Mick Potter will start the new NRL season as he finished the last, a coach under extreme pressure to hold his job.
But the Wests Tigers mentor is expecting no favours.
Despite the youth and inexperience in his squad, Potter admits there’s no time for his cubs – or him for that matter – to ease into the season.
Potter endured a baptism of fire at the helm in 2013 as his injury-ravaged side limped home in second last and he made one of the biggest calls in the club’s history to bench Benji Marshall.
By the end of the season, the former New Zealand captain was gone.
But now the Marshall storm has passed, Potter says there’s much he learned from last year which can help him coach for his career in the first half of this season.
“No one really cares about what happens off the field, all anyone really cares about is how many games you win and how many games you lose,” said Potter.
“The teams that have some early losses, they need to make up ground and you don’t want to be one of those teams.
“We’re not looking to work our way into the competition.”
What did he learn that can help?
“To adhere to your principles and the standards you want to set without deviating and don’t compromise,” he said.
“We probably cut ourselves a bit of slack because we were a little bit understrength at times and we just can’t do that. You can’t feel sorry for yourself.”
However, Potter admitted he’ll need to be patient with 19-year-old halfback Luke Brooks, and his other young halves Mitchell Moses and Blake Austin.
There’s plenty to like about the Tigers this season, but still question marks over whether the undoubted potential is too raw.
“They’ve got quality stamped on them. But they’ll experience some good games and they’ll experience some not so good games,” Potter said.
Brooks will need to contend with the kind of spotlight that welcomed the likes of Adam Reynolds and Daly Cherry-Evans into grade as he’s already been compared to Andrew Johns.
In the outside backs the Tigers have unlimited try-scoring potential with David Nofoaluma, Tim Simona, James Tedesco and Marika Koroibete gaining valuable experience last year, even if they mostly finished on the wrong end of the scoreboard.
Wests Tigers won a premiership playing as a free-spirited side in 2005, but since then have missed far too many playoff series for the same reason.
Potter says the Tigers need to focus on defence and basic go-forward before giving the ball air, but he’s confident young Brooks can still ignite a formidable backline at Leichhardt and Campbelltown this year.
“We’ve got the balance too wrong too many times and we need to work our way down the field more so than try to have a get-out-of-jail-free play,” he said.
“It’s that balance between recognising that it’s a good opportunity to take some easy metres as opposed to popping the cork and over-playing.
“But I’ll allow the guys to play if they see the opportunity.”
Veteran Braith Anasta will likely start the year at five-eighth, or at least somewhere in the 17 to help the rookies through, and Potter said he would be a key player all season.
“He’ll temper their enthusiasm at times and perk them up when they’re feeling sorry for themselves,” Potter said.
Premierships: 1 – 2005
Finishes over the past three seasons: 2013 – 15th, 2012 – 10th, 2011 – 4th
Coach: Mick Potter
Captain: Robbie Farah
Gains: Pat Richards (Wigan), Dene Halatau (Bulldogs), Cory Paterson (Hull KR), Martin Taupau (Bulldogs), Blake Austin (Panthers), Keith Lulia (Bradford)
Losses: Benji Marshall (Blues Super Rugby), Jacob Miller (Hull FC), Blake Ayshford (Sharks), Lote Tuqiri (Rabbitohs via European rugby), Joel Reddy (Rabbitohs), Eddy Pettybourne (Wigan), Matt Groat (Dragons), Shaun Spence (Panthers)
Strength: The Tigers possess some of the most exciting young talent in the competition. Luke Brooks, James Tedesco, Curtis Sironen, Mitchell Moses, David Nofoaluma and Tim Simona are all stars in the making.
Weakness: There are still vulnerabilities in the Tigers forward pack if they suffer a couple of injuries, and inexperience is an issue.
One to watch: Luke Brooks. Dubbed the next Andrew Johns, the rookie No.7 isn’t expected to take long to adjust to the big time.
Best team: James Tedesco, Marika Koroibete, Chris Lawrence, Tim Simona, David Nofoaluma, Braith Anasta, Luke Brooks, Aaron Woods, Robbie Farah (capt), Keith Galloway, Curtis Sironen, Liam Fulton, Adam Blair. Interchange: Marty Taupau, Sauaso Sue, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Blake Austin.
Predicted finish: 16th