Wests Tigers coach Jason Taylor has admitted the disgraced centre Tim Simona’s performances in 2016 hindered the club’s chances of making the eight.
The Tigers missed the cut by one point last season, which is why revelations of Simona’s gambling activity cut particularly deep for a supporter group that has been waiting five years for a return to finals football.
Taylor says he didn’t have any suspicions his player was betting against his own team and he was reluctant to delve into the level of Simona’s betrayal.
But the Tigers coach did admit the wayward star’s performances had prevented the team from reaching its full potential.
“That season is done, but obviously it held us back,” Taylor told Fairfax Media. “And, looking forward, we won’t have that hinderance to our performance, which is a good thing.”
The NRL said it had no evidence that Simona had altered his performance to throw matches or achieve other betting outcomes.
But Taylor says he did have serious concerns over the 25-year-old’s consistency and that he had had several conversations with him on the matter over the past 12 months.
“I always believed Tim was out there playing his best and the inconsistencies were due to the fact he’s an inconsistent player,” Taylor said
“I spent a lot of time with Tim in a one-on-one situation, talking to him about his game and his life off the field. Through most of the course of the time I’ve been here I’ve been working on improving Tim’s consistency. But he didn’t improve and that was something I wasn’t comfortable with.
“He wasn’t improving at the rate the other guys were. Did I know what was going on? No, I didn’t. But I knew something wasn’t right with Tim.
Taylor says he also asked Simona about his life away from the game, again on an almost-weekly basis, but the Samoan international gave no indication of the off-field demons that led to his demise.
“I knew that he was working hard to support his family,” Taylor said. “That’s what I knew about him. That’s why we spoke a lot about his family and how things were. I would ask about his family and personal life. He always looked me in the eye and said everything was good.
“As a coach, I sat down with him weekly and spoke about on field stuff but almost always asked him about life off the field because they are linked. He continually told me things were fine. Continually. As a club it was hard for anyone to predict that when someone is not only not willing to share that, but is going out of his way to hide it.”
Taylor admits the revelations surrounding Simona came as a complete shock, but is adamant he won’t allow the saga to change the way he approaches coaching.
“Never, no never,” Taylor said when asked if he had had any suspicions regarding his former player.
“As a coach, I’ve never thought about that. Even when players play really poor. I believe every player turns up wanting to play their best game of footy each week. They don’t always get that right but I believe they did their best.
“But I can’t change. I won’t be able to build the relationships with players that I want if I’m doubting their attitude or level of commitment.”
Tigers chief executive Justin Pascoe is confident the club did everything in its power to support Simona and educate him about the off-field dangers associated with being a professional athlete.
The club is adamant it has the right welfare processes in place and is comfortable with the way it handled the Simona saga.
“The system that we have in place at our club is not broken,” Pascoe said. “The system really only becomes flawed when an individual doesn’t enter the process with honesty and integrity and that’s the case here with Tim. It’s very hard to create build or develop a system when individuals aren’t honest.
“You can’t build a system for dishonesty. There are cases in the organisation where this system has captured personal problems with players, financial or personally, where we have helped them.”