A lot has been said and written about the Wests Tigers over the last few weeks, and up until their brave and impressive victory over the Bulldogs on Sunday, very little of it had been positive.
The loss of Mitchell Moses to the Parramatta Eels, along with the alleged departure of Aaron Woods and James Tedesco – reportedly to the Bulldogs and Roosters, respectively – has pushed Tigers fans’ patience to breaking point. Many have even begun to question whether they should continue to support the club.
In isolation, ditching your team because of the loss of talent – though undoubtedly frustrating – does seem a bit of an overreaction. Players leave. It happens.
However, when it comes to the Tigers, such a painful blow is far from an isolated event.
If you’re a Tigers fan, it’s probably best to stop reading now. This next section is going to hurt and it’s not short. To be honest, the club’s recent history reads so bad, that it’s difficult to know where to start.
In 2011, the club broke utility back Tim Moltzen’s heart by telling him he was free to talk to other clubs. Moltzen loved the Tigers and wanted to stay, but was told there was no room for him at Wests, who verbally agreed to release him when he found a new team.
Moltzen hunted around for a new club and signed a three-year contract with the St George Illawarra Dragons, only to then have the Tigers renege on their release, and instruct him to honour his original contract for another year and a half.
It was ironic that the Tigers should hold a contract so dear, considering the drama and angst when the club moved on the popular group of Andrew Fifita, Chris Heighington, Beau Ryan and Bryce Gibbs, who all signed with Cronulla after departing Wests.
Gibbs had only recently signed a three-year contract, Heighington still had a year to go on his, Fifita was still under contract, and Ryan claimed he had a verbal offer from the Tigers for a three-year contract, but never received anything formal and so was forced to sign with the Sharks.
To see all four individuals playing very well at their new club, with some of them still being paid by the Tigers, was a very bitter pill to swallow for Wests fans.
It’s not like the club has a reputation for looking after their best players either.
Fan-favourite and club legend Benji Marshall left the Tigers at the end of the 2013 season, despite still being under contract for another two years. The relationship between the club and its star had soured dramatically after Marshall claimed a handshake deal wasn’t honoured for a contract extension.
Then, of course, there was the treatment of Robbie Farah, who despite being a club captain, current NSW hooker, the longest serving player at the club, and on a contract worth a reported $950,000 a season, was made to feel as welcome as syphilis.
The acrimony between Farah and coach Jason Taylor – and by extension, the Tigers board – stretched out for more than a season. The awkwardness and nastiness all played out in public, but was finally finished when Farah agreed to terms with Souths last year. The Tigers, of course, were still paying the vast majority of his contract.
It was a sad end to Farah’s time at the Tigers and the image of him drinking beers by himself atop the Leichhardt Oval scoreboard will live on in rugby league folklore for a very long time. Not necessarily in a good way.
Taylor’s reward for doing management’s dirty work for them in getting rid of Farah? He was fired three games into this season. He thus joined a not-so-exclusive club of Tigers coaches that had received a pay cheque from the club, despite not actually coaching them.
At one point, the Tigers were actually paying two head coaches – Tim Sheens and Mick Potter – at once. That’s a new level of incompetent management. In fact, Sheens had to take legal action against the club, because they stopped paying him. Yes, stopped paying him money that he was owed. You can’t make this stuff up.
There’s also a pattern of players improving dramatically once they depart the club. This either speaks to poor identification of talent or the creation of an environment that struggles to bring out the best in players.
In 2012, the Tigers signed Adam Blair to a massive deal, snaring him from the Melbourne Storm where he had made a name for himself as one of the better young players in the game. After three forgettable seasons with the Tigers – in which Blair seemed to regress considerably as a player – he left for the Brisbane Broncos and immediately became one of the best forwards in the entire competition.
Halfway through the 2014 season, the Tigers released Marika Koroibete so he could sign with the Melbourne Storm. The Fijian winger was struggling for playing time at Wests and the club was happy for him to chase another opportunity to play first grade for another team.
Koroibete played ten matches for the Storm after the mid-season switch and scored six tries. In 2015, he was one of the form wingers in the competition and finished the season as the Storms’ highest try-scorer.
The aforementioned Fifita went from playing NSW Cup with the Tigers to making City Origin, NSW Origin and Australian representative teams. That’s quite the miscalculation of talent.
At the end of the 2014 season, the Tigers released talented youngster Blake Austin because the club felt that Mitchell Moses had a brighter future. Austin went on to take the NRL by storm the next season with the Canberra Raiders and was named the Dally M five-eighth of the year.
Don’t let anyone tell you Austin’s brilliant season with Canberra came as a surprise either, as he was awarded the Tigers player of the year by the club’s members in his last season with the team.
With Austin released, Moses took the five-eighth position full-time. Though he showed potential in attack at times over the next couple of seasons, consistency eluded him almost as much as tackling did. Now he’s leaving too, signing a lucrative contract with Parramatta and leaving the Tigers with neither of their talented five-eighths.
The squad of ex-Tigers that you could name – from 1 to 17 – would go close to winning the competition.
Just recently, there was also the Tim Simona drama, with the now banned player admitting to betting on games, using cocaine, and defrauding a children’s charity. The Tigers claim they knew nothing of Simona’s indiscretions, yet that’s not necessarily a good thing. One would hope they would know if a player was that far off the rails.
In any event, it was another black eye for the club’s already poor reputation.
Perhaps the most comical embarrassment came in 2015, when the Tigers were found to be over the salary cap. This was the same season in which they finished the year on the bottom of the ladder.
Read that paragraph again, and try not to laugh.
Sadly for Tigers fans, there is very little humour in all of this. You can understand why many supporters are questioning their loyalty.
While incompetence seems to be the Tigers’ best friend in recent times, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. New coach Ivan Cleary was a very astute signing and he’s already having a positive effect on and off the field.
The club may also have $4 million to spend this off-season, making them a big player in the free agency market. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that the team has beaten North Queensland and Canterbury in recent weeks, proving all hope is not lost for this season either.
It’s not all doom and gloom for the Tigers, but it’s time for the club’s laughing stock days to be behind them. Their fans deserve better management.
To be brutally honest, so does the game itself.