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Wests Tigers fans can expect to see shades of 2005 this season.
Not only is Tim Sheens back at the helm, but with the help of the legendary Benji Marshall, he’s in the process of transforming the Tigers’ attack to somewhat emulate that premiership-winning season.
A lot has happened since the pair lifted the trophy 17 years ago.
Sheens relocated to the UK while the club churned through four coaches — six if you count the interim coaches — and Marshall left, then returned, then left again before retiring.
There’s also only been two finals appearances and the club collected its first wooden spoon.
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But the band is back together — Robbie Farah too — and they’re already making their mark.
There’s been big personnel changes and now, as five-eighth Adam Doueihi told foxsports.com.au the team is set to play “a different brand of footy” too.
Doueihi referred to the ‘05 team’s “attack mentality” and revealed every player has been “doing 200 passes every day” during pre-season to ensure they’re ready for Sheens’ game plan.
But this isn’t just a copy and paste job in a desperate bid to deliver the club’s first premiership in almost two decades. Sheens and Marshall are confident that the roster they’re building has the skill to execute the new style to their liking.
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BACK TO THE FUTURE
Last season the Tigers averaged just 15 points a game and conceded on average 28 points a game.
The ‘05 premiership-winning side averaged 29 points a game but conceded 22 — essentially only one try less than the team that got the wooden spoon.
Sure, they’re two entirely different teams that played in different eras of the NRL but it’s clear attack was the bread and butter in ‘05, while it barely had a pulse in 2022. Defence was the area the Tigers were stronger in last season.
It seems the Tigers’ attack will be resuscitated this season though with Doueihi declaring: “We’re not going to be scared to throw the ball around.
“But we have to earn the right to put our plays on,” he added.
Doueihi also gave an insight into just how much work the playing group is doing in attack and why Sheens and Marshall are confident the new style will suit the team.
“Obviously with Tim, Benji and Robbie from the ‘05 team, they played a different brand of footy that year and scored more points than the opposition. They had an attack mentality and defence would go on the back of that so we’re sort of doing the same this year,” he said.
“With our roster, Tim and Benji see it has players that can move the ball and like to throw the footy around.
“They’ve even got all our big boys and every player doing 200 passes every day we’re here and getting everyone up to scratch with the simple catch-pass drills and making sure everyone in the 17 can be confident to catch and pass the ball under pressure.
“There’s obviously different plays and shapes that us players haven’t seen before but the more we practice them the more we can see how it makes sense and how we can use it come game day.”
Halfback Luke Brooks has been at the Tigers his entire career but was in the lower grades last time Sheens was at the helm so didn’t get to experience the veteran coach’s game plan.
But he can still recognise the similarities to what’s been building at Concord over the summer.
“You just have to go back and watch how the Tigers used to play under ‘Sheensy’, he’s always been known for his attacking style of play,” Brooks told foxsports.com.au.
“He hasn’t changed too much with that and I think that will suit the players in our side.
“We don’t want to be one of those teams that does five hit-ups through to a kick, we actually want to move the ball and play to our strengths.”
Doueihi is “excited to show the fans” the Tigers’ new style and that may be because it “definitely” suits the way he likes to play.
“Me and Benji spoke thoroughly in the off-season about what sits me and my game,” he said.
“I’ve come from a tough footy background as well and have applied some touch footy plays that can relate to rugby league. Whether it be a four vs three scenario or three vs two, just how he wants me to run it, we’ve found plays that suit me, ‘Brooksy’ and ‘Dainey’ (Daine Laurie) where it gets us running and using our passing game.”
Laurie is just as keen on the new style.
“It’s kind of off-the-cuff footy and taking opportunities when they’re presented. It’s 100 per cent my style, just playing flat and fast to try and get the opposition on the back foot,” he said.
Meanwhile, marquee recruit Api Koroisau told foxsports.com.au: “I think everyone knows how ‘Sheensy’ likes to coach so I think it’s one of those eyes-up footy sort of styles which is really good because it suits my game.”
