Storm and Adam Doueihi injured for the first eight weeks, it could be a blast furnace for the Tigers again in a matter of weeks.
They have made some clever signings - Oliver Gildart from England, Jackson Hastings and Tyrone Peachey - but they look unlikely to be able to turn the club around without a major shift in attitude from the entire playing group.
Their entire 2021 could be summed up in letting the Bulldogs paste them in the final round of the season, and they must avoid games like that.
Ins: Oliver Gildart (Wigan Warriors, 2023), Jackson Hastings (Wigan Warriors, 2023), Henry O'Kane (2022), Tyrone Peachey (Gold Coast Titans, 2023), Fonua Pole (2024), Apisalome Saukuru (2023), Starford To'a (Newcastle Knights, 2023), Brandon Tumeth (2022), Junior Tupou (2024)
Outs: Michael Chee-Kam (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Reece Hoffman (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Joseph Leilua (Featherstone Rovers), Moses Mbye (St George Illawarra Dragons), Russell Packer (retired), Billy Walters (Brisbane Broncos)
Star player: Adam Doueihi
Doueihi might be injured for the first eight weeks (at a minimum), but the moment he comes back he will slot into the halves and assume a critical role for the joint venture.
He will likely slot into the halves, but could also play at centre or fullback. He may have been snubbed as the club’s player of the year, but that was a baffling decision at best and he will be out to get the Tigers up the table in 2023.
Rising star: Kelma Tuilagi
The Tigers have a number of talented youngsters in their ranks, including development players who might receive an opportunity later in the season. The 23-year-old Tuilagi made the most of his opportunity at the back end of last year and will look to push forward in 2022.
A combo forward who can play on the edge or in the middle, he scored two tries in five games last year and will take a bench spot this year.
Most under pressure: Luke Brooks
Forget most under pressure at the Tigers, Brooks may be the most under pressure player in the competition. The half has never quite hit his potential despite inconsistently showing signs of it over the years.
He is the most capped player without an NRL finals appearance and simply must turn the Tigers around this year after an off-season of heavy speculation regarding his future.
Five matches to watch
Match 1: Round 5, vs Sharks, at PointsBet Stadium (Sun, Apr 10, 4:05pm)
Match 2: Round 6, vs Eels, at CommBank Stadium (Mon, Apr 18, 4:00pm)
Match 3: Round 10, vs Cowboys, at Suncorp Stadium (Sun, May 15, 6:25pm)
Match 4: Round 21, vs Knights, at Campbelltown Sports Stadium (Sun, Aug 7, 4:05pm)
Match 5: Round 24, vs Dragons, at CommBank Stadium (Sun, Aug 28, 2:00pm)
While it would be foolish to read too much into a pre-season decision to name five captains, it does paint a worrying picture over how Michael Maguire views this team.
The appointed leaders last year simply didn’t stand up, and radical change is the only way forward. Unfortunately for the Concord-based club, they haven’t done enough of it to their roster, and with Maguire still likely to struggle for talent in his roster, it’s difficult to see the Tigers finishing anywhere other than the bottom four, with the club likely in a battle to avoid the spoon.