BY CURTIS WOODWARD
Winning the premiership is every club’s goal. It is the very reason players roll out of bed in the morning and do what they do. It’s what every club aspires to be – the National Rugby League Champions.
The Canberra Raiders won three in six years and haven’t qualified for a grand final since.
Parramatta created a dynasty in the 1980’s and have been feeding off it ever since.
Cronulla only turned the porch light off in 2016.
South Sydney? Waited 43 years to win their 21st title.
What’s this all got to do with Wests Tigers?
They won the big one in 2005, which wasn’t that long ago. What’s the fuss? There’s plenty of teams that have waited longer than 2005.
Some will say their premiership was a fluke.
Those people would be fools.
If you remember, Wests Tigers went on an eight-game winning streak that included floggings of Canterbury, Cronulla, South Sydney and Manly. They came out of nowhere. At the time, it was all about the vicious defensive lines led by the Sydney Roosters and Canterbury Bulldogs.
Wests Tigers played exhilarating, free footy.
Eight wins? Cool. Very entertaining but Wests Tigers can’t win the competition.
They finished the regular season 4th and then beat North Queensland 50-6, Brisbane 34-6, St George Illawarra 20-12 and the Cowboys again 30-16 to claim their maiden crown.
Fluke? Jog on, buddy.
Coach Tim Sheens and his baby-faced freaks turned the NRL on its head.
No matter what happens or what they win in the future, Wests Tigers will never win the grand final again for the first time.
So what’s the point?
The point is, in many ways, Wests Tigers are still living off 2005.
Another argument is, Wests Tigers never held themselves accountable for the years that followed.
In the three years after their title, they finished 11th, 9th and 10th.
Fans and commentators alike would rise to their feet and applaud the flick passes and incredible tries but more times than not, they finished the game on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
Interestingly, the 2009-2011 era is rarely spoken about.
A premiership window, lost, forever.
In a parallel universe somewhere not too far away, Wests Tigers could have had a second premiership.
By 2009, Benji Marshall had won a World Cup with New Zealand and was one of the absolute best players in the game. Robbie Farah was a State of Origin player. They had the great Englishman Gareth Ellis, Taniela Tuiaki on the wing and a squad with legitimate depth.
They added Lote Tuqiri the following season and developed youngsters like Andrew Fifita, Simon Dwyer and Aaron Woods.
Throw in guys like Keith Galloway, Bryce Gibbs, Wade McKinnon, Liam Fulton, Chris Heighington, Matt Utai and Todd Payten and you’ve got yourself a serious squad.
Yet Wests Tigers failed to capitalise.
Season ’09 will forever be remembered as Jarryd Hayne’s.
Hayne, from Campbelltown ironically, tore shreds off opposition sides on his way to the Dally M. His Parramatta Eels followed and they qualified for an unlikely grand final appearance from 8th position.
But if you look back, it could have been so different.
In round 24 at the Sydney Football Stadium, Wests Tigers and the Eels clashed in front of almost 35,000 rabid fans. The game could have gone either way but the loss for Wests Tigers would begin a series of big game defeats.
On that night, Parramatta slipped away 26-18.
The Eels finished 8th on 29 points.
Wests Tigers finished on 28.
Then came 2010 and a 3rd place finish and one of the greatest games ever played against the Roosters. Braith Anasta field goal. Shaun Kenny-Dowall intercept. You know the match. If only Heighington picked that ball up at the back of the scrum. But they came back the next week and beat the Raiders in Canberra which set up a preliminary final appearance against the Dragons.
History will say Wayne Bennett’s Dragons would beat the Chooks in the grand final but it could have been so different. A week earlier, Wests Tigers fell agonizingly short again. A 13-12 loss to the Dragons at ANZ Stadium with 71,000 supporters watching on.
Nobody is saying Wests Tigers would have won the grand final but you have to be there to win it, right?
They’d finish top four again in 2011.
And what happened?
So close and yet so far.
New Zealand Warriors back Krisnan Inu (another Campbelltown lad) took a Shaun Johnson bomb in the 77th minute and planted the ball on the line. Wests Tigers eliminated in the second week of the playoffs. The Warriors would go on to upset the Storm in Melbourne before meeting Manly in the last game of the year.
Since then, Wests Tigers have finished 10th, 15th, 13th, 15th, 9th, 14th and 9th.
They currently sit precariously in 9th after 8 rounds.
It’s great to relieve glory but you can’t hang your hat on it forever.
Wests Tigers have never really grown up.
Is it because of 2005 or the fact they’ve ignored everything that’s happened since?