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THE BENJI FACTOR
Marshall will spend the next two seasons as Sheens’ assistant before taking over as head coach in 2025.
The club legend has totally immersed himself in the role. In fact when it was announced last July, he resigned from his high-profile media commitments — including being an expert analyst on Fox League — to get a head start on the work that needs to be done at the Tigers.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s been very hands-on throughout pre-season.
But aside from his coaching duties, just Marshall’s presence alone is having a tremendous impact on the players.
“It’s pretty cool,” Doueihi said about Marshall’s involvement.
“Even when me or ‘Brooksy’ can’t do a drill he jumps in and the way he can still pass the ball and the vision he has that other players can’t see is quite incredible — he’s still getting try assists and tries at training so he’s definitely still got it.
“To work with him every day, personally I try and pick his brain and he’s always so positive about me and my game.
“He’s someone I can lean on during the season, he’s done everything in the game so I’m sort of just absorbing it all in.
“He is (one of the boys) a bit but there’s obviously that difference with him being on the coaching staff now.
“Playing with him and having spoken to people that have played with him, everyone has a lot of respect for him. Everything he’s done on and off the field, he’s kept a good name.
“He’s one of the boys but his coaching hat is still on and if he has to pull us up on something he definitely does, but he knows how to have a fun time.
“When it comes to the field work he’s very positive and very smart with the way he talks and sees the game — everyone is all ears when he speaks.”
Marshall and Sheens shared a father-son relationship back when they worked together as player and coach at the Tigers.
It’s very different this time round but they seem to be a match made in heaven so far with Alex Twal telling foxsports.com.au his seventh pre-season with the club has been “refreshing” because of them.
“There’s a lot to look forward to. I just love their approach, they both have such different approaches to what I’ve been used to and I think it’s really refreshing,” Twal said.
“You come to training with a bit of a spring in your step because they both have knack for making training enjoyable.
“Having been here for a while, to be come in here and be so excited to train is such a good feeling — it’s so refreshing. Especially off the back of last year, they’ve done such a tremendous job this pre-season and everyone is buying in.
“There’s a lot of young faces and with that comes energy.”
Twal also explained that the duo “have a real attack focus” but stressed “that doesn’t mean we don’t pride ourselves in defence.”
He added: “There’s been a lot of backing yourself and making sure we work together.”
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There’s several new faces at the Tigers that will help bring Sheens’ plans to life including three-time premiership-winning hooker Koroisau.
Brooks is particularly excited about Koroisau’s addition to the 17 given his craftiness out of dummy-half will ease the load on him at halfback.
“You can already tell he’s made a massive difference to our side,” Brooks said.
“What he does around the ruck helps me so much, it’ll take a lot of pressure off me because other teams’ defence will be focused on him and what he’s doing around the ruck.”
Koroisau is clear on his role at No.9 but played it down when asked about what he can do for Brooks and Doueihi.
“I think anywhere I’ve played I’ve tried to help out (the halves)… But it’s not as big as what people think it is. It’s more just subtle things and trying to read the game myself so I can help out,” he said.
Another player that’s expected to make a huge difference to the Tigers this season is Isaiah Papali’i, who Laurie declared a “wrecking ball” that “adds a bit of flare to the edge.”
He’ll play outside of Brooks.
“I’m really looking forward to playing with ‘Ice’, I think he’s someone that will suit my game,” Brooks said.
“He’s a good hole-running back-rower, but also in defence he’s also a good quality player and you can really see that when we’re out on the field training.”
Add in English international John Bateman and 19-time Kangaroo David Klemmer — who is setting a high standard at training — and the Tigers have starpower they’ve been desperately missing.
Koroisau is fresh off back-to-back premierships with the Panthers and Papali’i got valuable grand final experience with the Eels last season.
Twal believes having those types of players around will do wonders for the club.
“To have them blokes on board this year, it gives the boys a lot of confidence going forward,” he said.
“Not only that, just having their experience at training, they know what success looks like and they’ve been in the game for a while. It’s been really good to have more experienced heads to lean on.”