LIFE ON BOARD THE TIGERS BUS
There’s been a lot of talk about The Wests Tigers ‘bus’ this season and what it’s like on board the ‘bus’.
I think the ‘bus’ initially started as a throwaway line in Ivan Cleary’s first week as coach. Now the whole marketing team has run with it, so I think they definitely owe him one. He’s done their job for them, coming up with the tagline for the next couple of years!
But if you want to talk about what it means, I think it’s just about being on board and being on the same page. If you have external things that are stopping you playing your best footy or starting to affect the other players, then sort it out and get in the direction the rest of us are going, or move on.
I think it’s great that the fans have gotten on board with the concept, and it’s hopefully creating a unity amongst the players, the admin staff and the fans.
This is where we’re actually going. Either jump on and support it and be a part of it, or go to another team. Either way: one in, all in.
I’ve been at the Tigers since 2006 and it’s definitely more enjoyable here this year than in recent years. While in the previous couple of years, all the players were really close and everyone really did enjoy each other’s company, the outside distractions that were going on did take a toll.
Day in, day out, we loved coming to training and seeing each other, but the distractions seemed to come one after the other and it took a toll – especially on the guys who were involved in any external media or noise.
And when you’ve got guys coming to training and their sole focus isn’t footy because of outside distractions, it starts to spread around the playing group and then you get an environment which isn’t enjoyable or conducive to putting in consistent high performances.
So that’s definitely one thing that’s different this year. There’s no external distractions or anything that can deter the boys from just worrying about playing footy. That takes a lot of pressure off, and when you take that pressure off, it’s a really enjoyable environment.
It means everyone can turn up every day and focus on working hard and preparing the best they can every week.
BORN TO BE A TIGER
In my first season back in 2006, the Tigers were coming off a premiership. I was quite young and only played five games at the back end of the season, so didn’t I really feel like I was a part of the team. I felt like I hadn’t earned my stripes yet.
I always remember Tim Sheens telling the younger boys that they had to earn their spot in the team, and that you needed to play at least 50 games before you could call yourself a first grader.
Now I’m a senior player in my 13th season at the club. Hopefully, this season will be different from the previous few years in that we’ll make the semis this year. In 2006, the team didn’t make the semis as defending premiers, and we haven’t been there since 2011.
As a long-term West Tigers player, it was great to temporarily take over as the leading try scorer from Benji. However, every time I jump ahead of him in the try scoring, he seems to get one back the same game. The little rivalry about who can end up with the most tries at the end of the year is a bit of fun, but we seem to win the games when both of us score. Hopefully, we can continue in that vein for the sake of the team.
I’ve always loved the Tigers. Coming through when I was young, there were a couple of clubs who were interested, but it was always my intention to be at the Tigers and it still is.
I grew up in the Macarthur region first in a suburb called Raby before I moved to Harrington Park. I played my entire junior footy for one club, Eagle Vale St Andrews, and attended St Gregory’s College of Campbelltown, which has produced a number of NRL players and coaches over the years.
A lot of the younger boys in the squad when I started at the Tigers also lived out there. We all used to carpool to training with, which definitely helped with the traffic on the M5 motorway!
Every time I jump ahead of Benji in the try scoring, he seems to get one back the same game.
At the end of the 2009, a lot of the boys I’d been carpooling with left for other clubs. So I started driving by myself to pre-season training that year, but that only lasted three months or so until I decided to move closer to training and ended up buying a unit five minutes from our training base, Concord Oval. I love the area and have lived here ever since.
In terms of infrastructure, not a whole lot has changed at Concord Oval. Obviously we’ve had a few upgrades of the gym and some of the space has been renovated for things like ice baths and the recovery area, but it’s all still quite familiar.
One thing that has changed is my game.
BECOMING A DIFFERENT PLAYER
Looking back, I enjoyed being the player I was back when I was a centre. But to be honest, I really like being the player I am now as a back rower.
I love always being in the game in the back row. Whether it is in attack or defence, you are always involved in the action. It definitely tests you when have to constantly keep turning up in the defensive line when you are fatigued, but I love that challenge.
I had to work really hard to overcome a number of things, whether it was injuries or changing my game. I’m not saying I didn’t work hard previously – I definitely did work hard and my good work ethic is probably one thing that’s kept me in the game for so long. I’m always trying to work on the little things in my game, doing the extras and always trying to improve myself.
