It is no secret that the Wests Tigers have performed well below standard over the last few years, and with only 26 wins from 68 matches since the start of the 2019 season, there is increasing pressure on one man: the Wests Tigers head coach, Michael Maguire.
Forty-seven-year-old Maguire has coached 68 games with the Tigers, with a lacklustre winning percentage of only 38 per cent, and this poor record has sparked an internal review of the club.
Maguire, who played for seven years with the Canberra Raiders and Adelaide Rams as a centre, winger, and fullback, has faced increased pressure this season and currently awaits the findings from the internal review to see if he keeps his job.
Outside of the Wests Tigers, Maguire has shown clear coaching ability, coaching the Wigan Warriors and South Sydney Rabbitohs before the Tigers, as well as a small stint as the New Zealand coach.
At Wigan, Maguire showed his potential early on by winning the Rugby League Week coach of the month in February of his first season, as well as guiding Wigan to the League Leaders’ Shield in 2010, while topping the table with Wigan for the first time in ten years.
Madge also took the Warriors to their first Super League grand final in seven years in 2010, as well as winning the Coach of the Year 2010. Wigan won the 2010 Super League grand final and the 2011 Challenge Cup final before Maguire announced his resignation to go and coach the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
In his first two years coaching the Bunnies, Maguire took them to two consecutive finals series, both times missing out on the grand final by one match, and in 2014 won the NRL premiership against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.
It was no surprise to many that Maguire was able to take Souths this far as his previous coaching record had shown he was capable of such achievements; however, it was a downward trend from here, with Maguire being terminated from his role as the Souths head coach at the end of the 2017 season, even though he had two seasons left to run on his contract.
After the 2018 NRL season, Maguire was named as the Wests Tigers head coach from 2019 until the end of 2021, with his contract being extended until the end of 2023 in December of 2020. Madge started his coaching tenure with the Tigers well, finishing ninth in 2018, but it has been downhill from there, with consecutive bottom-six finishes in 2020 and 2021, leading to an internal review of the club.
Despite his record at the Tigers, Maguire has clearly shown he can coach, with a similar, if not better coaching record than the current Penrith Panthers coach, Ivan Cleary, before his return to the Chocolate Soldiers.
Cleary, who coached at the Warriors and had a first stint at the Panthers before the Tigers, coached the Tigers for two years in 2017 and 2018 before being sacked and succeeded by Maguire. Cleary, who struggled at the three teams he coached beforehand, was offered another go at the Panthers where they made the grand final in 2020, and looks to do the same in 2021.
Cleary had only a 42 per cent winning percentage at the Tigers, which is similar to Maguire, moved back to the Panthers where he currently has a 73 per cent winning percentage, with a much better playing list and experience. Surely this is not a coincidence.
Granted, a coach has a big part in how the team plays and their ability to win, but so do the players. Wests have only had one State of Origin representative each year from 2017, including Harry Grant, who was on loan from the Melbourne Storm.
Compare this to Cleary’s 2021 Penrith Panthers side who had seven representatives in the Origin series. How is Maguire supposed to be competitive against teams such as the Panthers when the Tigers are clearly under-represented in terms of elite and above average quality players?
As seen in the Fox Sports documentary series Tales from Tiger Town, Maguire knows what he is doing and deserves a real shot with a team that is lower down as he can surely bring them up with the right personnel around him, those being other coaches, and more experienced, and better players.
Despite Maguire being under so much pressure and the extension that he signed on at the end of 2020 being questioned, Tigers chairman Lee Hagipantelis has backed Maguire by saying the embattled coach was essential in providing “stability” to the joint-venture outfit, defending the Board’s decision to extend him.
Senior players such as James Tamou and Luciano Leilua have also come out in support of Madge saying that they believe he is the long-term coach that the Tigers need.
With the input of senior players likely to play a role in a decision on the coach’s future, many pundits also worry that there may not be another coach on the market of Maguire’s clear ability and footy understanding.
Other than Panthers assistant Cameron Ciraldo, there are not many candidates who look like they may be putting pressure on Maguire’s job. Ciraldo, who looks to be the clear replacement for Maguire, has shown the want to coach and the knowledge to coach as well.
Despite this, many have argued that it would be silly to appoint a new coach in these trying times.
One reason is that appointing a new head coach is essentially a re-start at the club, which has clearly not worked. An alternative to this would be to get new heads into the club, like Tim Sheens, who looks set to take over as Wests Tigers coaching director, as well as other experienced people who are willing to take a bottom team through the ranks.
Another problem is the money that Maguire will have to be paid. Instead of sacking head coach after head coach, the Tigers could surround Maguire with industry professionals who have experience in assistant coaching, which would massively advantage him and the Tigers’ younger players, who are still developing and learning the game.
It would not be the smartest decision to sack, and then pay out a coach hundreds of thousands of dollars when the club is already struggling financially. It could set back plans for the new developments, as well as impact the off-field performance of the club.
The repetitive leaks from many at the club who are clearly not on Maguire’s side have been the downfall of the Tigers’ head coach. A club as fractured as this would be tough to work in. But instead of sacking the coach, who has shown the utmost respect and loyalty to the club, the players and club staff who have leaked these discussions should be reviewed and potentially moved on.
To be fair, the internal review may find that Maguire is not fit to coach the Tigers beyond 2022. Regardless, he has continued to respect the process and the club while many around him have broken his trust.
Such disrespect shown towards their coach may bring the vanquishing of the Wests Tigers’ culture for many more years to come, and may see Michael Maguire sadly depart from the NRL circle.