Wests Tigers recruit John Bateman has lashed his critics after a frustrating return to the NRL with the Wests Tigers. The England international was a big-money signing for the NRL strugglers in the off-season, but only played his first game for the club in Sunday's round three defeat to the Canterbury Bulldogs on Sunday.
The Tigers raised eyebrows after leaving Bateman out of their side for the opening two games of the new season - both concerning home defeats to the Titans and Knights, respectively. Asked about the glaring omission of one of their star recruits, the Tigers repeatedly stated that the classy back-rower was still "acclimatising" to Australia and his new environment at the Tigers.
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Reports later emerged that Bateman was not familiar with the plays the Tigers were running. The panel on Fox League's NRL 360 were highly sceptical of the club's explanation and suggested the Tigers were covering up a pre-existing injury for their star import.
Fox League's James Hooper said Tigers coach Tim Sheens failed to answer his questions about Bateman’s availability, while the Daily Telegraph's Michael Carayannis questioned why the club would try and conceal widespread reports the Englishman had an issue with his ankle.
“Would anyone care if John Bateman had an ankle injury?” Carayannis said. “That’s what I can’t work out.”
Kent replied: “That’s the point. So why all the smoke and mirrors about what is actually wrong with him. Because the thing is when he was first mentioned with the Tigers and it looked like he was heading to the Tigers, a lot of people in England said, he has got a crook ankle, how is he going to go?”
Following his first game for the club in sweltering conditions at Belmore Oval on Sunday, Bateman said reports of an injury were wide of the mark. Suggestions the Tigers bought damaged goods have been regularly rejected by the club in recent weeks, with Bateman rejecting reports about the ankle injury.
"Quite a lot of people have been saying 'he's injured blah, blah, blah' but I think those people have never done a pre-season," Bateman said. "A three-week pre-season isn't good for anyone.
"If I'd have played the first week and got injured then everyone would have been saying 'why did you play so early?' "It's pretty hard. Different people play differently. I play a lot differently to people so it's about understanding people. That's the hard thing.
John Bateman shows flashes of class in first game for Tigers
Bateman made a solid return in his first NRL match in two-and-a-half years, despite his side falling just short in a 26-22 thriller against Canterbury. The Englishman described it as the hottest conditions he's ever played under, with the mercury still hovering around the 32-degree mark when the match kicked off just after 4pm.
In a winless team struggling for form, Bateman looked dangerous in attack after making several tough runs, as well as 28 tackles in defence. Bateman's first game for the Tigers came after his arrival to Australia was delayed until late last month due to visa issues, having signed a four-year deal in December.
"I've just been acclimatising and getting used to it. I don't know any of the boys or the plays. I was still a bit scratchy, understanding what we are doing."
Bateman warned it would take some time to learn the Tigers' plays, having only met his teammates for the first time three weeks ago. A star in his two years at Canberra in 2019 and 2020, he returned to England to be near to his young daughter when closed borders during Covid-19 left him homesick.
Bateman did not watch the NRL during his time back in England, where he remained one of the world's best edge forwards at Wigan. But he is under no illusions of the job ahead at the battling Tigers, hoping to return to the heights he was able to reach at the Raiders - which included a grand final and preliminary final appearance, plus a Dally M second rower of the year gong in 2019.
"The opportunity for the Wests Tigers to bring me out here motivated me and I feel like I play my best rugby out here," Bateman added. "The game probably suits me a little bit more.
"I liked what Sheensy (coach Tim Sheens) was talking about with what he wanted to build. When you get here you realise how big the club is, and we need to go places."
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