It was another season to forget for Wests Tigers fans as the merged club clinched a wooden spoon for the second straight season.
Their five-year plan, which drew mixed reactions early in the season, has already fallen by the wayside as coach Tim Sheens was replaced by his assistant Benji Marshall a season earlier than expected.
It’s no stretch to say they were the laughing stock of the league at times, dealing with a variety of issues culminating in Sheens’ departure.
With Marshall’s appointment, Tigers fans are hoping for a fresh start from 2024, with the bright spot being that the only direction they can go is upward.
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Read on for the Wests Tigers’ 2023 season in review.
Manly launches 45-second raid on Tigers | 00:32
Record 2023: 4 wins, 20 losses – 17th place
What went well: Despite all their deficits this season, the Tigers have clinched gold with exciting full-back Jahram Bula.
Sheens eyed Bula earlier in the season, saying the 21-year-old will be “a kid who comes out of nowhere”.
The outgoing coach was right, as Bula’s inclusion as a debutant for the Round 8 squad came as something of a surprise. However, Bula was quick to show he belonged in the NRL and hasn’t looked back, and there’s no doubt he’s a player to build a team around.
“He’s just a pure athlete, no matter what sport you put him in, he would do well in it,” Tigers captain Api Koroisau said of Bula earlier this year.
“We needed a spark and the coaches called him and he’s just delivered ever since.”
Speaking of Koroisau: He was also a bright spot for the Tigers. He’s shown his versatility in recent rounds when he switched to halfback, but there’s no doubt he’s at his best in the role of dummy half.
He’s skilful, badass and a player who leads by example.
The former Panther and Sea Eagle has served in successful organizations and even at a difficult time for the club his experience and leadership are an inspiration.
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His penalty goal from the touchline to win over the Dolphins in Round 25 was one of the highlights of the 2023 season.
Rising forward Stefano Utoikamanu’s strong play resulted in a Blues jersey for State of Origin Game II despite playing just 11 minutes.
Aside from the late win over the Dolphins, there were a few other results throughout the season that would have given Tigers fans plenty to smile about.
A tough 12-8 win over a largely capable Panthers side in Round 9 ended a 273-day winless streak. Bula and outgoing half Luke Brooks starred that night.
The arrival of the Fainu brothers as of 2024 is indicative of the Tigers’ recruiting team given how high their standing is.
Latu is an exciting playmaker who has played for the New South Wales Under-19 side this season. His older brother Samuela also played in the win over Queensland.
Expect to see both of them in first grade next season.
Some glimpses of a mostly dark year.
What went wrong: We start with the coaching kerfuffle.
There was mixed reaction to Tim Sheens’ appointment, considering he hadn’t coached in the NRL since 2012 when he was sacked by the Tigers.
It was supposed to be Sheens’ team for two seasons, during which time Benji Marshall was to be brought in as an assistant before being promoted. However, Marshall is in the position a full season earlier, despite having no head coaching experience on his resume.
Sheens’ departure was described as a “circus act” by Fox League’s James Hooper.
“The five-year plan that was laid out … has now been reduced to four years,” Hooper said on NRL 360.
“That’s because Sheens has some concerns about how long he could stay in that role as frontman and head coach for the Wests Tigers.
“His agent called Lee Hagipantelis (Tigers chairman) last week to say that Tim felt he was no longer in the right shape to remain as the club’s head coach and Benji Marshall was put right in sent to the saloon.”
There were reports of a rift between the Sheens, Marshall and recruiting manager Scott Fulton, who was hired mid-season and unbeknownst to the coaches.
Fulton’s godfather Peter Peters threw gas on the fire when he suggested Marshall wanted to sign certain players who would be represented by a management company in which Benji had an interest. That led to the Tigers’ leadership going on damage control.
CEO Justin Pascoe’s role has also come under intense scrutiny.
There were his bizarre actions during a Round 5 home loss to the Broncos. Little has been heard of him since then, and Hagipantelis has been at the forefront of the media for the rest of the year, answering the tough questions.
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Angry roosters maul tigers | 01:59
Pascoe has been Tiger Town’s CEO since 2015, although the club has never reached the final in his time at the helm.
The Daily Telegraph’s Brent Read thinks Pascoe deserves to be under “immense pressure”.
“The calls for his head are pretty constant. In the eight or nine years he’s been (with the Tigers), the club never reached the finals,” Read said on Triple M.
On the field, the Tigers lost their first seven games of the season, and their season ended practically before the end of April.
While Adam Doueihi’s devastating injury wasn’t decisive or devastating to the season, it was an unfortunate aspect of 2023. Doueihi suffered his third cruciate ligament tear in his left knee in Easter Monday’s loss to the Eels and is unlikely to be back until End of 2024 on the field.
For a popular Tigers member, it was another blow that Sheens described as a “nightmare.”
In terms of results on the field, it’s hard to find a club worse off than the Tigers’ 74-0 loss to the Cowboys all season – their worst loss since 1935.
A 54-12 loss to Manly in Round 27 was the culmination of a truly terrible season.
What you need: It sounds obvious but what this club and its fan base need more than anything is some hope.
Will they play in the finals next year? Probably not, but this is a team that has won just eight of 48 over the past two seasons.
If they can pick up at least seven or eight wins under rookie coach Marshall next season, that would be a sign they’re on an upward spiral.
The bar is so low now that I think Tigers fans will be happy if the team shows any kind of improvement.
After a season like this, it’s difficult to pinpoint a position where the Tigers need the most help.
They signed veteran centre-back Aidan Sezer on a one-year deal, a move the whole club was reportedly not interested in but it is merely a stopgap until a better option is found for 2025.
So finding that long-term solution for the half is another focus for Marshall and the Tigers with hopes that Fainu can grow into that role if he’s given the time to develop further.
The Tigers were the lowest-scoring team in 2023 and lacked defensive power.
Their lack of depth down the middle and on the wing became apparent as the season drew to a close, aggravated by the departure of Tommy Talau, who will join Manly next season.
Go: Luke Brooks (Sea Eagles), Tommy Talau (Sea Eagles), Daine Laurie (Panthers)
Come: Aidan Sezer (Super League), Latu Fainu (Sea Eagles), Samuela Fainu (Sea Eagles), Jayden Sullivan (Dragons)
https://www.foxsports.com.au/nrl/nrl-premiership/nrl-2023-wests-tigers-season-in-review-tigers-brutal-review-tim-sheens-benji-marshall-coach-justin-pascoe-wooden-spoon/news-story/d1ae7fb41d93ea7dc29173a824cac5a1 Wests Tigers Season Recap Tigers Brutal Review Tim Sheens Benji Marshall Coach Justin Pascoe Wooden Spoons