Business as usual: The Tigers train on Friday. Photo: Peter Rae
The internal divisions at Wests Tigers over plans to sack Mick Potter may unite the club behind him as support grows for the embattled coach to retain his job beyond this season.
After initially telling chief executive Grant Mayer that the players wanted to distance themselves from any decision about Potter's future, skipper Robbie Farah is now publicly backing him at every opportunity in a bid to ensure he is not painted as the villain in a sorry saga that threatens to derail the Tigers' season.
Tigers chief executive Grant Mayer.
Mayer, who spoke with Farah for the first time on Wednesday since a falling out over the editing of comments by the NSW Origin hooker in support of Potter from a video on the club's website, has also spoken positively about the man he worked alongside for two seasons at Catalans, while directors who were reportedly planning to change coaches two weeks ago appear to be softening.
Fairfax Media has been told that Potter has some support among Balmain directors on the Wests Tigers board, while officials from the influential Wests Magpies side of the joint venture like the way he has involved himself at grassroots level in his two years in the job.
"There has been nothing on paper which says let's appoint Mick Potter, let's get rid of Mick Potter, let's do this or let's do that, but obviously in the process of making a decision, which we will at the end of the season, we have to consider everything that is available to us and that includes also looking at the potential of keeping Mick Potter right where he is," Wests Tigers chairman Mike Bailey said.
Getting on with the show: Robbie Farah. Photo: Peter Rae
"I am not saying it is locked in, I am just saying we wait until the end of the season to make that decision."
Since speculation emerged on the eve of the round 20 match against St George Illawarra that Potter would be sacked at an emergency board meeting after the game, the Tigers have suffered back-to-back losses to the Dragons and the Storm as the club threatens to implode.
With the Tigers beating Canterbury 46-18 the week before, some believe that Potter had been set up to fail so the board could justify his sacking and the story was deliberately leaked to undermine the team.
A source close to the players told Fairfax Media they had only played so well against the Bulldogs because they believed Potter was going to be sacked and replaced by assistant coach Todd Payten, who played with many of the senior players and coached the likes of boom halfback Luke Brooks in last year's under 20s team.
Another conspiracy theory is that the club did not want Farah to be seen publicly supporting Potter at a press conference the day of the Dragons match if he was going to be sacked at fulltime.
However, Bailey insists that no decision had ever been made on Potter's future.
"The reason we had that board meeting was that Mick Potter told me on the Saturday, when I spent about two hours talking to him about all sorts of things and asked if he would be prepared to wait until the end of the season [for a decision on his future], that he would be prepared to do that," Bailey said.
"That is why we had a board decision to actually confirm that that was what we were going to do and we would say nothing more about the coaching situation until the end of the season when a decision will be made."
Many within the club have been impressed by the way Potter has handled himself amid speculation that the decision at the July 27 board meeting at ANZ Stadium was merely a stay of execution.
Potter has also had to cope with a horrific injury toll but resisted the temptation to play Brooks in Saturday night's match against North Queensland as he is more concerned about the star rookie doing long-term damage to his injured shoulder – even though he is fighting for his job and may not get to enjoy the benefit of that decision.
Prop Keith Galloway (shoulder) was also ruled out on Friday and joins the likes of Pat Richards, David Nofoaluma, James Tedesco and Braith Anasta on a long injury list, which also includes Liam Fulton, who was forced to retire after suffering four concussions earlier this season.
"Mick Potter has come out of this looking very good," a Tigers insider said. "He has shown that he is a strong, good solid bloke. There is no bullshit about him, he has made a lot of hard calls and if people can't accept them bad luck.
"You have got David Kidwell there and Todd Payten there, and I think there are some people in the camp who thought one of them would be a better coach but you can't get stuck on personalities. Mick knows what he is doing. He has got a pretty tough run home and he has got injury problems but he has handled it well."
Fairfax Media has been told that Kidwell will have a role on the coaching staff next season but the future of Potter and Payten is less certain.
Farah has also come under fire for the way he has reacted to criticism over his perceived lack of support for Potter and revelations by Gorden Tallis that he had told the former Broncos great 15 months ago that the former Canterbury and St George fullback "can't coach".
The Tigers captain attempted to clear the air in an interview with Phil Gould on The Footy Show and spoke out in support of Potter but some critics have pointed out that he wrote a column in MX newspaper last year backing Potter, while privately telling Tallis he was "struggling".
Farah, who wants to clear the air with Mayer after the side returns from Townsville, was critical of the chief executive in the interview and called for him to show more support for the players.
“I didn’t question his leadership,” Farah said on Friday. “I said I was disappointed. He spoke to me on Wednesday. We have spoken briefly at training.
“I told him I want to focus on this week's game. Me and him will work through that. We are both professionals and want what’s best for this club. He is the CEO and I’m the captain. We’ll deal with that in private.”
Farah received a round of applause from his teammates as he walked towards the awaiting media while they made their way from the training paddock .
Interestingly, it is Potter who has become the “peacemaker” at the club, acting as the intermediary between Farah and Mayer, and Bailey believes the controversy has galvanised the club.
"I think overall we have had some bridges to cross and it would seem that we are now, dare I use the term, holding hands to cross those bridges together," Bailey said.