Through all the secret meetings and hidden handshake deals that occurred throughout the coaching shake-up last year, no one can accuse Michael Maguire of not going through the front door at the Wests Tigers.
In the midst of speculation around Ivan Cleary’s future last year, the club’s front office - which doubles as a merchandise store - received a phone call from a man claiming to represent Maguire.
That man was Daniel Zammit, one of Maguire’s business advisers.
Zammit left a message with Holly at Tigers reception, providing his details and asking the club to call him back if they were interested in the services of the 2014 premiership winner.
The Tigers didn’t know if it was a prank or if it was a genuine expression of interest, but regardless, it was becoming increasingly likely Cleary would soon be heading for the exit.
The Tigers eventually drew up a shortlist of candidates to replace Cleary. That list included Maguire, Wayne Bennett, Trent Barrett, Kevin Walters and Adam O’Brien.
The club didn’t need the phone call to reception to pique their interest in the man that helped South Sydney break the club’s 43-year title drought.
Mbye ready for clash with former coach Cleary
They approached a number of senior players at the club for their opinions of Maguire, only adding to their desire to pursue his services.
"They [management] told the leaders who the shortlist was and none of us argued when they said Madge," Benji Marshall said.
"And honestly, I think he’s exceeded expectations here. I was actually a little bit scared at first, because I heard how hard he was. But now I’m thankful, because he’s hard, but he’s also fair and honest. That’s what you want from a coach."
While several players still have a good relationship with Cleary, there are mixed feelings towards the coach from the Tigers players leading into Friday night’s blockbuster at Panthers Stadium.
Tigers skipper Moses Mbye said Maguire was the polar opposite to his predecessor.
"They are completely different people," Mbye said.
"I think Ivan, he was quite a relaxed personality. Everyone knows that, whereas Madge is more hands-on with things. He’s got a bit more intensity about him. The thing with Madge is that he knows what works. He’s been there and done it and got results. He’s won two premierships across two organisations across two countries.
"Once you’ve done that you know what your blueprint is. He’s come here to push his blueprint. Everyone has bought into it. We believe we’re going in the right direction. He came with a plan, and when he got here he wasn’t unorganised. He knew what he wanted to do and how he wanted to go about it."
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Flanagan touches base with Tahs
Former Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan is moving on from his recent deregistration from the NRL, spotted meeting with NSW Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson last week.
NRL.com understands Flanagan has been in touch with a number of rugby union officials in recent weeks.
However, the Waratahs and Flanagan insisted the meeting was purely two friends catching up, with a club spokesperson telling NRL.com the prospect of any future employment opportunities with the Waratahs wasn’t part of the discussion.
Under its guidelines, Rugby Australia is committed to upholding bans handed out in rival codes, with the Waratahs needing the tick of approval from head office if they wanted to sign Flanagan.
Flanagan doesn’t have a specific ban in place and has simply been deregistered indefinitely by the NRL for his actions in having contact with Cronulla officials while suspended in 2014.
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Not so wild in west anymore
A lot has been said about the relationship between Panthers and Tigers officials over the handling of the Cleary saga, however tension eased over the summer.
It turns out Panthers general manager Phil Gould wrote a letter to the NRL as a reference for suspended Wests Tigers chief executive Justin Pascoe, who previously worked at Penrith.
Cleary also privately reached out to club officials as a show of support despite the fact his relationship with the chief executive had fractured.
While Friday night's game at Panthers Stadium is being billed as a grudge match between two bitter rivals, there is also a lot of mutual respect between some parties.
It’s also interesting to note the Tigers haven’t been greatly impacted financially by the NRL’s recent sanctions.
The NRL's annual grant covers the entire salary cap spend for all clubs.
The fact the Tigers have been docked $639,000 in the salary cap for the next two years means they pocket that money that would have otherwise been spent on players.
It more than covers the $375,000 fine they received, plus they also received close to $300,000 in compensation for Cleary’s transfer.
Gould always in demand
Speaking of Gould, there were reports on Wednesday night linking him to a potential job at the Cronulla Sharks.
While it’s extremely unlikely, it wouldn’t be the first time Gould has had an opportunity to leave the Panthers.
Former Canterbury chairman Ray Dib was in his ear a couple of years ago.
Dib approached Gould given his strong connections to the club, enquiring about his contract terms at Penrith.
Panthers v Wests Tigers - Round 4
However, the Panthers general manager reiterated his loyalty to Penrith, telling Dib his job wasn’t done at the foot of the mountains.
Max Donnelly also sounded out Gould for the job at Parramatta, but again Gus didn’t want out of Penrith.
He is on a good wicket at Penrith - not to mention the fact he is financially supported by the club to operate the football department.
It’s a luxury very few clubs can afford.
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Price not quite right yet
With a little more than two weeks to go until the first event at the new Bankwest Stadium, the Ray Price statue has been erected outside the ground.
However, there is a bit of conjecture over the placement of the statue, which was once situated between the Leagues Club and the old Parramatta Stadium.
The statue is placed on the western side of the ground, with some pushing for it to be moved towards the main entrance on the opposite side of the ground.
Widdop in safe hands
Gareth Widdop flew to Melbourne on Monday night for surgery on his dislocated shoulder.
It was the same surgeon the Dragons used for Euan Aitken when he underwent shoulder surgery in 2017 after dislocating it twice within a month in matches against Manly and Brisbane.
There was a suggestion he flew to Melbourne to visit the surgeon that saved the career of Billy Slater, however his surgeon is based in Sydney.
Lawrence on comeback trail
It was great to see Wests Tigers veteran Chris Lawrence back around the team last week after he suffered such a horrific facial injury during the pre-season.
Lawrence has been restricted to house duties as he recovers from the injury that could sideline him until at least halfway through the year.
He's back around the team at training on light duties, lifting his spirits after a tough period.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.