TONY La Chiusa is stepping down as coach of the West Lions at the end of this season.
He is in his 16th season as coach of the first grade side after coaching the Lions reserves to premiership victories in the first two years of the new club’s existence.
John Gutherson coached the combined Tamworth City/West Tamworth Robins in the first year with Jim Leis the coach in the second.
La Chiusa has been at the first grade helm ever since.
He’s won numerous premierships and seen so many good players The Leader asked him if he would not only compile his “Best of West” but also a “Best of the Rest”.
It was a testing assignment for the coach who also represented NSW Country at water polo before an allergy to water curtailed his
Since then he’s channeled all his time into making West Lions a major force in Group 4.
It hasn’t been easy, he said.
“We were left to pick up the pieces after the two factions (Tamworth City and West Tamworth) nearly tore the joint apart,” he said.
“We just tried to keep it afloat in the early days. Now we’ve been trying to bring all the good kids through.”
He said the plans for the 100 Year celebrations in October (18/19/20) can only help as well.
“A lot of the players today don’t know any of the history of the club,” he said.
“I just want to leave it in a healthy position. We’ve tried to build a good footy club with good structures.”
Lack of committee people has been a major problem but there has been a wealth of football ability go through the Lions in La Chiusa’s term.
He thanks Brendan Hunt and Dick McKinnon for their efforts with the young players as well.
“Picking the Best of the West was hard, we’ve had some brilliant players,” he said.
None more so than gifted Matt Nean.
Equally at home at halfback or five-eighth Nean has been a magical talent. Willy Jerrard was another fullback, who played in the halves or on the wing too. La Chiusa slotted Will onto the wing with Nean at fullback, where he was picked to play in last Sunday’s major semi against Wee Waa.
“Matty’s one of the most gifted players I’ve ever coached,” he said.
“Willy scored some of the best tries I’ve seen. He had an uncanny ability.”
One such try was in a final against Wee Waa after the siren to stun the Panthers at a Scully 2 mud patch and earn the Lions a grand final berth to upset the Bears a week later.
With Jerrard on one wing Andrew Loveday is on the other, a hard working strong centre, he was an outstanding club man as well.
In the centres La Chiusa paired Will Morgan and Kyle Cochrane.
“Will was big and strong, and could hit.
“He used to cut blokes in half. And Kyle was just unstoppable. The only bloke I’ve seen that can match Vids (Chris Vidler) for strength. Kyle scored four tries in one grand final, broke the other side’s hearts. But we had some great centres too. Marty Moore was another. He was probably the most professional player I coached. Leaving him out was tough.”
At five-eighth is Mark Frankel.
“He is probably the most hated player we had. He and Deano (Hoy), everyone hated him but he thrived on it.”
At halfback La Chiusa nominated Stewart Porter even though he played just the one season at West when the Creek were demoted to Second Division.
“We’ve had so many good halfbacks but he’s the best I’ve seen, he could read a game, could run the ball, set them up and tackle. He and Jason Holland came for that year and were just a force for us.”
At prop are Chris Vidler and David Goodridge.
“Can’t go past Goodo. He was the best yard maker I’ve had. That grand final against Moree in ’99 when we got beat he was enormous. He and Vids are similar in that regard although Vids is getting better and better. He’s probably been our best player this year.”
A raging bull when he first played at Wests he has tempered his ways and now utilises the aggression to smash opposing defences.
Darren Coleman is his hooker, a regular dynamo.
“Mick (Schmiedel) was also a great hooker but Nuggy could do everything. He could defend like the Axe (Trevor Gillmeister), had a great attacking game and was as tough as nails. Mick and Heens were great but weren’t the same in defence.
Anthony Heeney ,Brad Smith and Jason Holland are La Chiusa’s second rowers.
“Jason was the most feared player in the competition when he played (for both Werris Creek and West). Brad could do everything. He could hit and had an unbelievable ball playing ability. That little flick out the back was a killer. He also had a great temperament and had so much experience as well.
“Jason helped us win in 2000 when Norths had those good sides with Matty Munro, Geordie Peats. Jason made it personal between him and Munro. He was probably the only one I’ve seen who could match Munro for fierceness.
At lock La Chiusa names current Lion Brendan Hunt.
“On his day he’s as good as anyone I’ve coached,” he said.
“The last couple of years he’s had to battle serious injuries, knee reconstructions, hamstrings and shoulder yet he is still there.”
On the bench La Chiusa has named Nathan Hamlin (now playing for the Kootingal Roosters), Brad McManus (now North Tamworth coach), Scott Rolls and Anthony Heeney.
“Fish was a great player, came through juniors here as a winger. Put on a bit of size and could run some great angles when we moved him into the backrow.
“Spitter could play. Probably played his best football at North against us but he was great for us. His combination with Willy Jerrard was fantastic. And Rollsy has only been here for a few seasons. He’s still young and out of all the players I’ve named might work the hardest. He’d probably lead the hit ups and tackle counts over the last two years here.
“That’s a fairly good side with some of the great players to have come through the club and it’s been a pleasure to coach them all.”