Can Michael Maguire and Luke Brooks end a decade of Wests Tigers hurt?

The end, when it came, was brutal. A James Maloney kick with just moments of the game remaining, fumbled by Lote Tuqiri, hesitated on by Tim Moltzen, pounced upon by Krisnan Inu, and like that, the Wests Tigers 2011 season was done. A run of nine straight wins, had put Tim Sheens' razzle dazzle side into the finals, but for a second year in a row the Grand Final eluded them.

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As the Tigers faithful trudged out of the SFS that night, little did they know that for the next decade, they would be on the outside looking in, as finals football rolled around each September.

A look back at the team list that day is fascinating. The exciting elusive youth of Tim Moltzen, seemingly back to his best after a horror ACL injury and the dynamic half Robert Lui. The experience and knowhow of Tuqiri, Bryce Gibbs, Keith Galloway and Liam Fulton. And the X-Factor trio; Robbie Farah, Gareth Ellis and Benji Marshall.

It was a group of players that had finally seemed to put inconsistency behind them, and play their best footy at the right time under the auspices of a coaching legend, Tim Sheens. The future seemed bright. Yet within eighteen months, the team was in tatters.

Lui wouldn't last the summer, guilty of a domestic violence assault charge, and released, his career never fully recovering. Moltzen would suffer more ACL heartache and while Tuqiri got his Grand Final win, it was in the Red and Green of South Sydney in 2014. Ellis returned to the UK as one of the best imports the NRL has seen, and the hole in the Tigers pack was never truly filled.

Marshall, disgruntled by the club's contract stance, headed off to an ill-fated rugby union spell at the height of his career, and Sheens was dumped at the end of the 2012 season. The start of a coaching merry-go-round that brings us to today.

Michael Maguire sits atop of the Tigers for his third season. Mick Potter managed two. Jason Taylor two and a bit. Ivan Cleary and his much vaunted bus, just the one full year. Madge may be entering rarified air, but the apparent feeling about the Tigers is very familiar. Not good enough.

That's what a decade of underwhelming footy will do to you. It lowers the bar and the expectations. 'Tigers are too soft. There's no star power. They have no spine. They've too many big contract duds'. But does that tell the true story of the 2021 Wests Tigers?

Time will tell, but the early signs are promising. A trial dismantling of a weakened Manly at a surprisingly raucous Leichhardt Oval has put a spring in the step of those in Concord. Daine Laurie - no not that one - has positively sparkled since his arrival from Penrith, and a young, hungry pack has its leader in James Tamou, the most significant forward addition since Ellis.

Make no mistake, Tamou is a key for the Tigers this year. The adult in the room, coming off a grand final, and a leader on the field, if his level of professionalism and influence can rub off on the likes of Alex Twal, Thomas Mikaele and fellow new boys Joe Ofahengaue and Stefano Utoikamanu, then the Tigers may finally have the platform to build on.

Then the onus falls on what they can do with ball in hand. There's no Benji or Robbie anymore. This is all on Luke Brooks now. At 26, he's no longer 'up-and-coming', this is his team. This has to be the season Brooks takes control of the team's attack, given the uncertainty around him. Harry Grant's impressive cameo season is in the rearview mirror and has left the number nine jersey vacant, while Brooks' partner in the halves could be one of four at this stage.

Unlocking the try scoring talents of David Nofoaluma and the potential of Tommy Talau and Laurie will fall on Brooks' shoulders. And with it the hopes of the Tigers this season. Maguire knows it. He waxed lyrical about his side's defence after the trial win over Manly, but with the team's spine more penciled in than inked, finally breaking the finals hoodoo will be about crossing the white line at the other end. Madge's tenure may well depend on it.

Rewind back to 2011. In the opposition coaches box that day, Ivan Cleary. On the field Ben Matulino and Russell Packer. They came as a package deal in 2018. Packer remains, his eye-watering contract a constant reminder of the largesse and missteps that have dogged the club over the past ten years.

Those shadows of the past are still lingering today, certainly in the minds of many, but for Maguire and his men, it's all about the future. A finals future.