The Tigers are a club in crisis, with one win from seven and the coach under fire, but Brad Fittler has a fix.
The joint-venture club has been in the doldrums for close to a decade, with their last finals appearance coming back in 2011.
Since then, they’ve won just 85 of 219 matches, with 2021 shaping up as perhaps the worst of those 10 seasons. The Tigers are currently equal last on the ladder, having won only one of their last 10 matches dating back to September last year, and having been flogged 40-6 by Manly on ANZAC Day.
After a period of stability with Tim Sheens, the coaching position has been something of a revolving door since he was succeeded by Mick Potter in 2013.
Jason Taylor, Ivan Cleary and now Michael Maguire have all found themselves in the hot-seat, with Maguire’s job-security far from certain, despite the fact he’s contracted until 2023.
Reports emerged on Sunday night of a crisis-meeting to discuss his future, with the club spending the week denying he is in danger of being axed, just seven matches after his contract was extended.
According to Fittler, the club needs to establish a proper identity for itself.
“The first thing I would do is go and place myself out at Campbelltown,” he told Wide World of Sports’ Freddy and The Eighth.
“That’s the first thing they have to do, that’s where all the kids are, that’s where they’re all playing.
“Go to Campbelltown. No-one’s ever embraced it because they say no-one wants to live there.
“Get there, and get involved.”
Despite Campbelltown being one of the Wests Tigers home grounds, they’ll play just three matches there in 2021. After their match against the Titans on May 8, the club won’t play again at Campbelltown until they face the Bulldogs on September 5, a four month gap that makes it all but impossible to build a fan base in the area.
The Tigers also play their Sydney home games at Leichhardt Oval (three matches in 2021), Bankwest Stadium (3 matches) and Stadium Australia (1 match).
Add in a home match in Tamworth and Suncorp Stadium (Magic Round), as well as a training base at Concord, and the Wests Tigers are very much the competition’s nomads, attempting to forge an identity in many different geographical regions, and failing on all counts.
Campbelltown last had a full-time presence in the NRL in 1999, when Western Suburbs were based there in their final season before forming the joint venture with Balmain, and that’s where a move to Campbelltown becomes controversial, with the Balmain side of the joint venture unlikely to back such a shift.
The political machinations at the club is one reason league legend Andrew Johns thinks the Tigers need someone to fill the same role Phil Gould did at Penrith, where, as General Manager, he oversaw all aspects of the football club’s operations.
“They’re talking about Madge (Maguire) leaving, where do they go from there?” Johns asked.
“You know what they need? They need Gus.
“They need Gus to get in there and do what he did at the Panthers.”
Gould is now employed by the New Zealand Warriors, but master-coach Jack Gibson’s quote that winning starts in the front office gives a fair clue as to why the Tigers have struggled for so long.
Earlier this week, Parramatta great Peter Sterling questioned why Maguire’s position was under threat, arguing that he deserved more time to shape the playing roster into one that could contend for the finals.
Noting the turnover of coaches at the club in recent years, Sterling said the club needed stability, although he added that alarm bells should be ringing for Maguire, after the club publicly backed him.
“Once the board start coming out and saying, ‘We’re not talking about his future, that’s safe,’ you do start to worry,” he said on Sterlo’s Wrap.
“Rugby league has a history of that not ending well.”
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