Tim Sheens gave them every chance, but he knew, it was time for change.
The West Tigers won the 2005 NRL Grand Final with a young team. Most of that team still forms the core of the current West Tigers lineup today.
In the years following that Premiership win, the Tigers have had one major flaw. That same extremely mobile forward pack didn’t have the grunt needed to compete and make a real impact on the Grand Final again. Sure they had their moments, but for the most part the Tigers always fell sort.
Put simply, the West Tigers pack is soft. Terribly soft.
Tim Sheens saw the writing on the wall a few years ago and did his best to patch over these problems by trying to recruit a prop here and there to put some starch into his pack. It just never panned out the way he wanted.
In 2011, the decision came to blow it all up and start all over again. Years of “close enough is good enough” don’t cut it when you have an absolute magician in Benji Marshall at your disposal.
Sheens went out and targeted World Cup winning Kiwi test forward Adam Blair. He is the perfect player for the West Tigers. He has winning experience at every level, he is big, mobile, had a decent amount of skill, has never taken a backward step and is a great leader.
To get Blair, the Tigers have to spend up big. This meant getting rid of some of the West Tigers players that had been given every chance to get the job done, but who kept coming up short.
The likes of Liam Fulton, Bryce Gibbs, Chris Heighington, Tim Moltzen…they are just a few players set to leave the Tigers at seasons end.
These moves have really upset the playing group, who have been one of the tightest in the NRL for a number of years now. Basically, players don’t like seeing their mates told they are not wanted by the club any more, and you can see it is effecting their play on the field in recent weeks.
There has been some talk that Benji Marshall is unhappy with these moves, but I would suggest this isn’t the case.
I’ve no doubt Marshall is sad to see friends leave, but he knows he only has some many years of his career remaining. Right now, he is in his prime. He has a great coach who he is close to, to the point where Tim Sheens turned down more money to coach the Panthers to stick around and coach Benji Marshall for the remainder of his career.
That is not the move of a coach that has fallen out with his best player.
You also have to take into account that Blair and Marshall are two of the cornerstones of the World Cup winning New Zealand test team.
I would suspect that Marshall knows these moves needed to be made. He knows they are the right moves, and he trusts Tim Sheens completely. He wouldn’t come out publicly and back these moves, in the process giving a backhander to his current clubs mates, but I have no doubt Marshall is content with the changes that Tim Sheens is making.
You always have to be careful with a football club that the inmates don’t end up running the asylum. We saw in Newcastle a few years ago what can happen when a playing group rebels against much needed chance. It becomes very messy.
The thing is, in these instances, the changes are always necessary. Rugby League is a results driven industry, and if you are not getting the job done, you should be shown the door.
In Newcastle, the players, backed by a lot of their fans, turned on Brian Smith. Smith got rid of the dead wood and in short time helped turn the Knights around. The problem for the Knights was, he left soon after when the Roosters offered him a big deal to join their club and help them turn things around too.
Those old Knights players who were happy to be good mates and maybe win the occasional game of football here and there STILL whinge about the clean out of the club that Brian Smith initiated. What they fail to talk about is the terrible results they kept racking up, or their unprofessional attitudes towards the game.
I have no doubt the same bitterness will be carried on by the players the Wests Tigers have shown the door. The big difference is, the Tigers will have the worlds best player in Benji Marshall playing behind a forward pack that is performing.
If Benji Marshall lifts the NRL Premiership Trophy in the next few season, I don’t think for one second he will regret that a few of his old mates are watching from the grandstand.
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