Shock departure of two favourite sons cuts me deep
No reason to leave … popular winger Beau Ryan was shown the door, even though he was one of the Tigers' best players this season. Photo: Getty Images
About half an hour after Chris Heighington and Beau Ryan walked through my front door and told me they were moving to Cronulla, we were sitting in my lounge room. I had to walk out. I disappeared into the kitchen and lost it - tears and everything.
Beau had called me on Monday and said he wanted to come over. When Chris walked in with him, I knew something was up. I had heard the rumours about them leaving but had thought they were rubbish. Not any more. I was shocked. They ambushed me a bit because they knew how I was going to react. I didn't take it too well at first. There isn't a day when I don't speak to both of them.
It has been a difficult week. I haven't just lost two teammates; I've lost two of my best mates. That's the hardest part. You spend every day with your teammates and the reality suddenly hits that you'd be lucky to see some of them once a week. I have found it very hard to deal with this.
We went down to the Oaks at Neutral Bay to talk further, before we were joined by a couple of other boys. We tried not to talk about contracts; we just wanted to have a few quiet beers and support our mates, who have both been the heart and soul of our team for so long.
Chris and Beau have been the two most popular Tigers among the players. No doubt. When I think of the Tigers as a team, I think of Chris being the centre of it. He holds the record for most games at the club and if we decide to have lunch together, he makes all the calls to make it happen. You would not find a more passionate player on the field. He plays for everybody - and everybody plays for him.
Beau brings another dimension to the club. He brings supporters who might not follow rugby league but have seen him on television. He is such a marketable commodity and I can't understand why he would be allowed to leave. Aside from that, he was one of our best players this year. He would be by far the most improved player in the competition.
Take the emotion out of it, and there is still the fact that they were two of our best players this year. If this is the fall-out from having an unsuccessful season, I cannot comprehend how they have borne the brunt of it.
You don't support your club solely because they win or lose. You support it because of the culture or because your grandparents passed the support down to your parents, who passed it down to you.
The culture of the Tigers has been such a strong one, going back a long time. In my lifetime, it has come from the likes of Paul Sironen and Benny Elias. They passed on the culture to Mark O'Neill and John Skandalis, and those guys passed it onto our group. That's what this club is built on, and I feel that what happened during the week is against the culture of the club. That's why I say I am confused. The players are as confused as the supporters.
Those guys are irreplaceable on and off the field. I still can't get my head around how this has happened. And I still can't see how this could be considered the right thing to do.
Before I signed my latest contract with the club, I was given some guarantees; things I was told were going to happen but which never have. That said, I'm contracted for three more years. I intend to stay. But the club is in a predicament at the moment and I'd like it to be sorted out.
I'm just as passionate about Wests Tigers as our supporters are. And that is why I say all this. I've been there for 10 years. I couldn't picture myself playing for another club. But the culture of a club is important to me. And that is what I love about the club - it has always had such a great culture. I just feel the club is drifting away from that.
In a way, I feel sorry for guys like Braith Anasta and Eddy Pettybourne, who are joining us amid all the uncertainty. They would have been expecting to play under Tim Sheens; if it turns out that Tim is not the coach, I'm not sure what they would think. They probably have no idea what is going on. I must say I feel the same. The board has a decision to make but I'm in the dark about what's going on. I'm not sure what that decision will be.