Dylan Edwards head still rests on his shoulders this week. He may have needed a couple of Panadol Saturday night but he’ll be ok.
He’s an NRL player, competing in one of the most brutal sports in the world, a game played by men who get staples fixed firmly in their melon and then simply play on.
Joey Leilua and Luke Garner both took a swipe at Edwards’ head on Saturday night, after a Panthers hooker had taken a similar swipe at their own man, Luciano Leilua, just prior. We are long past days where the square-up is acceptable conduct on a rugby league field and Joey copped a four-week ban for his ‘moment of madness’.
Most would agree it’s a fair punishment. Garner escaped charge, probably because the point of contact was knee height, and that’s probably fair too.
Wests Tigers supporters know all about fairness, it’s easy to understand something intimately when you are regularly the victim of the opposite. Beaten into submission for nine long unsuccessful seasons, the black and gold army could sense the winds of change blowing across BankWest Stadium on Saturday night. All of a sudden there wasn’t as much dread in the air.
I’m referring to those often-labelled ‘salty’ supporters who return every year to fill Leichhardt Oval on a sunny Sunday afternoon, only to be short changed of September action and left to shake their heads at another campaign comprising mostly misery.
Those weary men, women and their children, some who have distant memories of a golden period late in the 1980s and a magnificent fairytale some 15 years ago. But more of pain.
They’ve got some war stories to tell.
They’ll recall vividly when a bloke from the Roosters came to the joint looking for an opportunity. He played up a storm for a year, upped his value, then promptly left. “To the Eels I go” he said. He’s still firing barbs at the club on the internet too, guaranteeing him a vocal reception when the Tigers play Parramatta later this month.
Like the period they cheered on a future immortal playing masterfully at fullback, supported by the club as he battled injury in his formative years, only to see him seduced by a billionaire with a motor vehicle empire. Premierships and a Dally M followed. Hearing Cock-a-doodle-do is like a dagger to a Tigers tragic.
Similarly, the nephew of a club legend just upped and left one day, they still don’t know why he decided one day he would rather kick stones than play for Wests. The club hierarchy meekly let him move across town and he currently has his new club riding high on top of the NRL ladder.
And when the joint venture tried to sign a young unproven Eels forward at the start of this very season, the answer from the Eels was a simple no. We don’t need him but you aren’t having him. Head Office at the Tigers didn’t give a whimper, they politely accepted a 12-month waiting period, said player will have to ply his trade from the sideline in 2020.
Among the dark days many others have busted through the back door at Concord and went straight for the jewellery drawer. From Origin front rowers to Kangaroo wingers, more than a few crowd favourites have gone on to feats of glory in opposition colours. It really is a tale of woe.
Surprisingly and probably the most prominent was the club’s famous bus driver, a grey ghost who came, made a million promises, signed some high-priced dodgy recruits and then left with little warning. He’s still haunting the club on a regular basis from his fancy cottage in the mountains. Seems he’s found a personality now too, a wily character supporting a silver mullet, blowing kisses from his rocking chair.
So while a ‘Leilua style’ square-up is not not legal tender on the field of play, you might understand why the fanatical supporters of the Wests Tigers feel they are deeply deserving of their moment of vengeance.
And I suspect they are not totally without hope.
There is a new head coach in town and this one looks set to stay the course, Michael Maguire (Madge) has the team playing with a harder edge.
The side is staying in games for longer and in a month of strong performances, his players have shown that they have each other’s backs. Against Penrith on Saturday they clearly wanted to be in the fight.
So maybe, just maybe Madge has discovered the secret. The blueprint to unlocking the potential within the perennial battlers. If his team continues on this same curve, we might yet witness the day the weary fans are yearning for. The day they can ‘look up at the scoreboard’ with a grin as one of those clubs who pillaged them and disrespected them fall on harder times.
It didn’t happen on Saturday night but with Madge driving the train it’s no longer a pipe dream.