Written by Stuart McLennan
Photo by Wests Tigers Media
Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire has been handed his best opportunity to put his stamp on the squad in 2021 with salary cap space and the release of a number of players.
Madge won a premiership with South Sydney in 2014 on the back of an intimidating forward pack and speed to burn out wide. With three Burgess brothers dominating the middle and the likes of Greg Inglis, Alex Johnston and Dylan Walker out wide South Sydney found the premiership winning formula.
After missing out on Josh Addo-Carr and Latrell Mitchell despite offering lucrative deals, Wests Tigers have recruited size and speed via players looking for an NRL opportunity, continuing their career, or reestablishing themselves in the case of James Roberts.
The Tigers have finished one place outside the top 8 six times in the club’s short 21 season existence. They have played finals football at the end of three seasons. Last year Wests finished in a disappointing 11th position. Maguire has no choice but to mix things up and take a punt with recruitment to break the finals drought 2021.
Fresh from captaining Penrith to a grand final appearance last season, Jimmy adds a big body to the Tigers pack at 195cm and 115kg. He provides leadership and experience gained from 268 club appearances and representative honours at the highest level.
After a disappointing 2020 with the Brisbane Broncos, the Tongan international will be looking for a return to the form that saw him rated highly as an NRL forward. At 190cm and 113kg ‘Big Joe’ can potentially add starch to the Wests Tigers middle.
A junior standout forward, Utoikamanu is the ‘one that got away’ for the Parramatta Eels and a rare recruitment victory for Maguire and the Wests Tigers. The former Australian Schoolboy and NSW under 18s representative, stands at 191cm and 115kg. The Tigers have big expectations that he can play a major role in setting a solid platform in 2021.
The 19-year-old New Zealander who once dreamed of playing for the All Blacks is yet to play first grade but if trial form is any gauge then ‘Tuki’ is likely to change that in 2021. At 195cm and 105kg with a big motor, the young forward looks to be a smart pick up from the Cowboys.
After two trial matches Tuilagi, who was signed from the Melbourne Storm as a development player in 2021, appears to have potential. A former Junior Kiwi, the 192cm and 108kg forward will have an opportunity to make his mark at Wests Tigers in 2021.
Recently signed from South Sydney, Tom Amone is an aggressive prop forward who had his progress impeded by an ACL and MCL injury. The 181cm and 110kg former Australian Schoolboys representative has played 9 NRL games and will be a handy addition to the team.
New recruit Tom Amone will join his new teammates for training today as the squad narrows its focus now for Round 1! 💪👀https://t.co/lgEKmMQUBf
— Wests Tigers (@WestsTigers) March 1, 2021
It took just one game and two tries for Wests Tigers fans to talk about their fullback in a way that hasn’t been heard since James Tedesco departed for the Roosters at the end of 2017. Admittedly the trial victory was against a Manly side without their big guns but the glimpses of speed and footwork was enough to suggest he will start as the number 1. Restricted to just 3 three first grade games at Penrith where he was behind a number of quality fullback options, Laurie might just turn out to be the buy of the year.
Devastating in attack when he is ‘on’, ‘Jimmy the Jet’ was a budget pick up for Wests after he was released by South Sydney at the end of last season on compassionate grounds. Since 2011 Roberts has played 151 games across four different clubs and scored 75 tries. At his best, he has been an Origin player and a threat to the best defensive lines. It is well documented that the speedy centre has spent time away from the game dealing with personal demons. If he can maintain focus Roberts look set for a bumper season.
Allan Fitzgibbon and Edene Gebbie
These two outside backs have been recruited on train and trial contracts and will most likely start in the NSW Cup. Both have been blessed with speed to burn. With two NRL squad spots left to fill at least one of them might find themselves in first grade before the season is out.
After impressing in the lower grades, Fitzgibbon came to the Wests Tigers looking for an opportunity and has already attracted the attention of fans with his speed and attacking prowess in trial games.
Gebbie was lured back to Sydney recently from a mountain village in Papua New Guinea where he returned home during Covid lockdowns. Anyone who has seen his highlight reels representing PNG, Wynnum Manly or South Sydney in the Perth Nines will know he has the potential to light up the NRL given time and development.