PIZZA and beer are back on the menu at Leichhardt with the Wests Tigers’ controversial gluten-free diet tossed in the trash as part of a cultural overhaul spearheaded by returning son Mark O’Neill.
In a move that firmly put Jason Taylor in his place and showed the players who is in charge, new Head of Football O’Neill overruled the coach by scrapping the strict wheat and alcohol-free diet he implemented late last year.
The Sunday Telegraph can reveal O’Neill had beer and pizza delivered to the Tigers’ dressing room following their loss to the Titans on the Gold Coast last weekend in a move being applauded by the players.
The 2005 grand final-winning hero also oversaw a controlled bonding session on Gold Coast’s famous party strip - hiring security guards and organising roped off sections in nightspots to ensure a trouble-free night.
“He told the players that they were men,’’ a source close to the Tigers said.
“And he said they should be treated like men. If they want to have a beer they should be allowed to have one, and if they want to eat bread or pizza, well why not?’’
Featuring smoothies, fresh meats, fruit and salads, Taylor’s diet began with a gluten-free week at “The Retreat’’ in Port Stephens. It ended with Tooheys and Pizza Hut on the Gold Coast.
O’Neill told the Sunday Telegraph he wanted to create an enjoyable environment for the players and wanted his senior players’ input into the decision-making process.
“We had a fair turnaround after a recent game and I wasn’t against the idea of letting the guys have a drink if they wanted to,’’ O’Neill said.
“It is my view that they will apply themselves a lot better if they are happy. Their performances will be reflected by that and the hard work they put in. Everything is about being the best you can be.’’
The players will be allowed dietary concessions during long “turnarounds’’ under O’Neill’s new law.
But Taylor’s gluten-free diet will be enforced when the calendar is tight.
The no-nonsense former forward said he had not given players the green light to do as they pleased and the club’s code of conduct would still be strictly policed.
“I am not winding back the clock to the old days,’’ O’Neill said.
“It is about moderation and compromise.’’
O’Neill has also brought several former players back into the Tigers fold with former captain Jarrod McCracken agreeing to mentor Aaron Woods while Joel Caine, Paul Whatuira and Scott Prince have addressed players in the recent weeks.
Taylor is known as a strict disciplinarian in the mould of Michael Maguire and a Wests Tigers player said O’Neill had brought a much-needed balance to the club.
JT seemed pretty uncomfortable when asked about it by the media this morning.