When professional sports teams start to go into a slump that lasts over the course of one or multiple seasons, they become the punching bag for both the league and the fans of the sport. When it comes to the NRL, recently, this has been the Wests Tigers.
Over the course of over a decade, the proud club has seen it all – from elongated finals drought, poor performances, and ridiculous administrative decisions – making it hard for many supporters to try and continue following the team day in and day out. So, what has happened over the last couple of years to warrant this team becoming the NRL’s punching bag?
Issue 1: The Anzac Jersey Saga
This is one of the most recent stories to come out from the Wests Tigers but it’s a good introduction to show how odd the club has been. Every year for Anzac Round, all the teams in the NRL release commemorative jerseys to donate sales to returning service leagues and veterans organisations.
The Wests Tigers released their 2023 version of the jersey, and the design raised a lot of suspicions along with a discovery that angered a lot of fans. The bottom of the jersey depicts two soldiers getting off of a helicopter in Afghanistan and the problem with this image, is that it is a stock photo that can be easily found on Google Images, and the soldiers are American, not Australian or Kiwi.
This backlash caused the clubs to cancel the jerseys and rush to make new ones in time for the round, however, when these new jerseys will be made, they will not be available for the public – raising issues of not enough money being donated towards the organisations.
Issue 2: Club Board Problems and Issues with Fans
When clubs go through a bad stretch of form, the blame rightfully gets sent to the top of the organisation. The way they respond to calls from their fans is crucial to not bring on further resentment and people metaphorically ‘wanting your head’. This is something that the heads of the Wests Tigers organisations ignore for some reason.
A lot of this resentment is surrounding two people; Lee Hagipantelis, Chairman of the Board of Directors, and Justin Pascoe, CEO. When the announcement of the trade of Tigers playmaker, Jackson Hastings, to go to the Newcastle Knights in return for the ageing forward David Klemmer, Pascoe responded to a lot of fans’ anger stating that there will be decisions made that fans won’t agree with, but these decisions are made in the best interests of the club.
But the biggest problems came with last year’s controversy with the WestsLife Podcast, a Wests Tigers fan forum and podcast. During last year’s wooden spoon season, the podcast offered to have Lee Hagipantelis on the show to give him a platform for his decisions and what to do to bring the club back into prominence.
Hagipantelis’ response was nuts, stating that the podcast used the platform to intimidate him after they published his email so fans of the club could get into direct contact with him and that the podcast had no bearing on discussing issues with the club.
He would reject the offer being quoted as saying “As to your kind invitation to appear on your podcast, I decline so that you can comfortably continue with venting your spleen, which appeases your need to be relevant,” and “From my perspective, you are not of any utility to my role as a chair or the club itself.”
Finishing off with, “You are perfectly entitled to your opinion, but it carries no weight whatsoever. It may have if you had even committed to become a member and put your money where your mouth is. You don’t even do that.”
To say this collectively angered the rugby league world would be an understatement. With major media groups reporting on it and dragging the actions of Hagipantelis.
Having this disconnect between the fans and the club’s board has been a major factor in the levels of toxicity currently associated with the club.
Issue 3: Wooden Spoon and Continuous Bad Performances
The main reason, and the most visual example of the Wests Tigers’ downfall, would be the current performances after coming off a dismal 2022 season.
After coming dead last and only winning four matches out of twenty-four, new signings needed to be made to try and fix the many problems that were apparent in 2022. Along with Klemmer, we saw premiership winners Apisai Koroisau and Charlie Staines from Penrith, Isaiah Papali’I from Parramatta, and John Bateman from England, among others joining the team for 2023.
On paper, it is one of the strongest forward packs in the NRL, however, as a running theme from 2022, these signings haven’t resulted in changes on the field. As of writing this, the Tigers have lost all five games for the 2023 season so far and are once again last place on the ladder.
This gives the idea to many supporters that it will be the same thing happening from last year and potentially nothing will change.
Currently, the Tigers are on a really bad run, but not the worst seen in the NRL era which would be the Newcastle Knights between 2015-2017 finishing last for all three seasons. From an
administrative side, the Wests Tigers club is in shambles and there is a major disconnect between board and fans.
Will this change in the near future? Who knows, however, I wouldn’t bank on it happening anytime soon.