NothingButWT – Mick Potter: Unfinished Business

In less than 12 months Mick Potter has faced more hurdles than Tim Sheens did in 10 years. Firstly let’s compare Tim Sheens’ first year with Mick Potter’s.

When Tim Sheens took over from Terry Lamb the club had just finished 13th in a 15 team competition. Sheens was forced to blood eleven, yes eleven debutants in his first year. His win loss record finished identical to that of Terry Lamb’s in 2002, 7 wins and 17 losses and again the club finished in 13th place.

In that eventful year of 2003 we saw the debuts of Robbie Farah, Benji Marshall, Dene Halatau, Dean Collis, Luke Covell, Liam Fulton, Bryce Gibbs, Chris Heighington, Clint Hill, Adam Tippett and Gray Viane.

Even the crowd numbers were similar to what the club has experienced in 2012/2013. In 2002, Terry Lamb’s last season as head coach, the club averaged 10,478 for home games. In Tim Sheens’ first year crowds were down to under 9,000. But surely you couldn’t sack Tim Sheens after finishing third last, blooding 11 debutants and seeing crowd numbers drop?

Sheens spent the offseason looking back on a season which would struggle to get a pass mark. Similar to what Mick Potter may face with the NRL 9’s if he gets a second year, Tim Sheens made his first statement to Wests Tigers fans and the NRL in 2004 (second year in charge) by guiding the club to the World Sevens Championship. Sheens and the team followed this up with a 9th placed finish in 2004 and from that point, we know what followed in 2005.

The main reason it appears some fans and players want Potter relieved from his duties is his communication skills.

“Mick Potter has extremely poor communication skills and players are fed up.”

Ironically, when Tim Sheens arrived at the Wests Tigers it was revealed that he was heavily criticised in North Queensland for his terrible communication skills. After Sheens departed the Cowboys, players recalled Sheens arriving at training via a helicopter, speaking with his assistants while the team were put through their passes and sometimes leaving training having not said a word to any player throughout the session.

Sheens and Potter had similar first years in charge, scarily similar you might say. Would 2005 have happened for the Wests Tigers if a new coach was blooded at the end of 2003 when the club was seemingly treading water, and to a point, close to drowning? Would a new coach have had the confidence to develop and believe in players like Farah and Marshall? Would he have even rated them as footballers?

We have also seen in 2012 and 2013 articles claiming ” senior players approached the board to vent their anger and disapproval of the coaches tactics and attitude”. “Sheens/Potter have seemingly lost the respect of the playing group”. Sorry, wait a minute, players approached the board? According to a section of Wests Tigers fans, the club doesn’t have a culture problem……but players go straight to the board when they aren’t happy about something? This is the culture that disgruntled former players were referring to. Not to mention the “clique” ranging from players, coaches and board members, which every player who has left the club was aware of.

A large section of Wests Tigers fans, and footy fans in general believe Mick Potter deserves to see out his contract and show what he can do. In 2013, he has been the coach who has suffered the most setbacks by a country mile. But what setbacks could derail a club who were favourites to win the competition just 12 months prior?

Potter was handed the coaching role a week before preseason, at a club that, on the surface, seemed to be one that valued loyalty for a large part of its existence. Sheens had 11 seasons as head coach and made the semifinals 3 times. The club showed unbelievable loyalty and patience to Benji Marshall by keeping him at the club through multiple shoulder reconstructions, even though at the time he was a kid that had only showed glimpses of being a future superstar.

Potter’s first job was to enter a pre-season with another coach’s roster and get them prepared for a big season after falling from Premiership favourites to mid table obscurity. Potter was also handed Tim Sheen’s backroom coaching staff which were hired just weeks prior to Sheens getting the chop.

There was no touch footy, no comedy skits, just a squad of footy players putting their best foot forward. Comments from players made it appear that they were buying into Potter’s style and Potter’s mindset. Many said it was by far the hardest they have worked, and have been worked in a pre-season at the club. Comments like this left fans with a “new start” feel about the club and team.

From this point the tasks Mick Potter faced left him fighting a losing battle.

The trials were finished, there was a nervous energy sweeping through the fans, and players were preparing for a big start to the year when we were all hit with the news that one of our most promising and popular juniors Mosese Fotuaika had passed away on the 28th of February. The club was bombarded with fans offering their messages of support for the members of Mosese’s family, players and staff. We read articles from Todd Payten that he considered forfeiting Round 1 and we witnessed our club and players unite as one and put aside their footy commitments to travel to Brisbane to farewell their teammate, friend and brother.

