Wests Tigers coach Jason Taylor has declared Mitchell Moses ready to step into the role he has seemed destined for as the heart and soul of the NRL club.
The painfully drawn-out exit of Robbie Farah has left a hole as the Tigers head into an NRL season without their former skipper for the first time in 15 years.
However Taylor says Moses has proven over the summer that he is more than just a playmaker.
“The thing with Mitch is he’s always been a really influential guy right from the first minute I started working here,” Taylor told AAP.
“But what he’s done this pre-season has set the standard for us.
“He really lifted the standards in our pre-season training by the way he trained, pushed himself and the levels he got to.”
The nephew of Balmain legend Ben Elias has long been regarded as the future of the club, a once-in-a-generation talent who can carry the team’s fortunes on their shoulders.
However the Tigers have yet to make the finals since his debut in 2014, and the 22-year-old admitted recently he previously doubted his own ability as the Tigers struggled to win consistently .
Taylor said the key issue for special players like Moses, named in the leadership group for the first time, was often getting teammates to follow them.
“You see that in a lot of players through the years. The challenge is to back it up when they get to the NRL and have the right influence over the players in the team,” he said.
“That’s what Mitch has done in this pre-season in particular for me, because prior he was a leader and always prepared to speak his mind and always confident.
“They’re really important attributes to have as a leader, but to then start to lead by example, which is what he’s done in this pre-season, has been the biggest jump.”
The departure of Farah as well as fellow 2005 premiership winner Dene Halatau, leaves Chris Lawrence as the longest-serving player in the club.
And he too believes there is a leadership vacuum for the younger stars to fill.
“It was weird because Robbie’s always been here since I’ve been here. It’s been a different feel, a younger feel,” said Lawrence.
“There’s no one left from that ’05 side, so it’s a changing of the guard. Mitch definitely directs everyone around the field, as any good half of five-eighth should.
“The young guys have definitely tried to step up. This is their fourth or fifth year of first grade. They’ve had that time and games under their belt. It’s really time for them to take charge.”
Taylor said he was confident the Tigers, who have finished 15th and then ninth under his guidance, could finally crack the eight for the first time since 2011.
“We want to keep improving, that’s the simple line I keep coming back to,” he said.
“If you want to look at the end result, we were just outside that eight last year and so we want to improve and we’re confident we can. We’ve got to get ourselves in there.”
* Premierships (as a joint venture): 1 – 2005
* Finishes over the past three seasons: 2016 – 9th, 2015 – 15th, 2014 – 13th
* Coach: Jason Taylor
* Captain: Aaron Woods
* Gains: Jamal Idris (unsigned), Matt McIlwrick (Cronulla).
* Losses: Josh Addo-Carr (Melbourne), Jack Buchanan (Widnes), Manaia Cherrington (Cronulla), Josh Drinkwater (Leigh), Robbie Farah (South Sydney), Asipeli Fine (Canterbury), Dene Halatau (retired), Curtis Sironen (Manly).
* Strengths: Have two of the game’s stars in James Tedesco and Aaron Woods, while five-eighth Mitchell Moses enjoyed a breakout season last year.
* Weaknesses: Five major pieces in Tedesco, Woods, Moses, halfback Luke Brooks and coach Jason Taylor are all off-contract, leading to speculation about their futures at the club.
* Best team: James Tedesco, David Nofoaluma, Tim Simona, Jamal Idris, Kevin Naiqama, Mitchell Moses, Luke Brooks, Aaron Woods, Matt Ballin, Tim Grant, Chris Lawrence, Josh Aloiai, Elijah Taylor. Bench: Jacob Liddle, Jesse Sue, Ava Seumanufagai, Kyle Lovett.
* Predicted finish: 10th
* Betting: $29