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.
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.
First Season: 2000
Titles: 1 (2005)