Down Under Blog: #72 Wests, Tim, Salford and Lui

Pommy Rich gives us all the mis-dealing's in the NRL in his world famous Down Under Blog.

Well, joint third eh? Despite a couple of terrible performances against the top two teams in Super League and a last minute defeat at Caravan Park we’re sitting fairly pretty as the “best of the rest” behind Saints and Wire.

I’d have taken that if you’d offered me that in January, especially if you’d have told me about our appalling injury list, disrupted squad, internationals sat on the side-line for long periods in Shaul and Jake the Snake, and having to medically retire the best winger we’ve had in years. Yep third is fine by me, and hopefully once we get some bodies back, we’re nicely placed for a bit of a tilt come the end of the season.

I’d have also taken L**ds and Rovers positions towards the bottom end of the competition if you’d have offered me that too. Rovers are in freefall, a skinny squad is being tested with some injury woes, and supporter discontent with their own players and particularly Tim “The Wizard” Sheens seems to be multiplying with each cycle of giro payments.

I’ll confess right now, I know Tim Sheens a little from my time at Wests Tigers. He delivered the clubs first (and only) premiership in 2005, and mentored a once in a lifetime group of players, Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah being two that he brought through the system. Some of his acquisitions were astute too, with Scott Prince and Gareth Ellis both signing up whilst he was in charge. He was always seen as a very good tactical innovator, and Wests Tigers teams could always be relied upon to try something out of the ordinary such as a scrum base play, or Pat Richards changing the way that players kicked off from the tee. There are actually a few parallels with legendary ex Hull Coach Brian Smith if you’ll indulge me.

Like Smith, Sheens was known for getting a team to punch above its weight, getting the absolute best out of average players. Many of the players that have played under both coaches have gone onto become decent first grade coaches themselves, both men are known for being students of the game, innovating new training regimes and techniques. The other thing is they both have notable blind spots. Smith, who lets face it saved our club in the late 80’s, was oddly loyal to some terrible players (Marquis Charles anyone) and made some baffling signings. Sheens also seems to have blind spots with most of Super League chasing a player in Atkins that Sheens doesn’t seem to rate at all.

One thing that could be levelled at Brian Smith was his stubbornness, and the fact that he remained involved in the game in a hands on capacity way too long, meaning that when people talk about him now they tend to remember the last 5 or 10 years of his career which has been beset by arguments, weird consulting roles, and him recommending clubs sack coaches and hire his protégées. Only time will tell if Sheens falls into this trap, although arguably and certainly in the eyes of some of our Red and White wearing neighbours, maybe he already has. Certainly Tim’s name has been mentioned as a possible Head of Football at Cronulla Sharks recently, and I’ve even heard whispers of a mentoring role at the Bulldogs might be possible too. Problem is, he loves coaching. Hands on, day to day coaching is where he thinks he offers the most value, and he was quite vocal about his excitement when he signed up to coach Rovers after his time “upstairs” at Salford.

One of his Salford connections the looks feted to become a Robin next year is Robert Lui. He’s one of Sheens’ big favourites (shades of Smith again), and this would be the third time he’s signed him in his career. Lui was a big deal at one stage in the NRL, and probably the only player after Scott Prince that could play alongside and compliment Benji Marshall’s style of play. He was tough, a great defender, deceptively quick, and read the game very well.

Then at the end of the 2010 season, he was charged with assaulting his partner at their home and the Tigers stood him down, and then reinstated him after she dropped the charges. He expressed remorse, and played through the 2011 season featuring heavily in the first team. One radio commentator over here was so incensed that the Tigers had reinstated Lui, that he point blank refused to say his name in commentary, saying “and the half back has the ball” or “a try there for the number 7”. It all became untenable for Lui when, in the close season, he was again charged after another incident where he assaulted his partner. This time it went to court, and after a guilty plea, the Tigers released him from his contract. He was snapped up by the Cowboys, and despite not being eligible to play immediately due to the ban he copped after the court case, he settled down up in North Queensland, possibly as geographically its much close to his Torres Strait Island roots, and he played for three seasons before signing for Salford.

He’s not exactly been a superstar for Salford, but maybe reuniting with the coaching of Timmy will be the catalyst? Only time will tell if that’s in the Super League or in the Championship next year—let’s hope it’s the latter.

Until next time, Up the Cream, Gerremonsard and Come on you ‘Ull.

Rich – Twitter @pommyrich


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