SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 14: Benji Marshall of the Tigers thanks the crowd after playing his 300th game during the round 17 NRL match between the Wests Tigers and the Parramatta Eels at Bankwest Stadium on July 14, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Ten years ago today, September 16, 2011, the Wests Tigers played finals rugby league for the last time.

When a team who were widely backed to at the very least make the preliminary finals ran out onto the now-demolished Sydney Football Stadium that evening, the last thing they were expecting was a narrow two-point loss to an upstart New Zealand Warriors team.

The same Warriors who had finished third on the NRL ladder and managed to knock over the third-placed Brisbane Broncos the week prior under the old Macintyre system.

That preceded them going on to beat the minor premiers the Melbourne Storm in a preliminary final, before being beaten in the grand final by the Manly Sea Eagles, cutting the fairytale short.

GOSFORD, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 09: Daly Cherry-Evans celebrates his field goal and the win with team mates during the round five NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Manly Sea Eagles at Central Coast Stadium, on April 09, 2021, in Gosford, Australia. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

But after the Tigers had knocked over the Dragons in the fourth against fifth match the week prior, avenging the previous year, they were supposed to rumble past the Warriors with ease.

Only, they didn't. Despite leading 18 points to 6 at halftime, the Tigers fell away to eventually lose the game 22 points to 20, and that would be that.

Incredibly, the Tigers led 20 points to 18 with just minutes to go, before an exoubrant Warriors' team with nothing to lose offloaded and kept the ball alive before Krisnan Inu scored off a youthful Shaun Johnson crossfield kick in the most controversial of circumstances.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 30: Shaun Johnson of the Sharks passes during the round 15 NRL match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the Cronulla Sharks at ANZ Stadium on June 30, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

That incredibly talented Tigers team, with heroes from 2005 in the shape of Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah leading the charge. You run through the team list and fail to understand how they didn't not only beat the Warriors, but manage to make a grand final during the era, having been knocked out by the St George Illawarra Dragons in the 2010 preliminary final.

Tim Moltzen, Beau Ryan, Blake Ayshford, Chris Lawrence, Lote Tuqiri, Benji Marshall, Robert Lui, Bryce Gibbs, Robbie Farah, Keith Galloway, Liam Fulton, Gareth Ellis and Chris Heighington were joined by a bench of Mark Flanagan, Matt Groat, Aaron Woods and Matt Utai.

Only Woods and Marshall are still in the sport today, and neither of them at the Tigers, with Marshall plying his trade for a South Sydney Rabbitohs side on the verge of a grand final appearance, and Woods with an uncertain future after spending time at the Sharks.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 15: Benji Marshall of the Rabbitohs celebrates with fans during the round 10 NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Suncorp Stadium, on May 15, 2021, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Compare that to the Warriors' team, with Kevin Locke at fullback, a young Shaun Johnson in the halves, and a front row of Russell Packer and Jacob Lillyman, and it's little surprise to know the Tigers were favourites.

But bottle it they did, and in an ironic sense, it's set the tone for the next decade at the joint venture.

The second half summed up the next decade for the Tigers as they stumbled from poor season to poor season. Coach Tim Sheens was gone by the end of 2012, before Mick Potter lasted just two seasons in the top job. The club blew up under him, before Jason Taylor tried his hand in the gig, only to be replaced by Ivan Cleary, who was then replaced by Michael Maguire.

There is no sign of a turnaround for the Tigers. They have gone close to the finals once or twice, but never qualified in those dismal last ten years, making it the NRL's longest-running finals less streak.

Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire (Image: NRL.com)

The 2021 season saw them finish in 13th place on the ladder, and while they have finished ninth on three occasions since that failed 2011 campaign, they have had five of the last ten seasons wind up in the bottom four.

With no major recruitment drive for 2022, and Michael Maguire's position at the club under intense scrutiny, it's hard to see the Tigers turning things around for 2022 as ten years threatens to become eleven.

1 COMMENT

  1. This article is interesting but it leaves out the most crucial piece of information about that Warriors game and which shows one of the main reasons the Tigers have not had success since. There were 3 minutes to go, and the Tigers were leading by 2 points and in possession near the halfway. On the last tackle, instead of doing the smart thing and kicking to the corner (making it almost impossible for the Warriors who would have had to go the length of the field to have any chance) Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall instead decided to run a miracle last tackle play down the blindside – it went nowhere and Benji was caught in possession on the halfway, leaving the Warriors with every chance to steal the game – which they did. Now everyone knows the Inu try was a blatant double movement, but the point is the lack of calm leadership at the Tigers cost them a premiership that year. No other captain in the NRL would have run a play like that when you didnt need to score – the game was won if you were calm and smart. The same thing happened in 2010 when all Farah had to do was calmly feed the scrum against the Roosters in the semi with 30 seconds to go (he shouldnt even have demanded he feed the scrum) and instead Farah flung the ball into a tangle of legs and we lost the unlosable game. Again no calm leadership. The Tigers have not had a true leader since Scott Prince and Brett Hodgson left. And that is one of the key reasons the team has performed so poorly.

Comments are closed.