Record: 7 wins, 17 losses
Ladder Position: 14th
Player of the Year: Elijah Taylor
What could go wrong, did go wrong.
Despite winning the battle against Robbie Farah (who had moved onto South Sydney) Jason Taylor was given his marching orders after only three weeks into the new season. Ivan Cleary was eventually given the job, but in the interim, player manager Isaac Moses held the club to ransom with four key signings under his watch, in Luke Brooks, Mitchell Moses, James Tedesco and captain Aaron Woods, looking for lucrative new deals or walking away from the club.
Cleary acted upon this instantly, telling those who needed to hear it to either “get on the bus”, as he put it, or to walk out the door. This brought the situation to a head with Brooks the only player electing to stay with the Tigers. As it turned out, Mitchell Moses couldn’t wait to walk through Cleary’s door and was eventually released to the Parramatta Eels. The talents of Tedesco (the 2017 RLPA Players’ Champion winner) and Woods also decided to ultimately sign elsewhere but they stayed with the Tigers for the remainder of the 2017 season.
Despite the pain of losing two representative players, this has allowed Wests Tigers as a club to move on. The results, so far, haven’t come with this new clarity of mind in 2017, but as the season wore on, the signs were positive. Still, this season will only be remembered for the wrong reasons. As they say, the only way is up.
What A Waste
2017 will be seen by many as a season that barely got off the ground. Despite the political battle between Farah and Taylor, Taylor was seen as the victor when Farah left the club to join South Sydney. However, this was obviously not the case as Taylor was sacked merely three weeks into the 2017 campaign. If Taylor was on ice as thin as this, why was he retained?
An entire preseason was wasted with Taylor in charge and the season was well and truly lost by the time Ivan Cleary was named as new Head Coach at the beginning of April. Just think about how much time was wasted in this exercise. Preseason starts in November, with a new coach hired in April. That’s half a year wasted through incompetency on many levels.
The constant disruption in regards to the futures of the “Big Four’ also didn’t help.
The ‘Big Four’ Turns Into ‘Just One’
Taylor and the club were found to be well out of their depth in regard to negotiating with the “Big Four” as the media called them. Brooks, Moses, Tedesco and the captain, Woods, all held the club at their mercy before, but especially after, Taylor was shown the door. Apparently, they couldn’t make a decision until the Tigers figured out who the next coach would be. They also wanted to know what the recruitment plan was going to be. Would the biggest slice of the pie be headed their way when the salary cap got figured out?
In the end, Moses couldn’t wait to sign with Parramatta and the Eels got their man. The Roosters poured honey into Tedesco’s ear and he will be wearing the tri-colours in 2018. As for the captain, Woods decided to join his rep mates at the Bulldogs. In hindsight, he may be regretting this move now.
Luke Brooks ended up signing on for another two seasons with the Tigers, interestingly citing Cleary’s arrival as a major factor in his decision making.
One out of four ain’t great. But when we’re talking about the Wests Tigers front office, this is probably a pass mark.
Jumping on Ivan’s Bus
Ivan Cleary made it clear in his first press conference as the new Head Coach of the Wests Tigers that it was important for the “Big Four” to get on the bus and be part of the journey. His bus analogy took on a life of its own afterward, but even though three of the four stepped off Ivan’s bus, many others have stepped on including rejuvenated prop Russell Packer who has helped the St George Illawarra Dragons make a step towards finals football.
Others include ex-Bulldogs livewire Josh Reynolds, New Zealand international Ben Matulino and State of Origin forward Chris McQueen along with the likes of Tuimoala Lolohea who joined mid-season from the Warriors.
There doesn’t appear to be any shortness of excitement and experience going into 2018. Together with a full preseason under Cleary’s tutelage, there are signs that next season’s version may well be a team capable of surprising quite a few people. But there is a long way to go on Ivan’s bus yet.
The player who delivered the Wests Tigers their one and only premiership is returning. This is a move that looked long odds from actually happening even twelve months ago, but with Cleary in charge, Marshall has seen an opportunity to help out in the same way Wayne Bennett has had him help out at the Broncos during this past season.
Marshall will be in a mentoring role to help guide the young halves but to also push them along in terms of competition for spots each week. Cleary understands that part of growing as a player involves the threat of losing their position in the side. You only stick around if you can do the job. And the best way to keep getting the job done is to get better at that job. And that includes how you carry yourself off the field as well,
If Benji can put the ego aside at Concord as he has at Red Hill, this will be a success. The likes of Brooks and Lolohea have to also understand his role so that everyone can move in the same direction. Both Marshall and the Tigers need to be commended for this. As we said, this didn’t even look like a possibility twelve months ago. But then again, rugby league is a funny game.
2018 GAINS AND LOSSES
GAINS: Mahe Fonua (Hull FC), Tyson Gamble, Tuimoala Lolohea (New Zealand Warriors, 2017), Benji Marshall (Brisbane Broncos), Ben Matulino (New Zealand Warriors), Chris McQueen (Gold Coast Titans), Taane Milne (St George Illawarra Dragons), Russell Packer (St George Illawarra Dragons), Josh Reynolds (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Robbie Rochow (Melbourne Storm), Corey Thompson (Widnes Vikings), Alex Twal (Parramatta Eels, 2017), Malakai Watene-Zelezniak (Penrith Panthers, 2017)
LOSSES: Matt Ballin (retired), Joel Edwards (released), Justin Hunt (retired), Jamal Idris (released), Jack Littlejohn (released), Kyle Lovett (released), Mitchell Moses (Parramatta Eels, 2017), Ryan Papenhuyzen (Melbourne Storm), Jordan Rankin (Huddersfield Giants), Ava Seumanufagai (Cronulla Sharks), James Tedesco (Sydney Roosters), Aaron Woods (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs)