To say it's been a troubling few years for the Wests Tigers would be putting it mildly. The club's 23-year existence has been dominated by one soaring high point and years of frustrating lows, the latest being the sacking of coach Michael Maguire on Tuesday.
Maguire's axing felt equal parts sudden and inevitable, with his future at the club having been a source of speculation for months - if not years. A premiership-winner at South Sydney and the national coach of New Zealand, with a reputation as a hard taskmaster, Maguire's arrival at the Tigers in 2019 had been celebrated as a coup.
He leaves while still enjoying the support of much of the club's fanbase, but also with the club having lost nine of their first 12 games this season and on track for his fourth bottom-eight finish in as many years.
Life of the Tigers: One high, a lot of lows
Success has been a rarity for the club since the Western Suburbs Magpies and Balmain Tigers merged in 2000. In the first decade of the joint venture, the club reached the finals just once - a fairytale run from fourth place to a grand final win in 2005. In the past decade they have missed the finals every year.
Aside from their stunning premiership run, the club's "purple patch" was a two-year period between those two 10-year stretches, when they finished third and fourth in 2010 and 2011. The Tigers' head coach in both those years, and in their premiership season, was Tim Sheens, who returned to the club last year in a new "head of football performance" role.
The return of club legend Sheens only increased the pressure on Maguire, who led the team to finishes of 10th, 11th and 13th in his three seasons in charge following Ivan Cleary's exit to Penrith.
But will a new coach achieve success where Maguire failed? Or are the Tigers destined for more years of mediocrity?
With Maguire gone the pressure intensifies on CEO Justin Pascoe, who joined the Tigers in late 2015. Pascoe has now overseen the Jason Taylor, Ivan Cleary and Maguire eras, and the team's best result in that period is a couple of ninth-placed finishes.
Of course, there is the dream that the right coach could finally turn things around.
Three clubs racing for the next big thing
The Tigers are the third club to axe their coach in 2022, after the Warriors axed Nathan Brown earlier on Tuesday and the Bulldogs parted ways with Trent Barrett earlier in the season. All three clubs now have interim coaches in charge, and will be bidding against each other to find the best full-time candidate, with the possibility of more clubs joining the coaching merry-go-round in the weeks to come.
Sacking a coach is often seeing as an attempt at a quick fix, but it can also pay dividends. The immediate improvement of the Cronulla Sharks at the start of this season under new coach Craig Fitzgibbon would not have been lost on club bosses across the league. Fitzgibbon took charge after former Sharks coach John Morris was axed, some felt prematurely, early in the 2021 season despite taking Cronulla to back-to-back finals series. Yet the Sharks jumped early to land the head coach they wanted and the early signs suggest they've been rewarded for it.
Now the race is on to snap up the next big thing in coaching. There has been plenty of hype around Penrith assistant Cameron Ciraldo, while Kristian Woolf has already had success as coach of Tonga and St Helens, and controversial former Sharks mentor Shane Flanagan is now able to resume his head coaching career after a league-enforced suspension over that club's peptides scandal.
Maybe the right fit at the Tigers will be Brett Kimmorley, a good communicator with excellent knowledge of the game and a terrific resume as a player, who has taken over for Maguire as interim coach.
Cavalry on the way
For the Tigers, there are signs improvement could be around the corner regardless of who replaces Maguire long-term. Adam Doueihi -- arguably the team's best player in recent seasons -- has missed the first half of the season through injury but will return soon, while Apisai Koroisau and Isaiah Papali'i are two prize recruits from strong clubs who will join the Tigers next season.
Jackson Hastings has already become a crucial player in his first season as a Tiger, and a new coach will have the opportunity to reshape the squad with the bulk of the roster coming off contract in the next two years - including big-money half Luke Brooks.
But a big recruiting spree is no guarantee of improved results (just ask the Bulldogs). Getting big-name players or a popular coach to sign a contract is one thing, but the tougher task is producing a "winning culture" - that amorphous, hard-to-define thing that clubs like the Storm and Panthers have, and the Tigers, Bulldogs and Warriors don't. Maybe it's just the right collection of playing and coaching talent; maybe it's something deeper that comes from the very top of a sporting organisation.
If Maguire's long-term successor can't achieve success where he failed, even with a stronger squad at his disposal, it'll be clear the problems at the Tigers run deeper than the coach.