Australia's Most Tormented Fans Might Finally Smile This Weekend
It's been eight years since the Wests Tigers were in the NRL finals.
This is not good when you consider that theoretically, any club in a 16-team competition with a salary cap should make it every second year.
But like the famous line from George Orwell's Animal Farm -- "all animals are equal but some teams are more equal than others" -- all teams are equal in the NRL but some, it seems, are definitely more equal than others when it comes to success.
The Wests Tigers? They're the "others".
But this weekend that could change. If the Tigers beat the Cronulla Sharks this Sunday at Leichhardt Oval, they'll leapfrog the Sharks into eighth place and make their first NRL finals since 2011.
Nick Gleeson is a 37-year-old real estate agent in Sydney's Sutherland Shire -- yes, the very part of Sydney that the Sharks call home. But he's a Tigers man, and has been since he was a kid.
Gleeson has been a member since 2003, and this Sunday, he'll be up in his usual seat near the halfway line in the stand on the western side of a sold-out Leichhardt Oval.
"The biggest thing thing this year is I genuinely believe we are in the best eight teams," he told 10 daily.
"Other years we might have gotten a few lucky wins and finished 9th or 10th, but we wouldn't have deserved to make the finals. But this year we do."
"And let's be realistic, we don’t have a squad capable of winning the premiership. That's why making the eight would be like winning the premiership."
Gleeson's thoughts are echoed by Brendan Johnson, a young Sydney dad who won't be able to make the game, but will watch it in his local club where his wife is taking him out for a belated Father's Day lunch after she had to work last week.
"If they win on Sunday I'd be delighted. I think we've already over-achieved with the roster we have. We've done a pretty good job this year."
Johnson, like many Tigers fans, is worried about Tigers club stalwart and former captain Robbie Farah, who appears ever more likely to take the field after breaking his leg just four weeks ago.
"If Robbie plays and he's underdone and he has to go off and we're short on the bench and and we lose because of that, it would be so disappointing."
"This is our chance to make the finals for the first time in eight years. We've got to take it with both hands."
Up on the Gold Coast, Tara, a call centre worker, will be cheering as loudly as anyone on the Leichhardt Oval Hill.
The former Sydney resident and Tigers fan used to attend all the home games before she left Sydney in the early 2000s. The reason she never became a Gold Coast Titans fan and stayed loyal to the Tigers?
Well, she thought about switching, but she was infuriated by the management of club CEO Justin Pascoe and former club chair Marina Go, and thought she'd stick around to keep them honest.
Tara spends plenty of time on social media criticising club management for what she perceives as its poor decisions.
But talking to her in person, she's actually a warm, passionate person. And to Tara, the Tigers are about more than rugby league football. They're about community, and a link to the past.
"I look at Leichhardt Oval now and I have so many memories," she says. "My family would have been going there as far back as the 1950s."
Whatever happens on Sunday afternoon, Tara will be happy with a season in which -- unlike so many others -- the NRL's most perenially mediocre team was always in touch with the top eight, and there was always a sense of hope.
"I'll be satisfied whatever happens," she said. "But I hope they win. Not that I'll watch too much of the game, I'll be too nervous!"