Influential rugby league figure Phil Gould says it could take Wests Tigers up to a decade to properly climb out of the NRL quagmire, and he’s urged the embattled club to focus long-term rather than on immediate success.
The Tigers haven’t played finals in a decade, and finished 13th on the ladder this year after winning only eight games, and suffering a number of embarrassing defeats.
They are the laughing stock of the competition despite the fact the Bulldogs, Broncos, and Cowboys all finished lower on the ladder.
Earlier this week they were the centre of a 24-hour circus when it appeared certain coach Michael Maguire would be sacked, only for the club to release a statement assuring the man known as ‘Madge’ isn’t going anywhere just yet.
Their own chairman, Lee Hagipantellis, labelled that saga “embarrassing” and “a debacle”.
Gould says he “loves” the Tigers and desperately wants to see the club succeed and return to NRL finals.
But to do so, he wants them to bite the bullet and follow the formula he did at Penrith, when he went all-in on developing a giant Panthers academy and junior system.
“It was taught to me by (Roosters owner) Nick Politis many years ago – losing is bad for business. And that’s right across your club,” Gould told James Bracey on Wide World of Sports’ Six Tackles With Gus podcast.
“If you’re going to buy established players, marquee players, you’re going to pay a premium for them. You’re going to pay more than anyone else just to bring them to your club, and that filters down the whole roster.
“You’re probably not an attraction for the very elite players who are going to help you win games.
“You have to build from within. You have to start from the beginning. You have to go back and develop a pathways program internally and you have to get very aggressive in that junior development space, until you can develop a whole group of players who can come through your whole system and play NRL for you.
“The Tigers probably went through that a number of years ago when the likes of Mitchell Moses and James Tedesco and Aaron Woods and Luke Brooks burst onto the scene, and you thought those were the types of players who not only win you games, but attract players from other clubs.
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“You had Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall still to come back to the club, so you had a core group of playmakers there that anyone would love to play with.
“But they lost them. And when they lost them they panicked, and then they bought poorly. And then they got themselves into salary cap trouble, then they’re starting to chase their tail.
“And it’s kind of like ‘we know we’ve got to go back and develop, we know we’ve got to take five or 10 years to turn this around, but if we just buy this player we’ll get a win this week and that will get everyone off our back’.
“They start to get into quick fixes, they start to panic about this week’s result, they live and die by this week’s result, and that gives more fuel for members that want to complain on forums and social media that wants to abuse the players and coaches, and that filters into the mainstream media.
“That’s where the Wests Tigers are.”
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The Tigers are suffering from decisions to pay big money to the likes of Russell Packer, Josh Reynolds, and Moses Mbye for years.
They’ve started to clean up the roster and now have money to play with in the salary cap, but have struggled to bring quality players to Concord. The likes of Josh Addo-Carr, Latrell Mitchell, Tevita Pangai Jr, and Blayke Brailey have opted not to sign there in recent years, among many others.
The starting point to move forward from here was locking in the coach, with Maguire contracted for seasons 2022 and 2023.
On Monday afternoon it seemed certain he was about to be sacked, with the Tigers eyeing current Penrith assistant Cameron Ciraldo as the new coach.
Gould believes Maguire’s job was never in danger.
“I’ve had several interactions with Michael Maguire around international football, and also his Wests Tigers. Never at any time have I felt his job was in jeopardy,” Gould said.
“Only last week he was calling me looking at possible trades for players and positions they are trying to fill. He wasn’t acting like a coach who felt like he was walking the plank.”
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