As the latest Wests Tigers episode in self harm sprung to life on Wednesday it left this long term member/sufferer with a familiar sense of anger and betrayal. Ever since Balmain and Wests merged back in 2000 the Wests Tigers have lurched from one crisis to the next. Season upon season has been sidetracked and hijacked by a combination of incomprehensible reasons.
From bickering boards, to blundering CEO's, to rookie coaches to Hoppa's finger to a divided fan base. There has rarely been a dull year at Concord. The club has made the finals just 3 times in their 16 full seasons in the NRL and whilst Tim Sheen's 2005 Premiers will never be forgotten, it was fleeting success that was never properly capitalised on and built on.
This ongoing Jason Taylor/Farah feud is just the latest embarrassing episode which has now flared at inopportune times in consecutive seasons. When Taylor unceremoniously dumped Farah to reserve grade on Wednesday it was the ultimate power play which again in my opinion threatens to derail the team's season.
Whilst Taylor, with his job on the line has the right to go down swinging with the side he wants to put on the paddock, what impact does his decision have on team morale and unity for the rest of the season? Put simply, Taylor has now put the club back in the headlines and under pressure. By dumping a current Origin player and 247 game club legend, Taylor needs wins to finish the season. If the season ends with further losses and turmoil, I would send Taylor packing.
I was fairly confident this Wests Tigers team were building nicely towards a late charge at the Top 8. They have played pretty consistent football the last 2 months and looked a happy group. With 3 current Origin stars, promising young halves and some handy signings in Tim Grant and Elijah Taylor, this is a squad capable of much more. However Jason Taylor's mind games with the squad and his power play regarding Farah has put another season in jeopardy for mine. Farah remains a popular member of the squad and maintains strong support from most Wests Tigers members. The side was starting to build a bit of momentum and fans were starting to get excited about the brand of football they were playing. However now it's the same old circus with off-field headlines distracting the group.
Whilst plenty of Wests Tigers fans sit firmly on either side of the Farah or Taylor fence, this issue is complex and blame lies on both sides. Farah has always been a headstrong and grizzly character that divides opinion. He is a hooker on over $900,000 that is past his best and in the twilight. Taylor has always been a fairly abrasive and unproven coach that was previously sacked from Souths after being knocked out by David Falango in a Mad Monday gone wrong. What could possibly go wrong, right??
Taylor for mine has been planning his power play for weeks. First Farah was "rested" during Origin, against the Roosters, when fully fit to back up 5 days after Game 1. Farah was then demoted to the bench with no guarantee he would return to the starting side as Taylor sent out mixed messages in a bizarre press conference. Now as soon as Origin has finished, Taylor named Farah on the bench on Tuesday, only to pull him aside after training on Wednesday and deliver the bad news. More mind games, more turmoil.
Whilst the writing had been on the wall for weeks, I just wish as a Wests Tigers member Jason Taylor would stop the mind games and tell the truth. Maybe his hands have been tied throughout the year, however now seems a toxic time to bring the feud back to life with Farah in decent form. Treat Farah and the fans with a bit more respect and be upfront and strong with some honest leadership. Some Tigers fans still might dislike him, but they would respect him more for that rather then the charades behind the scenes that have been going on with "resting" and benching and simply waiting until Origin was over before swinging the axe.
Farah in my opinion remains in the best 17 at Wests Tigers and should be selected. He is no longer the attacking dynamo he was 5 years ago. His form has plateaued and been pretty mundane for a few years. However he is a better hooker then Dene Halatau. He has put his head down and swallowed his pride, playing well from the interchange bench in 2 consecutive Tigers wins. The move to the bench has actually helped spark some of Farah's attacking game back to life. The coach's first job should be to pick the best 17 that gives the team the chance to win, and Taylor has failed to do this in my opinion, putting his power play ahead of the side's fortunes.
Jason Taylor, as a new coach trying to make his mark, decided club captain Farah was not part of his plans back in mid-2015. All well and good - the coach needs to have the roster he wants and have some authority. However with 2 seasons remaining on a 900K+ a year deal things got complicated. Suitors for Farah were thin on the ground. If the club had come out and said Farah was moving on and had found a club, Tigers fans would have been upset, but would have quickly moved on. However Farah had nowhere to go. Jason Taylor as coach needed to make sure all his ducks were lined up when trying to move on Farah. If they were not, which they clearly were not, then it just created unnecessary turmoil.
First Farah didn't want to leave - he would stand his ground. Taylor threatened to put him in Reserve Grade to start 2016.A pretty shabby ultimatum to deliver to a club legend. Farah and his management then looked around only to find offers thin on the ground. Robbie and his management asked for release in the pre season only for the Tigers, under new CEO Justin Pascoe, to not grant that release, presumably because the club couldn't afford to pay out his contract in full. So an uneasy truce between Farah and Taylor was cobbled together and both were told to toe the party line.
Farah purely from a football point of view should have done everything possible to move on at the end of 2015. He deserved in my opinion to finish a fine career, without the circus that has surrounded him at the Tigers. He has got bogged down in the clubs struggles. He has worn the brunt of much of the club's turmoil, sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly. He had had the finger pointed at him from all angles. Whilst I don't think Robbie is an angel by any means, I think his reputation as a coach killer was greatly exaggerated.
His reputation was perpetuated by Gorden Tallis claiming Farah told him that former Wests Tigers coach Mick Potter couldn't coach in a private conversation had back in early 2013. However for Tallis, to take 18 months in late 2014 to decide to bring up that conversation, was incredibly poor form and completely out of context. Back when the conversation took place Mick Potter was in his first few months of a Tiger's side beset by injuries on a 7 game losing streak. When Tallis decided to speak out the Tigers under Potter were 9 wins and 8 losses and sitting inside the Top 8 in 2014. Did Tallis ask Farah what he thought of Potter then? Might his opinion have changed after 18 months of improvement? The context didn't seem to matter for the vultures in the media and to some Tigers fans Farah was a coach killer. Farah was not liked within the squad. Farah was a selfish footballer who ignored game plans. When in doubt, blame Farah.
Jason Taylor for mine has done a pretty average job since coming into Concord. Whilst the side has improved this season they remain inconsistent. He claimed that previous coaches at the Wests Tigers had neglected defence and it would be easy to fix. However 18 months into his reign the club is still leaking 25 points plus game. Many will tell you he is doing a decent job with the roster at his disposal, however when I see sides like the Dragons, Panthers, Raiders and Titans above the Tigers I disagree.
Whilst the answer for the Tigers is not chopping and changing coaches every 2 years Taylor's man management at NRL level remains a big question mark for mine. This latest saga is just the latest example. Whilst I don't doubt his opinion that Farah on more then 900,000 is tieing up too much cap space, the whole thing has been handled extremely poorly. Whilst the latest power play from taylor probably brings an end to Farah's time at Concord, it could ultimately bring down Taylor as well, as I believe he has not picked the best 17 and distracted the squad. Whilst in the end results will determine whether this was a good move, history of late season fade outs because of internal drama at the Tigers are not uncommon, and likely in this situation in my opinion.