The Wests Tigers are experiencing the longest finals drought in the NRL, but there is renewed hope for finals football in 2021.

The 2021 NRL season seems fairly predictable at the moment.

The ladder through 18 rounds reads as one of the most top-heavy seasons in recent memory. The Melbourne Storm and Penrith Panthers won’t be caught while the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Parramatta Eels look comfortable in the Top 4. The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles look like a Top 4 team themselves when Tom Trbojevic is on the field and the Sydney Roosters are just too good to drop further than 6th.

Two spots are up for grabs in the Top 8 this season.

It looked as though 6th and 7th would be one of the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks ($1.75), Canberra Raiders ($2.10), Newcastle Knights ($3.25), St George-Illawarra Dragons ($3.50), New Zealand Warriors ($13) and North Queensland Cowboys ($11) roughly a month ago. However, with the Warriors and Cowboys both currently working through lengthy losing streaks and dropping out of the race, the opportunity for another team has popped up with seven rounds remaining.

Tigers Turn To Top 8

It’s an indictment of the quality of this NRL season, but the Wests Tigers are still a chance of playing finals football in 2021.

They’ve won just six of their 17 games this season. However, their 42-24 win over the Brisbane Broncos – along with the refusal by teams flirting around the bottom of the Top 8 to take their chances to cement a spot – has inspired hope of an unlikely finals berth.

Michael Maguire has finally figured out that Adam Doueihi is best suited to the halves. The Tigers attack produces a lot more repeatable actions when he is in control and his five try assists in Round 18 will translate into an improved Wests attack across the rest of this season. Their 21.9 points per game in 2021 ranks 8th in the NRL through 18 rounds.

Likewise, opting for the size, speed and youth of Stefano Utoikamanu, Thomas Mikaele and Tukimihia Simpkins gives Maguire a better look through the middle of the field. Currently 14th in yardage with only 1,538 metres per game this season, it’s an area the Tigers needed to revitalise and their 1,769 metres against the Broncos in Round 18 is an encouraging start.

However, any improvements with the ball will be for nothing if the Tigers can’t improve their defence. Only the Titans have conceded more tries through their left edge than the Tigers. Meanwhile, only the Cowboys, Knights and Broncos have leaked more down the right edge. Wests 29.5 points conceded per game leaves them 13th in the NRL defensively.

The Run Home

Unlike earlier in the season, the Tigers have shown signs of improvement throughout their last two matches. They aren’t short of opportunities to pinch a few more wins this season either.

Remaining Draw: @ Sea Eagles, Warriors, @ Bulldogs, @ Cowboys, Sharks, @ Panthers, Bulldogs

Even if we chalk up their matches against the Sea Eagles and Panthers as losses, to play the wooden spoon favourites (Bulldogs – $1.12) twice along with an injury-ravaged Warriors, poorly performing Cowboys and inconsistent Sharks, the Tigers have the draw to pick up the four wins they need to at least be a chance.

It all starts against the Sea Eagles on Saturday where the Tigers are $6.50 and +18.5 outsiders to cause a significant upset and provide their finals push with a massive boost.

A lot needs to break right for the Tigers to end the longest finals drought in the NRL. Four wins in their final seven games will give them a chance based on what we’ve seen from the teams above them on the ladder recently. It would only take one of the five teams to go on a three or four-game winning streak to cement their spot in the Top 8 and the Tigers have that chance in Round 20-22. Although, that would require the Tigers to end another drought. Wests haven’t won three on the bounce since Round 6 in 2018.