GRAND FINAL DAY LOCKED IN | Three big fixtures next Sunday at Sydney's ANZ Stadium! Burleigh and Ill...
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Just over three and a half years ago Tim Sheens was sacked by the North Queensland Cowboys, who believed his time as a coach in the NRL had come to an end.
He was cast onto the coaching scrapheap, spending a year and a half out of the game until the Wests Tigers offered him a lifeline.
Tomorrow night at Telstra Stadium, Sheens' Tigers will take on the Cowboys in one of the unlikeliest grand finals ever.
Revenge could not possibly be sweeter for Sheens, but the 20-year veteran, the most experiencedmentor in the NRL with 495 games under his belt, said vengeance would not be a motivator on Sunday night.
"I don't do comparisons with what happened in the past," Sheens said.
"I won premierships with Canberra and I don't bring that up either, so why should I bring up what happened years ago now at the Cowboys."
His record at the Cowboys was a dismal 27 wins from 103 matches. It was unfamiliar territory for the Sheens, who had won three premierships in his nine years at Canberra after taking Penrith to its first finals series in 1985.
But as then-Cowboys fullback Tim Brasher recalls, North Queensland's woes weren't all Sheens' doing.
"I think it was unfortunate really with Sheensy up in North Queensland, obviously he had a lot to offer and knows the game backwards," Brasher said.
"Just up there he wasn't given the respect that he deserved and the team didn't perform to the standard we should have really for the players we had."
After 18 months on the sidelines, Sheens was back in the coaching game with the Tigers. He was the club's third choice after the Tigers missed out on preferred targets Craig Bellamy and Ian Millward, and initially thought the offer from Tigers director Ben Elias was a joke.
Hamstrung by an ageing roster stacked with overpaid players, Sheens' Tigers finished 13th in 2003, winning only seven of 24 matches.
Massive changes were made to the playing roster in the off-season that followed. Halfback Scott Prince, fullback Brett Hodgson and winger Pat Richards were brought to the club, while Sheens also made the decision to go with youth, showing more faith in youngsters such as Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall.
Last season the joint-venture club looked set for its first ever finals campaign, needing only to win one of its final three games to confirm a top eight berth. It lost all three to miss the eight by two points.
It's all come together this year though, with Sheens' innovative brand of `attack from anywhere' football proving to everyone he is far from finished as a coach at the highest level.
"Anything you do on the training field doesn't convert over to game day straight away," Tigers assistant coach Royce Simmons said.
"The things you see us do in attack now are three years of hard work from Tim."
When it became obvious towards the end of the season that the Tigers would make this year's finals, Sheens admitted he had made a goal at the start of the year of making the top four. But making the grand final, that's a different story.
"Maybe it's a better football team than we thought we had," Sheens said.
"I think we've all, as a group, excelled as far as our own expectations are concerned and they believe in themselves and each win has created more belief and confidence and bonded them closer."