The trouble with the Wests Tigers

Mark Campbell Roar Guru

By Mark Campbell, Mark Campbell is a Roar Guru

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    Esan Marsters and Tuimoala Lolohea of the Tigers celebrate after Tuimoala Lolohea scored a try during the round 23 NRL match between the Wests Tigers and the Manly Sea Eagles at Leichhardt Oval on August 13, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

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    The story or the Wests Tigers is an interesting one. The Wests Tigers are an amalgamation of two great foundation clubs who merged in the belief that survival instead of independence was their best option.

    The Super League War wreaked havoc on the game, and the Western Suburb Magpies and the Balmain Tigers were both victims of its destruction.

    However, the members of these two great clubs came together and to guarantee their place in the future and voted to merge as one. Since the 2000 season, a new club has operated.

    Although, the club won a competition in 2005 under the guidance of Tim Sheens and came close a couple of years later the club has failed to achieve its potential. Why is this?

    There are many variables to this question.

    Although the club merged, it was in essence still two separate clubs trying to hold together a marriage when they still wanted to live the life of a bachelor. It was a single club in name only.

    The Wests faction – of which there were Ashfield and Campbelltown – and the Balmain faction sat together at board level and tried to navigate their way forward.

    Another issue was the club’s location. Wests Magpies based in Campbelltown operated out of the growing south-west. While the Balmain Tigers worked out of Leichhardt, the inner west of Sydney. Two polar opposites in the Sydney region. The club chose to train at Concord which is far closer to Balmain’s home then to the south-west.

    As a neutral, I always found this decision boggling. I thought everyone would recognise that the south-west was going to be the growth area and so basing yourself in this area would have been beneficial.

    In any case, success came after five years on the field when they won their maiden title in 2005. Unfortunately, progress was not occurring off it. The Balmain Leagues club faced battles and hurdles to stay solvent. Broken promises from the state government did the club no favours.

    Tigers players Pat Richards and Paul Whatuira celebrate winning the NRL Rugby League Grand Final between the Wests Tigers and North Queensland Cowboys at Sydney Olympic Stadium, Sunday October 2nd 2005. The Tigers won 30-16. (AAP Image/Action Photographics/Matt Impey)

    (AAP Image/Action Photographics/Matt Impey)

    Furthermore, the Wests side of the joint venture was going through their own divisions. The foundations of the new club did appear to be built on sand.

    In the end, the West Magpies disappeared from the NSW Cup, and the Balmain Tigers (who had partnered with Ryde – Eastwood much earlier) came together once more in 2013 and entered a Wests Tigers team in the NSW Cup.

    This disjointed effort showed that it took 13 years for the club to try and solidify its branding as a single entity.

    As always with rugby league, things are never so simple. The Balmain faction of the joint venture required funds from the NRL to stay afloat. The Wests side was travelling okay, and with Balmain struggling, this gave them the upper hand at board level.

    From 2018 the Western Suburbs Magpies will re-join the NSW Cup. It will be the clubs 110th year in operation. They will act as the feeder team to the Wests Tigers. Unfortunately for Balmain fans, your day in the sun may be over.

    Although the club still trains and operates out of Concord, apparently the club is looking to target the south-west with more intent. Yet, this refusal to make a permanent move highlights how the club struggles with itself.

    I haven’t even mentioned all the internal dramas the club has faced. Players and coaches fight. The player and coach turnover do not help build a strong supporter base. This continuing revolving door does the young club no favours.

    At the end of the 2017 season, the Wests Tigers boasted 17,686 members. This number had grown from its early origins; however, the Tigers should be a superpower of rugby league.

    If they had held tight the old fans of Balmain – one of the code’s stronger teams regarding supporters – and the Magpies and unified them together from the outset, they would no doubt be a team that players would want to play for and that fans would want to support.

    The solution to their problems is not easy. It may be painful. I’ll offer my two bobs worth as a neutral but, know that the hard-core fans will shoot them down. That’s okay. I get it. It’s your club. Despite this, my suggestions are as follows.

    The Wests Tigers needs to move their administration out to the south-west of Sydney. Moreover, all training and all facilities associated with rugby league need to follow suit. The Campbelltown and MacArthur regions need to see and know that the club will represent them by being based among them. Serving an area when the club itself is based on the other side of Sydney does not work.

    For the traditionalist, having the Western Suburbs Magpies and the Balmain Tigers operate at the NSW Cup level as separate single entities should be a goal. The two clubs could then act as a feeder into the elite level, but remember to keep those two clubs separate.

    They are foundation clubs. They are proud clubs. They are clubs we should keep and honour. Playing in the NSW Cup alongside the likes of Newtown keeps tradition and the fans of those clubs in our game. Western Suburbs won four titles while Balmain 11. Losing these clubs is most certainly not in the interests of the game.

    Finally, The Wests Tigers need to become independent from both the Balmain and Wests factions. Its board should consist of no one from these entities. It should be a real stand-alone organisation that has a single purpose and vision for itself, not for its predecessors.

    It must strive to promote itself independently from the past while celebrating its short history. The club needs to engage the community and drive the membership model that is so successful around the world and with rugby leagues main competitor the AFL. If it does this, then the club going forward has a bright future.

