Paul Kent: Wests Tigers’ rebuild taking shape, if club holds its nerve over Michael Maguire
After finally committing to a way out of a decade-long cycle of failure, Wests Tigers must fight calls that will send them spiralling back into the rugby league abyss, PAUL KENT writes.
News Corp Australia Sports Newsroom
JULY 26, 20215:20PM
The ammunition against Michael Maguire is overly simplistic, but effective.
It seems to be a campaign driven by out-of-work coaches and their future assistants happy to aggravate the job market.
Little attention is paid to what Maguire is doing to clean up the problem at Wests Tigers, which was always the business someone was going to have to do eventually and which was always going to come with some skin lost, no matter who it was.
And it had to come at some point.
For too long the coaches at Wests spent their salary cap with wild indifference to the problems they were creating; namely, caps can be stretched only so much before they burst.
Too many treated the cap like a Ponzi scheme. Buy now, leave the consequence for whomever comes next.
It happened in the interest of short-term job security.
Maguire arrived in town for the long haul, knowing the problems he was inheriting but, still, as he goes about his business out-of-work coaches and their future assistants, at the cost of a phone call, continue to agitate for change.
The subtext goes that only they can fix the problem, without full disclosure that Maguire has finally turned the club in the right direction.
The problem for too long was that the Tigers’ management was unsure itself what success looked like so, unwittingly, they listened to outside voices, wondering if there was a better way.
So they continued to treat the symptom, not the cause.
The knock on Maguire came again over the weekend.
Dale Finucane signed with Cronulla after the Tigers came in with an 11th hour offer Friday. It was portrayed in some quarters that Finucane knocked back the Tigers to sign with Cronulla because he did not want to play under Maguire at the Tigers.
This happened after Tevita Pangai signed with Canterbury last week despite a bigger offer from the Tigers because, it went again, Pangai did not want to play under Maguire.
If only it were that simple.
There was no four-year deal to the Tigers for Finucane.
The Tigers offered a two-year deal with the third season in their favour.
Their reasoning was simple. The Tigers were only just coming out of a cycle where long-term deals, all well above market value, crippled the club and there was no appetite to begin the cycle again, no matter how good Finucane might be.
The Tigers also quietly dropped off Pangai after running a couple of character checks on him, which uncovered the same reasons the Broncos were happy to release Pangai immediately but declined Melbourne’s request to release Xavier Coates immediately.
What is being refused to be recognised at Wests is the job the club is doing in regard to the salary cap, and finally getting in order, but also the drive to develop elite junior pathways which has for too long been ignored.
Recruitment is essential at every club, and all the very best clubs realise it.
Without good young players coming through clubs are forced to always go to market, and invariably must pay overs to recruit outside talent.
Wests have done this for far too long.
Development allows clubs to grow from within, and always offers several good years where young players are cheap at the price.
The Tigers dropped off their development many years ago when the club suffered a critical lack of nerve and the coaches, and here it probably began in the final years of Tim Sheens’ tenure, saw no choice but to coach for the immediate future to guarantee their job security.
So they kept going for the sugar hits, the quick fixes, and it came at the cost of long-term development.
All the good clubs realise now the benefit of strong, and honest, junior programs.
Penrith has long been regarded as the junior template, but it took five or six frustrating years to get this current squad in the shape it is in now, which can win a premiership.
Manly has got its pathways in order in recent years and is showing the benefits this season. The Sea Eagles were widely criticised when they scouted wide, recruiting Blacktown as its feeder club, but the emergence of a stack of young stars this season has shown the intelligence in that decision.
The Roosters often get criticised for failing to develop their own but this is an old stereotype, the Roosters having long taken over the Central Coast juniors and poured plenty of effort into them.
Their success came on the back of Boyd Cordner, Jake Friend, Latrell Mitchell, and many others, which continues today, being contracted at young ages so they could be coached in the Roosters way of football, through the important years of their development.
Then, when it was time for the icing, the Roosters signed James Tedesco and Cooper Cronk to finish off their list.
Melbourne began with a similar model all the way back in Craig Bellamy’s early years and now reap the annual benefits of maintaining discipline and control of their cap.
So much the Storm were comfortable to offer Finucane under market price, which was really more a symbolic gesture more than a genuine attempt to retain him, because the club was in control of its salary cap and already has somebody trained to replace him.
This has long been the Storm way, comfortable losing one at the top because they already have identified the next young one coming through.
Cameron Smith goes out, Harry Grant is ready to step in. Billy Slater retires, Ryan Papenhuyzen steps in.
It is the natural order until clubs bend their salary cap out of shape.
It is a lesson the Tigers are also finally disciplining themselves to adhere to, despite the outside noise.
Already rivals have recognised the early shoots of development, which will only strengthen now the Tigers are exercising discipline, which will be stronger again next year.
The way forward is north.
Kent is so spot on once again. I don’t understand what the hate for this bloke is