History against Maguire in bid to save Tigers’ season … unless they can emulate ’99 Broncos or ’57 Rabbitohs

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Anything short of a finals berth is set to bring down the curtain on Michael Maguire’s time as Wests Tigers coach and he will have to overcome history if they are to recover from their dreadful start to make the finals.

The 1999 Broncos are the only team in the NRL era which has lost its first five matches before scraping into the finals. The only other team in premiership history to have started 0-5 was South Sydney in 1957, who then won 11 of their next 13 to finish third in the 10-team competition, beat Wests in their first playoff before they were eliminated by Manly in the preliminary final. 

Maguire’s side has won its past two matches after a five-game losing skid to give Tigers fans a flicker of hope that their 2022 campaign can be salvaged.

An unlikely surge to the finals could potentially save Maguire’s position with the club set to show him the door if he goes four straight seasons finishing in the also-rans.

Unlike the 1999 Broncos team which was jam-packed with stars loike Darren Lockyer, Steve Renouf, Gorden Tallis, Wendell Sailor, Petero Civoniceva and Shane Webcke, the modern-day Tigers are a combination of players who are past their prime or yet to live up to their potential.

The decision to switch Jackson Hastings to halfback over the past fortnight, with Luke Brooks taking on a secondary playmaking role, has helped turn their fortunes around.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 13: Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire looks on during a Wests Tigers NRL training session at St Lukes Park North on April 13, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

There have been another eight teams who have started the season with five straight losses since 1998 and most finished well out of the finals race.

The only other side which sniffed the playoff equation was the Sydney Roosters of 2007, who finished the season strongly to end up 10th, just one point out of eighth spot.

Perhaps ominously for Maguire, the catalyst for that late-season resurgence was Chris Anderson’s mid-season exit as coach with interim Brad Fittler guiding them to five wins and a draw in the closing eight rounds.

Of the other 0-5 starts to the season, Canterbury last year finished last with a 3-21 record, the 2018 Eels also collected the wooden spoon (6-18), the 2016 Roosters scraped into second last (6-18), the 2008 Rabbitohs got no higher than 14th (8-16), the 2005 Knights finished 8-16 but occupied the cellar, the 2003 Sharks achieved the same record to be 12th while the Sea Eagles in 1999 started as badly as the Broncos but ended up 13th (9-14-1).

Wests, who have not registered a hat-trick of wins since Round 6 in 2018, face a team in a similar predicament in Wollongong on Sunday.

St George Illawarra kicked off the season in sluggish fashion, losing four of their first five before breathing life into their cause, and the tenure of coach Anthony Griffin, with back-to-back wins over the Knights and Roosters.

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Griffin copped a lot of flak for demoting young guns Tyrell Sloan and Junior Amone but after the losses kept coming for a fortnight with Moses Mbye and Jack Bird in their spots, they’ve at least been able to get back on a winning track.

Maguire and Griffin are similar coaches in that they both favour an old-school approach and have copped more than their fair share of slings and arrows from the fans and media. 

After winning the premiership, South Sydney’s historic 21st trophy, in 2014, Maguire’s enjoyed just one season with a winning record when he oversaw a 13-11 campaign the following year which ended via a first-round playoff loss to Cronulla.

He missed the finals in his last two seasons at Souths with 9-15 records and 12th-placed finishes each time before he was sacked so the club could promote assistant Anthony Seibold to the top job.

Maguire’s three seasons at the Tigers have yielded similarly mediocre results – an 11-13 record in 2019 to finish ninth, 7-13 for 11th in 2020 and 8-16 for 13th last year.

In fact, his career NRL strike rate has dropped below 50% for the first time this season with a 113-115 overall record.

To his credit, Maguire has not shrunk away from the intense spotlight on his performance, ignoring what he calls “the external” and is determined to see out the rest of his contract at the Tigers which runs until the end of next year.

“Winning in a footy organisation definitely changes the conversations but we’re all very focused on knowing we’ve got plenty to do and we have to turn up tomorrow knowing we’ve got to do it all again,” he said at his Saturday captain’s run media conference.

“I think Jacko has definitely added to what we’ve been doing but I think our middles, our forwards are laying a really strong platform. 

“The conversations between Jacko and Brooksy add to what allows us to play this style that we’ve been and we said before the whole season started we’re going to change subtly in our attack.”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 18: Jackson Hastings of the Tigers celebrates with team mates after kicking a field-goal to win the round six NRL match between the Parramatta Eels and the Wests Tigers at CommBank Stadium on April 18, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt Blyth/Getty Images)

(Photo by Matt Blyth/Getty Images)

Just when it looked like Maguire would have a settled spine, fullback Daine Laurie is out with a knee injury for at least a month with Starford To’a taking over the No.1 jersey.

Griffin’s task of a third straight win to keep the wolves from his door has been made harder with Jaydn Su’A out for the foreseeable future after he suffered a serious ankle injury in the Anzac Day win over the Roosters.

Five-eighth Jack Bird is an outside chance of playing this weekend after being cleared of a broken arm, however the knee damage he also suffered against the Tricolours is more likely to rule him out with young gun Junior Amone set to replace him in the starting line-up.

“We’ve built some momentum over the past couple of weeks so it’s really important we go on with it now,” Griffin said.

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