Smells like (fif)teen spirit

Fifteen year olds can be a real pain in the arse. Big, bold, brash and more than a few bullies. So it’s only fitting that the Wests Tigers are playing accordingly in their 15th year. An unlikely mix of cornrows, strapping tape, untamed hair, ankle socks, neck tattoos and boyish good looks has taken the team from pillows to pylons. Wests are playing a brand of flash and grind football not seen in Tiger town since, well, forever.

This new-found attitude starts and finishes with the captain. Robbie Farah is playing more direct – terrorising opposition teams with well-timed runs and smart kicks. In the past we’ve seen the Origin hooker jump out to first or second receiver and assume the role of pseudo playmaker. Not this year. A dominant forward pack has given Farah plenty of room to move, but above all he looks relaxed. That is perhaps the biggest change within this playing group – the Tigers are cool, calm and confident, which brings me to the whipping boys.

Adam Blair and Braith Anasta have been bashed from pillar to post since joining the Tigers. While the high-profile signings certainly deserve their share of the blame, they’ve also been asked to play out of their comfort zones. Defined roles and simple game plans enable these two to thrive. Throw in a rejuvenated Bodene Thompson and it’s clear that Michael Potter and his coaching staff are making all the right moves to motivate and empower their team.

There’s no doubt that Potter is there for his players. He isn’t afraid to praise them publically and he’s smart enough to realise that fans and the media will overreact – either positively or negatively – after a game. With former enforcers David Kidwell, Steve ‘Blocker’ Roach and John Skandalis by his side, Potter has put his faith in a bunch of bench players with little to no first grade experience. It took some time, about 15 years, but the Tigers are finally a team to be feared.

Martin Taupau (27 NRL games), Ava Seumanufagai (23), Jesse Sue (21), James Gavet (7) and Sitaleki Akauola (3) have catapulted the Tigers into the top four on the back of controlled aggression and a sprinkling of arrogance. The bench players seem intent on outperforming each other – who can do the most damage with the ball in hand and who can put on the biggest hit. This infectious enthusiasm has spread to every Tigers player from fullback to front row.

No one showcases the spirit of the 2014 Wests Tigers quite like than Aaron Woods, who has taken his game to the next level – is that even possible?! – and is undoubtedly the form prop in the NRL. Woods is that kid who we all knew at school. The big, bold, brash kid who ran over the top of opposition players and did it with a smile on his face. Happy 15th birthday, Wests Tigers. Here’s hoping you continue to be a pain in the arse.