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For some much-needed hope, Wests need to look north

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Roar Guru
24th September, 2021
11

In a week of tantalising semi-finals, basement dwellers Wests Tigers have somehow conspired to break into the news cycle. What’s more, they’ve done so simply by standing still.

The decision to maintain Michael Maguire, whether the right or wrong call, was communicated with cack-handed clumsiness reminiscent of their on-field performances. There is seemingly no respite from the tragicomic aura emanating from Tigertown.

Although rumours abate and the cash lies ready, reaction to the club’s business to date has been disquieted. Other clubs chop and change, Origin stars are bandied about and barbecuing miscreants are thrown asunder, yet the only players Wests have acquired have been from Wigan.

Rugby league outside the NRL may as well not exist to some, so it’s understandable that there may be a sense of the unknown. But as The Roar’s resident English correspondent, Tigers fans can rest assured that these players should improve the team. Let’s face it, they can’t exactly get much worse.

Tigers head coach Michael Maguire

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

The duo bode farewell to the Pies under disappointing circumstances, going down to Leeds in a lacklustre 8-0 playoff defeat. But their inability to drag a pretty hapless side under the rudderless Adrian Lam should not overshadow their inherent talent and latent potential.

Oliver Gildart is one of those exciting wingers who can light up a game at the drop of a hat. He brings a lighting-quick acceleration that can be deployed at the drop of a hat. He has a penchant for picking the right pass and making questioning runs.

He can spot a gap in defences before they’re even aware of them themselves. He is the commensurate centre, replete with a fair share of tries. While Wests need improvement all over, adding tries to their game is something they could do with.

Although Australians might disparage the rest of the world, Gildart can bring a winning mentality: two grand final victories, a League Leaders Shield and a World Club Challenge victory to boot.

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With memories of John Bateman and George Williams, there may be residual fears over unreliable Englishmen. The uninformed ‘whinging Poms’ moniker is hard to shake – yes, I am still brooding over the World Cup.

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To help him settle in, he’ll have his Wigan teammate Jackson Hastings nearby, and it is this second signing that can further aid the Tigers’ recovery.

Well renowned both on and off the pitch as one of the game’s good guys, he brings a great degree of creativity from the halves, an off-the-cuff style of football in the most English sense. He has an excellent kicking game, and the partnership he forms with Adam Doueihi will be interesting to observe.

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In 2019 he almost single-handedly took perennial strugglers Salford to the grand final. Obviously the NRL is of a higher quality than Super League, but fans can take comfort in seeing Hastings able to extract higher levels from those around him.

These two players should prove to be excellent additions to the team. But it’s a third addition from England that may be more consequential than the two of them combined (and older than their combined ages to boot): Tim Sheens.

A theme running through the Maguire melodrama has been the sense of futility in sacking the head coach. While he has left a lot to be desired, the club’s malaise goes far deeper – a swift sacking, while momentarily pleasing, won’t produce the root-and-branch reform needed to overhaul the fledgling franchise.

That’s what Sheens has been brought in to fix, utilising experience in misfiring organisations. He worked under the enigmatic Marwan Koukash at Salford as well as for former world champions Widnes all the way into bankruptcy.

But once he secures a flight over from the UK, he will assume a somewhat different role from that previously specified, and clarification by chairman Lee Hagipantelis that Sheens will assume a more hands-on, player-facing role raises interesting prospects.

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He still has the coaching knack. During the international break he somehow gathered a ragtag collective under the Combined Nations All Stars with only a few weeks’ notice. With Jackson Hastings as captain, he went on to beat the England national side in Warrington.

The dreaded vote of confidence in Maguire, far from removing any lingering doubts, will only intensify the scrutiny should he make a poor start in 2022. With the pressure to improve and top-quality coaches scarce, is it beyond the realms of possibility that Sheens will take over if things don’t markedly improve?

Will Gildart and Hastings be enough to turn Wests around? No. They’ll need a lot more players and greater managerial direction. But they will have enough to give fans glimpses of what could be, if only they had more support and a proven, experienced manager.

Where would you find one of those?

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