There comes a time in every sporting clubs’ existence where it has to part ways with one of its’ favourite sons.
The handling of such a potentially traumatising situation such as this can make or break a club. Sadly, it seems to have done the latter to the Wests Tigers.
In 2012, the club made the hard decision to part ways with legendary head coach Tim Sheens at the end of the season, offering him the opportunity to stay on in a different role, overseeing development programs.
This decision would set off a chain of events of complete incompetence that now sees the clubs’ future balancing very precariously.
Sheens did not last long in his new role, departing Concord and taking legal action against the club he led to their fairytale 2005 premiership.
Mick Potter was soon announced as Wests’ new head coach, and after the backing of stars Braith Anasta, Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall, it seemed the former Super League Coach of the Year was the ideal candidate to succeed Sheens.
This relationship got off on the wrong foot from day one. Current team captain Aaron Woods described Potter as “too intense” – whatever that means.
Potters’ lack of “communication skills”, as described by veteran NRL head coach Brian Smith, saw him suffer a falling out with then captain Robbie Farah and star playmaker Benji Marshall, who soon took off to rugby union.
Ultimately, in Potters’ contract year of 2014, the decision was made before the end of the season that the 51-year-old would not be renewed.
Following this, Potter almost completely embarrassed the club, when they finished just 2 wins out of the top eight. This also marks the point of our story where the Tigers made their first big mistake.
Potters’ record was no doubt unflattering. 17 wins and 31 losses will have you under serious review as a head coach, no matter what your name is.
But crucially, Potter was the man who debuted current club stars Luke Brooks, Mitchell Moses and James Tedesco, and oversaw test prop Aaron Woods’ rise to fame.
Potter bravely rung in a new era for the Tigers and was thanked by being swiftly booted out the door after ageing skipper Robbie Farah apparently admitted he “did not rate” his coach.
Unfortunately, this would not be the last time Farah would adversely affect his clubs’ planning for the future.
Nevertheless, CEO Grant Mayer admitted Potter had his chance to present his vision for the clubs’ future to the board over a number of months, but ultimately, they were not impressed.
Again, it quickly became clear how little an endorsement from the Wests Tigers board means.
No doubt, this was a tricky situation, one that the club had to deal with alongside the financial crisis faced by the Balmain side of the merger.
It will never be known what Potters’ vision for the club was, but one imagines it would’ve involved a focus on youth development and trust in their young stars, with the Farah-Marshall era wrapping up.
After all, the clubs’ juniors were annually rated amongst the best in the league, with their reserve and under 20s sides recording impressive results.
Nevertheless, the board decided that Potter was not the man to lead the club forward. In comes Jason Taylor.
It’s fair to say that when JT arrived, he was not considered the favourite for the job.
More experienced NRL head coaches such as Nathan Brown and Anthony Griffin had been mentioned, as had fan and player favourites already at the club such as David Kidwell and Todd Payten.
Despite supporting Taylor myself through most of his awkward reign as head coach of Wests, I must admit, I would love to know exactly how he convinced the board that, after 89 games as a head coach, he was ready to oversee a full-scale youth revival at the club.
But I guess, as we’ve already established, the Tigers board has little to no clue about anything football related. It’s fair to assume it was akin to convincing a roomful of hyper-impressionable 10-year-olds.
It appeared from the get go that JTs’ reign was going to be different from Potters’. The first step was standing up to Robbie Farah.
The former North Sydney Bears champion had clearly done his homework and was not about to take a lick of crap that the arrogant NSW hooker had for anyone coach not named Tim Sheens.
Farah was unceremoniously told that, if he stayed at the club, he would soon find himself playing reserve grade.
This was a hard decision to make; one that was made for the clubs’ future, but obviously, this is no way to handle a club champion. After all, who wants to play for a coach that treats even his best players like this?
Despite not knowing exactly how it all went down, I could think of a number of better ways to have handled this. I’m sure that deep in his heart of hearts, Taylor would probably do it differently if he had his time again.
However, JT did get his way. Farah was dropped and soon left for the South Sydney Rabbitohs. The Wests Tigers ended up just a point out of the finals – not a terrible result considering the tumultuous year they had endured.
However, three weeks into the new season, with the team recording 1 win and 2 losses, and with Taylor in his contract year, the club made the decision that he had to go.
Club CEO Justin Pascoe explained the sacking, saying, “we’re not going to sit here and allow this organisation to drift again.”
No, the board was no longer going to tolerate drifting. They were simply going to hand their head-coaching role over to a man who’s not going to be the head coach next year, which is apparently not drifting.
As Paul Kent pointed out, after a year of backing their coach in his feud against Robbie Farah, Wests’ board decided to sack the man who did their dirty work for them.
Why, though? 10 other clubs currently sit at 1-2. Only for and against keeps them out of a spot in the top eight, and they’ve already played two of the premiership favourites.
Apparently, rumours surfaced that JT had lost the dressing room, and the club was quick to act, given they are already fighting an uphill battle to keep their star quartet of Luke Brooks, Mitchell Moses, James Tedesco and captain Aaron Woods.
Isaac Moses, the manager of the four, has suggested that his clients are not signing anything until they are clear about who will be leading the club in 2018.
Given all will be after close to a million dollars a year, it will be hard for this penniless club to come up with the required money to keep even three of them, and nearly impossible to keep all four.
For this, the fans can thank Moses Suli, who currently (and unspectacularly) occupies one wing spot for the club. He will play his third NRL game on the weekend and is already on a million dollar contract.
It was during the offseason that the Tigers decided that they simply had to keep their uncapped and oft-injured winger, even if it meant the richest contract of all time for a man of his age and NRL experience.
Whilst the club moved quickly to sack a supposedly unpopular figure at the club, they will have to work even quicker to solve their new problem.
Unfortunately for Wests Tigers fans, this board has proven itself to be completely incompetent decision makers at the best of times.
Under pressure, who knows how much worse this under fire club could unravel.