Wests Tigers' much-maligned recruitment and retention – and the club's repeated misses for big-name targets – will be a key focus of the season review that has cast increasing doubt over Michael Maguire's future.
Preliminary interviews with players and staff in Queensland will wrap up this week after another failed Tigers campaign, the club's 10th straight finals miss compounded by a 38-0 shellacking from wooden spooners Canterbury on Sunday.
Club chairman Lee Hagipantelis anticipates the annual review to be completed "within a couple of weeks".
NRL.com understands club officials have already fielded multiple informal approaches from representatives of potential replacement coaches recently as pressure mounts on Maguire's position.
Hagipantelis conceded downward trending finishes of ninth (2019 in Maguire's first season), 11th (2020) and 13th (2021), combined with a 38.2-win percentage across Maguire's tenure, meant an all-encompassing review of football and club operations was required.
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Chief among those is the "self-fulfilling narrative on recruitment" - the Tigers have unsuccessfully chased a host of big-name targets including Latrell Mitchell, Jai Arrow, Josh Addo-Carr and Tevita Pangai jnr, among others, since Maguire's arrival.
Hagipentalis said recruitment and retention discussions would continue in coming weeks, with Dragons veteran Tariq Sims holding appeal as an experienced back-row option after being told he would be free to leave his contract early next season.
However, no definitive moves are expected to be made while the Tigers coach's position is being reviewed.
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The Tigers are understood to have the best part of $1.5 million still to spend in next year's salary cap.
The club formally farewelled Moses Mbye (Dragons), Joey Leilua and Michael Chee Kam (released), Billy Walters (Broncos) and Russell Packer (retired) on Monday.
Leilua was hailed as a key recruit at the start of last season but his form has been modest and the club has not exercised an option on his deal for 2022.
Hagipantelis has been among Maguire's most strident supporters in recent years, but stopped short of endorsing the coach's survival when asked if he is still the man to take the club forward.
"Madge was asked that in yesterday's press conference and he answered yes, he was very positive on that," Hagipantelis said on Monday.
"The man is well credentialed, he's got a premiership to his name. He's absolutely committed, passionate and dedicated, there's no questioning that whatsoever.
"But the results this year have not borne out our expectations and more importantly the expectations of our fans and members.
"And so part of the review process is why the club is doing so well off the field and why there seems to be a disconnect between that level of success and the performances on the field.
"That's something that has to be addressed."
The results this year have not borne out our expectations.Lee Hagipantelis
Should Maguire's time be deemed up, Shane Flanagan shapes as the most experienced coaching option available aside from Queensland-bound Wayne Bennett, with Flanagan's ability to attract established names also proven at Cronulla.
However, his chequered off-field history, particularly when Tigers CEO Justin Pascoe served a six-month salary cap ban at the same time that Flanagan's Sharks career was ended in 2019, is understood to have club hierarchy wary.
Younger coaches including Penrith assistant Cameron Ciraldo, Tongan mentor Kristian Woolf and former Tigers player John Morris offer alternatives, while Queensland coach Paul Green has also long been open to an NRL return.
NSW counterpart Brad Fittler is of the same view but on Monday ruled himself out of making himself available should the Tigers gig become vacant, telling NRL.com's Inside the NRL on Monday that the club must focus its resources on the Macarthur region in south-western Sydney to achieve its potential.
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The delayed arrival of Tigers patriarch Tim Sheens to take up a new head of football performance role – encompassing recruitment and retention – has somewhat hampered the club's overhaul of key football departments.
Sheens is tentatively scheduled to arrive from the UK in mid-October with limited ability to work over Zoom meetings to date.
The 2005 premiership-winning coach is viewed as a circuit-breaker in the Tigers' repeated recruitment misses, while perceptions of Maguire's hard-nosed coaching style – be they accurate or not – have also taken hold in the market.
Strong 2021 campaigns from recent recruits Adam Doueihi, Stefano Utoikamanu, Daine Laurie, Luciano Leilua and Shawn Blore point to a brighter future.
Strike power out wide and reinforcements at prop and the back row shape as the club's key target areas, with Hagipantelis speaking to ongoing frustration around the club's perception by rival players and fans.
"There's been no decision to pause recruitment and retention pending any particular outcome, but it itself part of the review process and a pretty important one given where the club sits," the chairman said.
"One of the issues that I've found difficult is the narrative that we struggle to attract quality players to the club.
"Unfortunately the narrative is self-fulfilling.
"When it's out there in the media publicly, it starts to take hold and the only way to challenge that is by being successful and finding success in our recruiting decisions.
"That's how we attract quality players, and there's such upside in the young talents in what I think is the youngest roster in the league.
"There's an exciting group coming through who would benefit from more experienced and senior quality players coming into those rosters spots."