Why Tigers still don’t cut it with NRL heavyweights
IF Wests Tigers are to break the NRL's longest finals drought, they will have to do so with a forward pack that on paper doesn't cut it with the competition's heavyweights.
While Tigers chief executive Justin Pascoe maintains his club came out on top in the player trade war after signing Joey Leilua and Adam Doueihi, there is still an alarming lack of experience where it arguably matters most.
It is still their main concern, and it cannot be ignored or overstated.
Aside from veterans Chris Lawrence and Elijah Taylor, who are both coming towards the end of their careers, there isn't another Tigers forward who has played 100 NRL games.
Lawrence has 240 in the bank and Taylor 175 but they will be pushing to make coach Michael Maguire's starting side.
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Take them out and what you have left is a lot of young talent but no standout forward leader.
The main forward contenders are Alex Twal with 54 games from 18 starts, Josh Aloiai with 72 (36 starts), Thomas Mikaele 23 (five starts), Oliver Clark nine (eight starts), Matt Eisenhuth 56 (36 starts), Zane Musgrove 27 (nine starts), Michael Chee Kam 76 (30 starts)
and Luciano Leilua 43 (10 starts).
Put those forward stats up against the likes of the Sydney Roosters, Canberra, Melbourne and Manly and you can quickly see the Tigers' predicament.
Maguire is still having to battle some serious salary cap challenges that were not of his making.
Two of the club's highest-paid forwards, Russell Packer and Chris McQueen, are not really in the mix.
And the Tigers don't have an experienced dummy-half now that Robbie Farah has retired. Young Melbourne recruit Harry Grant is the first-choice hooker but he has played just 29 minutes in the NRL in two games.
The other least-experienced pack in the NRL will be Brisbane but they have boom youngsters such as Payne Haas, David Fifita and Tevita Pangai Jr coming through.
While there is no questioning the talent all the Tigers' young forwards have, none are yet State of Origin or top-tier Test players.
They have also lost their best forward from last season, Ryan Matterson, to Parramatta.
While the Tigers now have plenty of backline strike power, and Luke Brooks and Benji Marshall give them enough class in the halves, they desperately lack forward experience.
However, they do have enough depth to create a competitive environment that should bring out the best in all of them.
The young Tigers produced some gutsy wins last season against more fancied and experienced opposition packs but still finished outside the top eight.
They haven't made the play offs since 2011 and with every new season the pressure builds.
Being fair dinkum, if the Tigers make the eight this year they will have overachieved.
Here are the main contenders with their total NRL games, as well as how many games they have started:
Alex Twal 54 games (18 starts)
Josh Aloiai 72 games (36 starts)
Thomas Mikaele 23 games (5 starts)
Oliver Clark 9 games (8 starts)
Matt Eisenhuth 56 games (36 starts)
Zane Musgrove 27 games (9 starts)
Michael Chee Kam 76 games 30 starts
Luciano Leilua 43 games (10 starts)