Building: coach Jason Taylor knows his Tigers are a work in progress. Photo: Anna WarrJason Taylor has revealed the Wests Tigers’ salary cap is so dire that the club is over the limit for next year and it could take up to three seasons to fix the “horrendous” situation.
The Wests Tigers are currently sitting in last place and are going through a difficult transition period under a new coach and management, while fans are questioning why the club hasn’t been more active in retaining and recruiting talent, powerbrokers have been hamstrung due to years of rostering mismanagement.
In an extensive interview with Fairfax Media ahead of Sunday’s clash with the table-topping Broncos, Taylor opened up about the salary cap debacle, the side’s more structured style of play and his plans to turn around a side which has underperformed since its breakthrough premiership victory a decade ago. Salary cap
The Tigers have been panned for their decision to release a string of contracted players in the off-season. They will come up against New Zealand international Adam Blair at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday, but the decision which fans are most upset about is Blake Austin. Austin has been a revelation since joining Canberra and is now being spoken about as a potential Origin option for NSW next season.
“The decisions we made at the start of the year of letting players go was purely based around the position with our salary cap at that point in time,” Taylor explained.
“In a word, it was horrendous. We had to start by letting some players go straight away, not so that it would make a difference this year or even next year. Those decisions were made so we can genuinely go into the market down the track and that will probably start to happen in a better fashion in three years’ time.
“It’s hard for people to get their head around how it works, but to put things into perspective we’re currently over the salary cap for next year and there are some players with us that we’d still like to re-sign.”
Stand-in CEO Phil Moss inherited similar problems during his tenure at Penrith and had to make unpopular decisions – such as moving on local juniors Luke Lewis and Michael Jennings – to ensure sustainable success. Moss is now working closely with Taylor to ensure the joint-venture club can also emerge from a difficult period due to a raft of inflated and back-ended deals.
“We started working on our salary cap in November last year and we are still working hard to get to a point where it’s working for us and not against us,” Taylor said.
“At the moment it’s working against us. It’s making what we’re trying to do at the club a lot tougher than what it should be. We’d like to think we can be in the market for top-line players sooner rather than later but we’ll have to look at our roster and how we manage it.
“Austin is probably the one Wests Tigers supporters are finding hardest to stomach because of how well he’s playing but you can only move the players other clubs are prepared to take.
“With Blake Austin, he had already signed to go to Canberra for 2016 so we were resigned to losing him anyway. So with the cap as it is, our hand was forced.
“It’s scary to think where Wests Tigers’ salary cap would have ended up in a few years’ time if myself and particularly Phil Moss didn’t start looking at every detail and work on how it will look down the track.” Results
The Tigers currently sit in bottom spot on the ladder ahead of their clash with the high-flying Broncos. Long-suffering fans hoping for a quick fix have been disappointed. Taylor understands their frustrations but is adamant he is witnessing improvements under the new systems he is implementing. The former halfback acknowledges he will ultimately be judged by results and thanked the board for having the patience to support him during a tough transitional period.
“What I’ve been able to do this year, and what I’m most proud of, is staying positive as a coaching group and keeping the players positive,” Taylor said.
“The competition ladder and the scoreboard at the end of the game is one thing, but how we’re training, how we’re improving and the team we’re becoming is still happening, despite what it looks like from the outside. We are down the track in moving [forward] in every way.
“If anybody thinks I’m saying ‘the board is supportive and [results] don’t matter’ – it matters. Big time. It’s a tough environment but it’s my job to keep everyone’s head in the right direction, keep them positive and keep working hard.
“A lot of clubs in our situation would give up for the remainder of the year. There was a bit of that at the end of last year as a club. That won’t be happening this time around.” Playing style
It doesn’t matter how many points you let in, we’ll score more. That was the mantra during the Tigers’ storied 2005 triumph and it endured for long afterwards.
“There was a point where the Tigers were that team, I know for a fact that was discussed as a philosophy. But we’re talking a long time ago,” Taylor said.
Since signing up as coach, Taylor has placed a greater emphasis on defence, while also adding more structure to the attack. Some claim this is going against everything the Tigers stand for and unnecessarily shackling the flair of young guns Luke Brooks and Mitchell Moses.
“We are developing a tougher style,” Taylor explained. “It’s not that attack is not important and we’ve got some really good attacking players. But the best defensive teams win the competition and we must continue to develop ourselves to compete with the best teams in that area.
“We don’t want to coach any of the footy out of the players. The coaching staff is conscious we’ve got young talented players.
“Mitchell is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. I’ve been happy with the way Mitchell has gone this season because he’s played a role that limited his involvement somewhat. That’s caused some frustration for Mitch but his attitude to it and his perseverance to it is superb.
“We’re adjusting things as we move forward to bring Mitch into the game more and developing our structure so he gets the ball more often in better situations.” Injuries
The Tigers have been decimated by injuries in recent seasons. Under Taylor, more focus has been placed on pre-hab and rehab. But the biggest change is the decision not to rush players back early for the sake of short-term results.
“Aaron Woods was a classic example of that early in the season,” he said. “He played a game and his knee was sore and we could have pushed him to play. He might have got through the game, he also could have ended up being out for 4-6 weeks. He had a week off and hasn’t missed a week since.” The future
Taylor is confident the changes he has made – from overhauling players’ diets to adjusting playing styles and rosters – will pay dividends in the long term. He is also fostering a culture of accountability, as evidenced by his decision not to slam referees for bad calls.
“Winning teams and winning individuals don’t look for excuses like blaming referees. That’s what we’re trying to build here,” he said.
While the results have been disappointing, Taylor will be sticking to his systems and philosophies in the belief they will pay off.
“We’ve changed most things,” he said. “It’s not about us trying something for a month or two. It’s not like now, we say ‘that stuff isn’t working, let’s try something different’. It’s a process and path we’re on and we need to work hard on our roster with the players to get to that point.
“Are we better than at the start of the year? Absolutely. Is that showing on the field? Not right now. But it will.”
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