It’s the one thing in rugby league you don’t want to ‘win’ and a couple of Sydney clubs tipped to remain in the cellar have come out swinging. WHO CLAIMS THE 2020 WOODEN SPOON?
Cop the tip, the Wests Tigers are aiming to run first, not last.
A bullish Wests Tigers chairman Lee Hagipantelis has dismissed the NRL betting odds which has his club third favourites to finish last this season, saying: “We focus on one thing and one thing only – that’s premierships.”
Hagipantelis added: “We are better placed now than we have been for many, many years.”
The TAB has Gold Coast as $3.50 favourites for most losses this season followed by Canterbury ($4), Wests Tigers and New Zealand Warriors (both $7.50) and the St George Illawarra ($10).
With the late additions of outside backs Joey Leilua and Adam Doueihi, Wests Tigers believe they are ready for a finals charge – but the bookies disagree.
Just last week, Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire said: “Like every club, we’re chasing that date in October and we want to win comps.”
And Maguire’s sentiments have now been supported by Hagipantelis, who laughed off the odds suggesting his club was a wooden spoon contender.
“The boys are focused on one thing and one thing only — that’s premierships,” Hagipantelis told The Daily Telegraph.
“That’s the only focus. Everyone is absolutely committed to that one purpose and anything is possible.
“This roster at its best would compete against any team. There is no doubt in my mind (we have a finals roster), absolutely. We are better placed now than we have been for many, many years.”
The Tigers have not played in the finals since 2011, and have finished ninth in the past two seasons.
“It’s not my place to be making any bold assertions or predictions and putting pressure on the playing group but one thing that I can say with absolute certainty is that they will produce their best week in, week out,” Hagipantelis said.
“Third favourites for the wooden spoon – that’s a somewhat surprising assessment. I think it’s motivation and I’m sure the boys will when they come across it.
“If I was a punter, I wouldn’t be taking our boys for the wooden spoon. The boys will revel in that underdog role.
“People don’t necessarily give us the level of respect — not that we’ve earned that as yet — but it’s something we will earn, I believe, this year.”
With Maguire having been in charge for a year, added with a beefed-up roster, there is renewed optimism at Concord.
“They (the odds) are very surprising. I think we have added and significantly improved our roster,” Hagipantelis said. “We are a more formidable team than we were (than last season) across the entire paddock.
“The boys need to prove themselves but it is an extraordinarily talented squad and I think they will prove themselves most worthy of wearing the black, white and gold. I have faith in each and every one of them.”
Canterbury are second favourites for the spoon despite a late winning charge last year where the club won five of their final eight games.
“The odds don’t really worry me too much,” said Bulldogs coach Dean Pay. “It’s just an opinion, really.
“Internally, we have set ourselves some goals that we want to achieve but we like to keep those to ourselves.
“But obviously everyone wants to make the eight and the top four … get up there as far as we possibly can.”
Asked about the wooden spoon, Pay said: “Obviously we want to go the other way, don’t we? We want to go up, not down.
“We won 10 games last year so we want to win more than that. That would be nice. If we won a couple more last year we have made the top eight – that’s how close it is.
“We’re not far away. We have now put more games in our young blokes.”
The TAB’s Matt Jenkins added: “While the betting suggests the three proud Sydney clubs could be in for a tough year, that could change very quickly after a few rounds.
“The start to the season will be important for these clubs as much as keeping their best team on the paddock. The Bulldogs, Dragons and Tigers have all received more support to win the competition than finish at the bottom of the ladder.”