Saturday, 10 September 2016

Wayward Wests Tigers Lacking Direction (2016)

There have been plenty of commentators of late speculating about not if, but when Wests Tigers head coach Jason Taylor will get the sack. Given the results of the side under his tenure, many would consider it a reasonable question.

But does the fault really lie with Taylor?

I’m no fan of the style of footy the Tigers are currently displaying. It’s ill-disciplined, bordering on disrespectful, unstructured in a bad way, incohesive, and worst of all, it’s ugly. Two encouraging wins to start the year have descended into four straight losses.

Watching the Tigers in the first five weeks of 2016 provided plenty of entertaining highlight – but they only made up about 10 minutes of each game. There was another 70 minutes of slightly misguided, haphazard bumbling about, including a 20-minute period where they just fell asleep.

But against Newcastle last Sunday, it was an 80-minute chore.

Go back to 2013 after the disgracefully handled ousting of long-time coach Tim Sheens. It was the right decision, albeit a few years late. The club hired Mick Potter as his replacement. Potter wanted the Tigers to learn how to earn the right to have good field position, as opposed to fluking it.

The long-awaited move to structured football for the Tigers was met openly by all, knowing full well that it would be met with some hiccups. The club struggled in 2013, but the signs were promising.

The hiccup was Benji Marshall, whose final year at the club is mostly remembered for the miserable, boring spat with the club that was played out in the media for most of the year. His departure opened the door for Mitchell Moses.

The 2014 campaign saw the club play markedly better football, and at the end of Round 19 the Tigers were sitting ninth on the ladder – one win outside the top four. Then the even more pathetic saga about a non-complimentary, off-the-record comment Robbie Farah allegedly made 18 months prior about Potter.

More bungling by club officials allowed this non-issue to completely derail their season. They lost six straight games, scoring 50 points and conceding 225 in the most inept run into the finals seen in recent times. It consequently saw the club sack Potter.

After much inward looking, the club decided to hire Jason Taylor for 2015. Taylor had come from clubs renowned for having strong forward packs, which the halves rolled off the back of. He had worked with solid defensive units who played very structured football, and won.

He was hired to bring similar to a club that hadn’t played with any of those qualities for too many years.

Taylor spent 2015 trying to focus on getting the players to improve their defensive structures and to play to set game-plans, with the strategy to allow his young stars more freedom once they succeeded with his demands first.

It didn’t work. The club played uninspiring, one-dimensional football and their defence showed little improvement. They avoided the wooden spoon purely on percentages.

Now it appears Taylor has let the kids off the leash anyway.Perhaps he has been directed to do so in some bold ploy to keep young halves Luke Brooks and Mitchell Moses from leaving the club.

However, if this is how Brooks and Moses play when they get to do things their way, why retain them at all? If anything, they are playing themselves out of a contract – and not just at the Tigers.

If they couldn’t conform even remotely to playing structured football after a year of trying, they have very little chance of receiving the same creative freedoms they currently have at any other club.

Over the past five years, the club has changed coaches, board members, playing rosters, training facilities, diets and who knows what else.

But the same issues are always there. Small in-house squabbles are too often played out in the media and turned into Cirque du Soleil. Some would call it culture. Fans call it tiring.

Most clubs spend around two seasons going through a rebuild phase. The Tigers have been rebuilding for five years and are no closer to where they should be than they were three years ago.
The club needs to stop throwing coaches and players under the bus and instead, have a look at who is driving the bus, where the bus is supposed to be going and why it is driving in the opposite direction.

**This article appeared on the Commentary Box Sports website**

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