But definitely in those early years of my career, the extras were more about improving my skills of the game, whereas now it’s more of an emphasis on getting the body physically right and working hard to make sure I’m in the best physical shape.
I had to work really hard to overcome a number of things.
Obviously, when you’re young and you come through in the outside backs, you need plenty of speed and you play a different style of game. I definitely didn’t have a big engine or as much endurance as I do now. I blew out in a lot of games, and was a more speed-based kind of athlete.
Then I had a couple of injuries. 2011 was probably the biggest one, a hip dislocation. Initially I was told it could be career-ending, and then I was told it was going to be my season. But I worked extremely hard on my rehab and came back that year. I knew we had a good squad that year and I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to play in a finals series.
So I worked as hard as I could to get back. I was fortunate to get back playing at the back end of the 2011 season, and play in the finals and still make the Australian squad.
At the back end of 2012, I had an ankle injury, and then at the start of 2013 I picked up another ankle injury that lingered for most of the year until I could no longer play and needed surgery. These ongoing ankle issues were frustrating and really tested me. I worked so hard to get back from my hip injury and I could not get over the ankle issues. That was probably the injury that took away a bit of that speed off the mark, which is what you need in the centres.
2013 almost felt like a write-off for me. Obviously, when you’re a player that builds your game around having speed, it dents your confidence a bit, but I had to find other ways, and adapt my game.
I think some of the skills of an outside back still serve me well – things like running good lines in attack and reading what plays the opposition are throwing at you. But I think the game has changed since I was in the centres.
I was never a light-footed centre that could beat someone with footwork. I was a centre that built up pace off a backline movement and could run a really good line, and I think the game has adapted to a place where those skills are valuable in the back row.
I think a lot of centres and back-rowers now are interchangeable, so having to run that really hard line and still having the speed to get outside a man if need be, it’s definitely something that has helped with my transition to the back row.
It probably took me a year or two to change the style of training and my body type from that of a power athlete to having more of an endurance base, but I think I’ve made the adjustment now.
When I was younger coming through, I’d do a sprint effort but then I was buggered and my legs were blown out for a set or two, whereas in the back row you can’t afford to have any time off. If you do a run, there is no rest – you’ve got to get set ready for the kick chase and to be involved in the next set of six tackles.
So, it’s been a process of learning that I’ve got to constantly keep moving and have an endurance game rather than one-off efforts.
A FOCUS AWAY FROM FOOTY
My wife Kathryn gave birth to our daughter Emmerson Rose right smack bang in the middle of pre-season. The reduced sleep is something I’ve been told that you never get used to, and obviously having the baby home and not settled in the toughest part of training was tough, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Trying to get yourself up, day in day out, for really tough sessions on the back of a few hours sleep was hard, but after a while I sort of got used to it. After six or seven hours of sleep, I’d wake up full of energy which is something I probably wouldn’t have been able to say in previous years.
But the biggest change has been my perspective. At times, I’ve probably been a bit selfish, everything has been about my footy career, always trying to make sure my preparation is right each week and only worrying about that.
I still have to continue to do that, but my priorities have changed. It’s so different now coming home and seeing the smile on my daughter’s face. No matter how hard the training day was and how tired you are, when you come home and see the smile on the baby’s face, makes it all worth it.
It gives you that extra bit of motivation too, because you’re not only thinking about yourself and your wife, there’s someone you have to provide for and look after.
I’ve always been able to separate footy and focus on other projects. I feel it’s good to have something to focus on other than footy, which can be really helpful when you are losing footy games or going through a run of injuries.
Away from family and footy, I am close to completing a commerce degree and I run a business called One Wellbeing, which I started in 2013.
We provide corporate wellbeing consulting services and implement wellbeing initiatives in organisations of all sizes. We also have an athlete education arm which delivers fitness education courses to athletes – particularly in the NRL.
The reason I started the business is because I have a passion for health and fitness, and I am determined to start working on a career outside of footy while I am playing. The business touches on both those areas and I want to share that passion and experience with other athletes, as I feel it has helped through the tough times in my career and will hopefully help me in my transition for life after footy.
I try to run the business and approach my footy with the same mission – to make my tomorrow better than today.
And hopefully, that’s how the season will continue to go for the Tigers.
Chris Lawrence - Contributor
More about: Benji Marshall | Ivan Cleary | Wests Tigers
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