On their return, Potter was faced with the task of getting his squad focused and ready to play Round 1 against the Knights. His task was made harder by a Knights team who had hit the ground running.

If this was a challenging start to an NRL coaching career, he was unaware that it was only going to get harder.

Over the 22 completed rounds of footy the club, has faced 40+ injuries which have resulted in players missing a minimum of one game. So far in season 2013, the Wests Tigers squad combined has missed over 100 first grade games due to injury.

This not only impacted the squad Potter had, but also the calibre of replacements he could call on. The lack of ” NRL ready” depth left to Potter from 2012 became evident as players dropped like flies. Potter was forced to call on debutants and rookies and ‘throw them in the deep end’ together. Overall, Potter has used 8 debutants, as well as using a handful of players with less than 10 NRL games experience. At times he admitted that a number of the young players were not ready for the step up to the NRL. A positive to the injury crisis the club faced in 2013 was the emergence of Holden Cup star David Nofoaluma, new recruit Jack Buchanan, Junior Kiwi Sauaso Sue, Toyota Cup winning captain Jacob Miller and 2012 Balmain NSW Cup prop Ava Seumanufagai. As well as consistent opportunities for Tim Simona and chances for Holden Cup eligible players Curtis Sironen and James Tedesco to regain their spots in the top grade after injury. The injury toll also gave opportunities to Sitaleki Akaoula, Shaun Spence, Jarred Farlow and Joel Luani. There is no doubt that a different and further depleted 17 every week impacted on the coach and players. This season Jack Buchanan and Adam Blair are the only two players to have played in all 20 games.

To illustrate just how bad the injury toll was on the club, in a “NSW Cup” preseason trial, the Wests Tigers side contained David Nofoaluma, James Tedesco, Tim Simona, Jack Buchanan, Jarred Farlow, Bodene Thompson, with Shaun Spence, Sitaleki Akaoula and Sauaso Sue on the bench and Ava Seumanufagai unable to get a spot in the side.

The “patched together squad” then endured a record losing streak including a 54-10 annihilation against the Bunnies. A week later we saw a great last minute win against the Cowboys which had the team pumped, and it appeared the players were finally starting to buy into Potter’s goals and plans.

Just as it all seemed to be turning around for the club, Potter was dealt another blow with with CEO Stephen Humphreys stepping down from his position and Warren McDonnell moved on from the Recruitment Manager role. To his credit Potter rolled with the punches again and Grant Mayer took over as COO of the club. From day one of Mayer’s appointment it appeared the club was heading in the right direction. Soon Mayer was offered (and accepted) the CEO role at the club.

Before Grant Mayer could sit down he was hit with the “soap opera” that was Benji Marshall’s contract negotiations. These negotiations have visibly had an impact on the squad and Marshall himself and the current five game losing streak coincided with the “contract saga” that was handled disgracefully and was played out in the media spotlight.

Potter now finds himself with a number of under performing (possibly disinterested players) in the side. Having used 31 players in 22 rounds of footy means his hands are tied when it comes to finding replacements.

I won’t go into the “clashes” with Benji Marshall or any other reported problems at the club at this time but i will say this, his decision in Round 10 to drop Benji Marshall will be a blessing in disguise for the young crop of players moving forward. Under Mick Potter no one’s position is safe, regardless of what is on your CV.

I personally am excited to see what 2014 and beyond holds for the club. Look at the signings Potter, Mayer and the club have made for next year. They aren’t superstars who expect to be selected every week, they aren’t players who have to have their heads on TV or in the papers every day. They are footballers who all have one thing in common, they are desperate for another chance in the NRL. Richards, Lulia, Paterson are desperate to return to the NRL after stints in the UK. Blake Austin and Marty Taupau have found themselves down the pecking order at their respective clubs and we will see Dene Halatau return, a player built on culture, leadership and work ethic.

A mix of youth and hard work will put us in good stead for 2014 and beyond.

The club has been screaming out for a coach like Mick Potter. Hard nosed, uncompromising and an ‘i am your coach, not your best mate’ attitude. Under Mick Potter in 2014 we might finally see the word ‘accountability’ used within the footy team and within the club itself.

Keep Mick Potter at the helm in 2014, the guy deserves a chance, and hopefully after reading this you will see why i think he has done a damn good job considering their position on the table, as well as seeing that Sheens endured the same tough start to his coaching career at the club.

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