    Wests Tigers
    First Season: 2000
    Titles: 1 (2005)

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    The Crowd Says (45)

    • December 17th 2017 @ 5:43am
      Johnno said | December 17th 2017 @ 5:43am | ! Report

      Interesting in all this is Glebe now have a side in the ron massey cup or sydney shield but balmain tigers seem to now be extinct altogether. It won’t surprise me if the west tigers change there name in the NRL to west magpies, even though wests tigers sounds a better more catchy marketable name.

      • December 17th 2017 @ 11:00pm
        Stephen Carter said | December 17th 2017 @ 11:00pm | ! Report

        Quite frankly, the Tigers are in an overcrowded Sydney market that has too many clubs. In an NRL that cannot contemplate any form of expansion then either Sydney clubs must relocate or be culled to admit clubs in other highly populous cities like Perth or a second Brisbane team. The Tiger would be such a candidate, relocation should be far further than one part of Sydney to another. The NRL can never grow until it embraces this concept.

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          December 18th 2017 @ 8:47pm
          Davico said | December 18th 2017 @ 8:47pm | ! Report

          Your joking right! They have the biggest pool of juniors in the whole NRL. What are you basing them getting moved on? Rich benefactors? Its not the NFL!!! Chooks and Rabbits should be forced to move before WT.

          I am an old Balmain fan and while I don’t agree with a lot of the article I am a realist.

          The Wests Tigers should be based in SW Sydeny to take advantage of the juniors in the area.

          A half descent stadium in the area would be handy as well, I am not talking 30,000 but big enough to cater for a crowd and good facilities.

          Old maggie fans also have to accept that the team is the Tigers! As far as merchandise and branding goes the Magpie is never coming back and we all just have to deal with the fact that the old days are over.

          Unfortunately RL is full of boards full of old men with old grudges and until they wake up the game will never be the main game in Australia

          • December 19th 2017 @ 5:12pm
            Mark Campbell said | December 19th 2017 @ 5:12pm | ! Report

            I think the days of forcing teams to relocate are over. It hurts the fans too much. Though, no doubt the NRL would love to see a team relocate voluntarily. The Tigers moving out to the SW is not really a relocation as it’s their territory already. All in all, I think Wests Tigers fans should be optimistic. If the front office gets its house in order, the club could be the biggest in Sydney.

          • December 21st 2017 @ 3:03am
            Peter Phelps said | December 21st 2017 @ 3:03am | ! Report

            Stephen has a good point. I don’t really care which clubs move out of Sydney but it has to happen. The Tigers are certainly a candidate and I don’t care what the juniors situation is. Its those old men burying their heads in the sand and saying no not my club that are the problem.

    • December 17th 2017 @ 6:39am
      WilsonDeeWhy said | December 17th 2017 @ 6:39am | ! Report

      I’m a freaking manly fan and least I can admit this situation is mental. Noted Curtis Woodward is writing elsewjere now but he’s the guy u need to listen when it comes to this stuf

    • December 17th 2017 @ 7:19am
      not so super said | December 17th 2017 @ 7:19am | ! Report

      good points about the SW of Sydney being ignored by the Tigers. Crowds have dropped significantly as they only play 3 games a year. The NRL should have incentivized them to play there more often

    • December 17th 2017 @ 7:28am
      Rabbit said | December 17th 2017 @ 7:28am | ! Report

      Why do people wrongly give it to them they had second highest crowds in Sydney last year roosters just beat them because the semi finals they had took there crowds up above Tigers They rate well on tv it’s why they have so many games on free to air they have the most sponsors of any Sydney club they have more money coming in then any other Sydney from sponsors they produce top quality juniors

      They have a lot going for them when they tick a few more box’s in back of house will be a top club

    • December 17th 2017 @ 8:22am
      Greg Ambrose said | December 17th 2017 @ 8:22am | ! Report

      They had a great team a few years back which was unlucky not to do better and then injuries to key players altered their momentum completely. Another key problem on the field was the decline of Benji Marshall who never adapted from the dangerous whiz kid to a more mature role like Darren Lockyer did for example.

      Having your best player making irresponsible mistakes on a regular basis was very destructive.

    • December 17th 2017 @ 9:14am
      paul said | December 17th 2017 @ 9:14am | ! Report

      There’s no doubt the Wests Tigers have had an interesting history but I’m not convinced it’s all doom and gloom.Yes, they need to do more to get into the south west, but they can’t ignore Leichardt and their fan base there. That game against Manly last season was an absolute belter, made even better by the fan support. This is something the Club can’t afford to lose.

      Your suggestion about naming them the West Magpies will probably lose the Club a significant number of sponsors and lot of supporters because you’re effectively dooming Balmain to extinction.

      Things appear to be on the up on the footie field and if the side does well, the issues you describe seem to be manageable. Hopefully the people in charge can build an organisation that is more cohesive off the field in the next few years

      • December 17th 2017 @ 6:03pm
        Mapie tragic said | December 17th 2017 @ 6:03pm | ! Report

        Balmain put themselves into non existence by the board members at the time..The return of Wests to the NRL is always a possibility, but won’t happen. The NRL owns the Wests Tigers log and name..Wests would have o apply for a new licence pretty much and unless they move to Campbelltown, The NRL would not consider it..Wests Ashfield do not want to move to the South Wests whole as the club is based in Ashfield..Wests Campbelltown is it’s own entity now, Why would Ashfield give Campbelltown a free ride?

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