Written by Stuart McLennan
The winds of change are blowing through the demountable offices at the Concord home of the Wests Tigers.
Apart from the Tigers building a multi-million dollar Centre of Excellence, the biggest shift has been in squad recruitment where a younger profile is emerging.
Previous Wests Tigers coaches and administrators have opted for the ‘quick fix’, bringing in players at the back end of their careers, often on big-money contracts.
The 2020 NRL squad includes Russell Packer, Chris McQueen and Josh Reynolds, all with long and successful careers in the game. They were recruited by previous head coaches.
Due to chronic injuries and/or form, none of these players are likely to be included in the top 17 in the foreseeable future. Ben Matulino was medically retired at the end of the 2019 season.
Conversely 22 year old hooker Harry Grant, who featured in a recent swap deal with Melbourne Storm for Paul Momirovski, gave a cracking performance in his debut appearance for Wests Tigers last weekend. Grant scored a try and made 46 tackles in the 28-16 victory against the Sharks. It was a welcome sight for Tigers fans with Robbie Farah retiring at the end of 2019 and Jacob Liddle out with injury.
The loan deal appears to be a masterstroke by the premiership-winning coach. The only issue being Grant will most likely return to Melbourne next season. The Storm typically take a hard line on player releases so an extension is highly unlikely, but stranger things have happened in rugby league.
Middle forward Alex Seyfarth (21) was handed his first-grade debut last weekend, performing well in a Wests Tigers side that boasted five local juniors.
New faces included in the squad for Sunday’s trip to Suncorp to take on the Gold Coast Titans! 👀🐯
— Wests Tigers (@WestsTigers) June 2, 2020
Maguire and staff have been adding up and coming players to the ranks since the coach joined the club in 2019. Three players from the 2018 Australian Schoolboys side that toured England, Jock Madden (20, Halfback) Zac Cini (20, Outside Back) and Tommy Talau (20, Utility Back) were recruited in 2019. Talau has so far been the stand out of the trio having made a top grade appearance in 2019.
‘Madge’ and the recruitment team turned their attention north of the border in 2020, snaring two stars of Queensland’s victorious under 18’s State of Origin team, Jake Simpkin (Hooker) and Reece Hoffman (Centre). The club pulled off a coup recently when they snatched Shawn Blore (20, Second Row) from the Penrith Panthers. Blore had huge wraps on him at the Panthers after captaining the Panthers’ SG Ball side to a National Championship title in 2018 and playing for the NSW U18’s and Junior Kangaroos in the same year.
To top it off they have signed a rising star in twenty-year-old Parramatta front-rower Stefano Utoikamanu. Utoikamanu has played Origin for NSW at under 16 and 18 levels and is in the Eels top squad this season. He is due at Concord in 2021.
While most fans would be content to see the Wests Tigers make the top eight for the first time since 2011, it is clear that Michael Maguire is patiently building a solid foundation with the goal of taking the black, orange and whites to a grand final in the next few years. The club hasn’t done that since 2005 when they had a couple of young guns named Farah and Marshall.