They were once the NRL’s Harlem Globetrotters, straight outta Concord.
But Wests Tigers’ crown as rugby league’s entertainers slipped significantly under coach Jason Taylor in his first season with the club last year.
The new season brings with it a new hope and also the promise of a return to the joint venture’s free-wheeling on-field ways.
New captain Aaron Woods believes the Tigers can entertain their way all the way back into finals contention.
It’s been a long time between finals drinks for Tigers fans, whose side extended their finals-less run to a fifth year last season, finishing just one spot above the wooden spooners.
Even worse, a six-month power struggle between coach Jason Taylor and then-captain Robbie Farah over the summer almost resulted in the favourite son sensationally leaving the club.
But ahead of the season start, the Taylor-Farah relationship has not only seemingly mended, but the once-entertaining Tigers appear to be produce some razzle dazzle again.
Taylor, who arrived on a recommendation from Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson last year, attempted to stamp the same structured system on the free-spirited Tigers attack.
It stunted the instinctive ways of creative halves Mitchell Moses and Luke Brooks, who reached an impasse with the coach midway through last season, and then again over the summer.
“It was good to start off with, but it didn’t work, obviously. But it wasn’t just JT. We were restricting ourselves, too,” Woods said.
“Over the break, he sat down with our spine, obviously Robbie as well and (James Tedesco) at fullback. They just had a big chat about how they wanted to play.
“It was an open forum for all five of them in a room and they got a lot out of it. We’re trying to open ourselves up more this year.”
Whether they have the cattle to do it, is the next question.
Gone are veterans Keith Galloway and Pat Richards, promising pair Te Maire Martin and Marion Seve found greener pastures, while the powerful Martin Taupau was a shock departure to Manly in December and Matt Lodge also departed due to well-publicised off-field drama.
Some long-standing salary cap issues mean only a host of fringe first-graders have taken their place, with former Manly rake Matt Ballin and South Sydney prop Tim Grant the only notable additions.
Instead, the onus will be on the once-promising youngsters to deliver on their potential.
“The `young’ excuse is definitely getting old. We’ve heard it every year for the past 4-5 years,” Woods said.
“Even blokes like myself, Curtis Sironen, Luke Brooks … this is Brooksy’s fourth year in first grade. They are kids, but they’ve been around footy for a fair few years, a lot more than what other blokes have been playing.
“We’ve just got to change the way people think about us now.”
Premierships: 1 – 2005
Finishes over the past three seasons: 2015 – 15th, 2014 – 13th, 2013 – 15th
Coach: Jason Taylor
Captain: Aaron Woods
Gains: Josh Addo-Carr (Cronulla), Josh Aloiai (Parramatta), Matt Ballin, Michael Chee Kam, Jack Littlejohn (Manly), Joel Edwards (Canberra), Tim Grant (South Sydney), Rod Griffin, Billy McConnachie (Queensland Cup), Justin Hunt (St George-Illawarra), Jessie Parahi (Rugby Sevens), Jordan Rankin (Hull FC)
Losses: Te Maire Martin (Penrith), Salesi Funaki, Marion Seve (Brisbane), Keith Galloway (Leeds), Matthew Lodge (released), Shannon McDonnell (St Helens), Tim Moltzen, Martin Taupau (Manly), Pat Richards (Catalan Dragons), Kurtis Rowe (Queensland Cup), Matthew Woods (Parramatta)
Strengths: They’ve got two elite players in fullback James Tedesco and prop Aaron Woods, who would waltz into almost any NRL team in the competition.
Weaknesses: A severe lack of depth could be their undoing, with very little experience behind their top 17. Any injuries – particularly in the backline – will weaken them significantly.
Best team: James Tedesco, Jordan Rankin, Kevin Naiqama, Tim Simona, David Nofoaluma, Mitchell Moses, Luke Brooks, Aaron Woods (c), Robbie Farah, Sauaso Sue, Curtis Sironen, Chris Lawrence, Dene Halatau. Interchange: Matt Ballin, Ava Seumanufagai, Kyle Lovett, Tim Grant
Predicted finish: 16th