HAVING played for the Wests Tigers for the better part of 12 seasons, Chris Lawrence has witnessed first-hand the evolution of their club culture and been a crucial figure in their rollercoaster journey over the past decade.
He understands what it takes for an NRL club to have success after debuting for the Tigers the year after their famous 2005 grand final victory, but has now endured the painful suffering of missing finals every year since 2011.
The joint venture’s long stretch of failure isn’t down to any one reason but Lawrence has felt the burden of a veteran in a team light on experience and leadership.
It’s a problem that has largely been fixed by coach Ivan Cleary’s massive roster overhaul and Lawrence expects the senior players recruited to accelerate the club’s rebuilding phase.
“I think it’s going to be the senior players who are driving everything — it’s something we probably haven’t had in the last two or three years because we have had so many young players,” he said.
“With a lot of senior players like Josh Reynolds, Russell Packer and Ben Matulino (coming in) — guys like that with plenty of experience are going to really help drive everything (we’re trying to achieve).”
Cleary has put intense thought into his recruitment drive since his appointment as head-coach in April this year.
And while the marquee signings Reynolds, Matulino and Tui Lolohea will bolster their attacking prowess next season, it’s the signing of favourite son Benji Marshall and club legend Brett Hodgson to their coaching staff that will help re-establish the winning culture that was the envy of most NRL clubs in previous seasons.
Lawrence says the fresh faces have revitalised the atmosphere at a club where disappointment has weighed heavy.
“(There have been) massive changes to the feel about the place,” he said.
“It is a completely different team because you have so many people come into the squad and leaving so we obviously have a lot of different players and personalities so it really is a fresh feel.”
Lawrence cemented himself as one of the game’s best young talents throughout the early stages of his NRL career, but despite playing over 200 first-grade games and earning representative selection for NSW and Australia, his well-documented experiences with injury have caused havoc for the 29-year-old.
But it’s the resilience he learned in his darkest moments that has played a crucial role in his development as a professional, on and off the field.
“People ask me (what) if you didn’t have this or that injury — but I have no regrets and I wouldn’t change anything because it’s made me the person and player I am today,” he said.
“It’s shaped who I am and the way I act so I’ve definitely taken a lot of those things I learned through those tough times and that’s helped me to sort of have the career I’ve had.”
It’s the sort of character you would find in a club captain — a role Lawrence has put his hand up for knowing the race to succeed Aaron Woods as leader is wide open.
“I’d definitely love to be captain of the Tigers, I’ve been here my whole career,” he said.
“It would be such a special honour for myself but the success that will come next season is going to come from a senior group, and the leaders in the club are really driving everything we’re doing so I don’t think it’s going to come down to one person.
“At the end of the day, it’s about trying to make the team better — driving the culture we’re trying to build and that’s going to really drive our success.”