Wests Tigers the doormat of the NRL
55 MINUTES AGO SEPTEMBER 13, 2019
In the days leading up the Wests Tigers’ premiership win in 2005, former chief executive Steve Noyce — high on emotion and ambition — banged his chest and talked about the club wanting to become the Manchester United of the NRL.
All these years later, they are more akin to Accrington Stanley. The 2005 title was meant to be a turning point in the joint venture’s history.
Instead, it has become a distant sepia-toned memory that Tigers fans and officials cling to as they reminisce about the good old days and claim they can still be a force.
Truth is, the Tigers have been a light touch ever since, a doormat for rival clubs, players and their agents.
Michael Maguire said it best after his side’s inglorious exit from the finals race before a packed house at Leichhardt Oval last weekend.
For too long, near enough has been good enough for the Tigers. They talk a good game but play a soft one.
The club has been played off a break for more than a decade and they now reach a fork in the road as they contemplate the loss of backrower Ryan Matterson, arguably their best player this season.
Matterson is apparently upset with Maguire — there has been talk of a testy conversation a few weeks ago — yet the coach has spoken to the player and insists there are no issues.
Believe what you will. Some would suggest the problems have more to do with the club’s salary cap and the legacy of a past that has clouded their future, leaving them in a position where they must move players if they are to accommodate the likes of Benji Marshall and Chris Lawrence next season.
The Tigers have made a series of poor decisions with their cap, but Matterson has been one they got right. Too right it seems.
On his form this year, when he went close to cracking the NSW side, he is worth more than the Tigers are paying him.
He has two years remaining on a deal that now appears a bargain for the Tigers. As is so often the case in these situations, the player — or at least someone close to him — now appears to be agitating for change.
Maguire has extracted the best from Matterson and personally lobbied NSW coach Brad Fittler to have him as part of the Blues set-up.
His reward for going into bat for his player? Rumours that Matterson is exploring his options. Thanks for nothing.
The time has come for the Tigers to make a stand. They need to decide what sort of club they want to be.
They have made a series of poor decisions in recent years. They parted with their future when they lost Aaron Woods, James Tedesco and Mitchell Moses.
They followed that up with a series of shocking calls as they attempted to rebuild. It could be years before they recover from the mess they have made for themselves by handing inflated contracts to players when the club was in a state of mild panic.
Many of those responsible are now gone but those who remain are duty-bound to help the club find a way out of the malaise they are in.
The NRL is currently reviewing the game’s footprint as they determine what sort of shape they want the competition to take in years to come.
Fingers have been pointed at Manly and Cronulla. So too the Gold Coast. Yet the game’s greatest underachievers for the past decade have been the Tigers.
Since they last played finals footy in 2011, even the Titans have finished in the top eight. The Tigers have been an afterthought. Days like last Sunday, when the hill at Leichhardt Oval was packed and optimism filled the air, have been few and far between.
Year after year we hear about a sleeping giant with a huge supporter base. Year after year their soft underbelly is exposed.
Maguire has set about changing that and he has been met with resistance. He wants the Tigers to challenge for premierships and makes no apologies for attempting to alter a mindset of mediocrity that has infiltrated the club.
He has pushed the players and there are rumblings that some are restless. Maguire is a winner. A demanding one at that. The Tigers and their players need to buy what he is selling, Matterson among them.
If Matterson truly wants out, the Tigers need to play hardball. If they can get a player of similar ilk at Matterson’s price, give it some thought.
Otherwise, stand their ground and tell him if he isn’t playing with them, he isn’t playing at all. Tell him he will get an upgrade when the club can afford it and if he still isn’t happy, sit him out for 12 months.
The Tigers need to find their identity again. The days of being a doormat are over.