Baseball bats and boa constrictors: Why Maguire is the man the Wests Tigers need
Andrew Webster - Chief Sports Writer
June 18, 2020 — 12.01am
If you want to understand the revolution Michael Maguire is bringing to the Wests Tigers — and why dropping club legends Benji Marshall and Chris Lawrence is just the start of it — you need to go back to the dressing-rooms at Brookvale Oval a few years ago.
Maguire, who was coaching South Sydney, wanted his team to belt the Sea Eagles into the middle of next week. To underline his point, he whipped out a baseball bat and started bashing up the dressing-room.
Swiiiiiing batter, batter, swing!
Manly fired in a bill for the repairs a few days later.
Then there’s the story about “roadkill”. According to his former players, Maguire would identify an opposition forward who needed to be stopped, and then a photo of the player’s head would appear on the walls of the rooms with the word “roadkill” written under it.
The forward pack’s job was to run him over. Turn him into roadkill, figuratively speaking of course.
Maguire was apparently so big on imagery there’s an unconfirmed story he wanted to bring a boa constrictor into the rooms before one match. Strangle the opposition like a snake crushing a possum before devouring it.
The idea was rejected because, firstly, Sam Burgess was petrified of snakes and, secondly, BECAUSE IT WAS A SNAKE.
Tigers fans might think this is lunacy. How can this sort of malarkey transform their side into a premiership force?
Perhaps don’t question the madness but understand the method behind it because it’s worked for Maguire before.
He brought it to Wigan — and they won the Super League grand final and Challenge Cup in two seasons.
He brought it to South Sydney — and they won their first premiership in 43 years in his third year.
He instilled in both these proud clubs a mental toughness needed to take the next step. It started with training like a commando in the pre-season, which allowed unyielding defence to become the cornerstone of their tilt at the premiership.
First as a player under Tim Sheens at Canberra, and then as an assistant to Craig Bellamy at Melbourne, Maguire understands that defence is about far more than systems.
It’s a window into a player’s character; about how deep he will dig in the toughest of circumstances.
The philosophy is straight out of the Bellamy playbook: train with game-like intensity so, when you get into any situation on the field, you’re mentally and physically prepared to handle it. The proof is in how many close matches you have won over the years.
The Tigers are an eternity away from being this kind of football team but Maguire is trying to change it.
It’s unknown if he’s taken a baseball bat to unsuspecting lockers or called in the snake handlers to emphasise his point, but the demotions of Marshall, 35, and Lawrence, 31, have sent a clear message.
Marshall is a club legend but he was dumped for last weekend’s match against Canberra because his defence has been manifestly poor.
This week, for Saturday night’s match against the Cowboys, Maguire has axed another club legend in Lawrence.
The performance against Canberra was dour but better. They’d take a 4-0 win at the moment if they could.
But they still lost and the turning point was a soft try to Raiders five-eighth Jack Wighton early in the second half.
All week, Tigers players had watched vision of Wighton and his left-foot step. It’s a great left-foot step but it’s a left-foot step everyone knows is coming.
After receiving the ball close to the line, he stepped off his left and then wooshed between Lawrence and teammate Russell Packer like they weren’t there. Then he used his power and strength to bullock over.
That is the sort of try Maguire never wants to see. It’s the type of try you’d never see scored against the Roosters, or the Storm, or even the Raiders.
Whether sidelining Marshall is the right call remains to be seen. Either way, it’s a ballsy one. He’s the most influential member of the playing group, and the younger players hang on his every word.
Maguire has seen all this before, of course.
When he was at Redfern, he ushered the likes of Michael Crocker, Matt King and Roy Asotasi out the door. He axed popular winger Nathan Merritt just weeks after he broke the club try-scoring record and replaced him with a young Alex Johnston.
The backlash after dropping Merritt was savage. He retired in late September that year but, two weeks later, Souths won the comp without him.
Unlike Bellamy, Maguire’s relentless methodology eventually wore thin with his players. Ben Te’o left. So did Burgess. Away from the club, other players were openly critical of the coach’s relentless methods.
They reckoned he drove them too hard but his counterargument was difficult to argue with: if you want to win the premiership again, you’ve got to do the same things that got you there in the first place.
At the Tigers, Maguire is asking the same questions. Who is with him?
Ryan Matterson wasn’t. No matter how many ways people want to spin it, he was released to Parramatta because he couldn’t stomach Maguire’s style.
Maguire’s greater issue at the Tigers isn’t appeasing his players but hoping his board shares his vision.
The salary cap is a mess with the likes of Moses Mbye, Luke Brooks, Reynolds and Packer taking up almost a third of it. It will take another year or two of pain to unravel it.
Maguire knows something’s got to change at the Wests Tigers because if it doesn’t change then they will eventually change the coach.
Something needs to give and it might take a baseball bat to do it.