NRL 2017: Jason Taylor’s future at Wests Tigers decided by Christmas as retention battle looms
DAN WALSHSource: FOX SPORTS
JASON Taylor could well find a contract extension in his Christmas stocking this year, with Wests Tigers aiming to make a call amid efforts to lock down their four biggest names.
The Tigers are currently in the midst of a full club review and have kicked off retention talks with star quartet James Tedesco, Mitchell Moses, Luke Brooks and captain Aaron Woods.
All four hit the open market as of November 1 and will command serious coin, while Taylor also comes off contract at the end of 2017, having survived the controversial axing of Robbie Farah to guide his team to within one win of an unlikely finals appearance.
Players want to know who they’ll be playing for when they ink any deal and with the club hell-bent on keeping their four biggest names, Tigers CEO Justin Pascoe hinted at Taylor’s tenure being extended by the end of the year.
“We’ve got complete confidence in Jason moving forward into 2017,” Pascoe told the Fox Sports NRL Market Watch podcast.
“Through that process of the review and moving forward into the next six to eight weeks, we’ll make a determination of the season and then through that process, or shortly thereafter, we’ll make a recommendation to the board.”
While the coaching merry-go-round of recent years all but ground to halt in 2016, it could well swing back into gear, with a number of current first grade mentors coming off-contract at the same time as Taylor.
The Tigers coach has endured endless speculation over his future, after an ill-fated attempt to shift Farah out of the club last year.
Taylor delivered on his threat to drop the NSW Origin hooker to reserve grade and having seen him off to a recent two-year-deal with the Rabbitohs — with the Tigers paying $750K of his 2017 salary — the Tigers are “in a real retention mode”, according to Pascoe.
Taylor looms as the first on that list, as rivals keep a keen eye on Blues stars Tedesco and Woods, while Brooks and Moses rank among the promising young halves in the game.
Tedesco has lobbed on both the radars of Melbourne and the Roosters, having been tipped to crack the magic $1 million per-year mark with his next deal.
Moses, who will play for the PM’s XIII this Saturday against Papua New Guinea after a breakout 2016 season, along with Brooks exercised $550K, one-year options earlier this year.
Along with Woods, the trio will be among the hottest players in a huge market next season but Pascoe is confident the Tigers can secure their best and brightest for the long haul.
“With Tedesco, Brooks, Moses and also Aaron, … we’re really fortunate because these guys genuinely do love playing with each other and they’ve played with each other a long time through the juniors,” Pascoe said.
“They’re the future of this organisation and without any doubt we want to make sure these guys stay together. We want these guys to enjoy the successes that they richly deserve.”
Discussions have been kicked off with player managers, and Pascoe recently outlined the club’s vision and long term strategy over a lunch meeting with the Tigers stars.
Two disappointing thrashings from Penrith and Canberra late in the year ended up costing Taylor and the Tigers a return to finals football for the first time since 2011.
But the club has made significant strides off the field, with memberships swelling beyond the 15,000 mark for the first time and their home crowd average of 15,390 is the best of any Sydney club this season.
While stalwarts Farah and Dene Halatau (retiring) have departed, the Tigers have re-signed a number of their first grade squad this year as well, with Josh Aloiai, Chris Lawrence, Curtis Sironen, Sauaso Sue and boom rookie hooker Jacob Liddle all recommitting to the club.
Pascoe admits that wins and losses will always hold the key to Taylor’s future, but pointed to the improvement from the club’s young talent as proof of Taylor’s own development as a coach.
“It showed in the second half of this year that he’s really evolved not just as an individual, but as a coach his skillset and capability around being able to determine a game plan that now suits the level of talent we have on the park,” Pascoe said.
“(That) has been demonstrated by the free flowing football.
“He still has a significant emphasis on the defence and we’re continually putting the structures around Jason and his coaching staff to give him best opportunity.”