Aaron Woods says if Ivan Cleary had arrived earlier he may have stayed at Wests Tigers
Aaron Woods has made the stunning confession he might have been swayed to stay at the Tigers had Ivan Cleary taken over the reins sooner.
In the biggest nod to Cleary’s rebuild at Concord, the Australian and NSW enforcer has enjoyed his time so much under the former Warriors and Panthers boss he might have fulfilled his ambition to be a one-club player had he worked with the coach earlier.
Asked if Cleary had been appointed sooner would it have convinced him to stay at the Tigers, the Bulldogs-bound Woods said: "Probably, you know.
"There was a couple of weeks where we had no coach and I was getting hammered left, right and centre because they wanted a decision. If I got to know him a bit better you never know things might have changed, they might not have changed.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time under Ivan and he’s been outstanding. He’s a really good coach and it sucks to be leaving especially when you see how good he’s been. The club’s really good, they’ve got someone like Ivan to take over and I’m a bit shattered I’m leaving and he’s still going to be coach here.”
Woods inked a four-year deal with the struggling Bulldogs from 2018, but there are fresh questions about Des Hasler’s future at the family club despite one of the most successful clipboard carriers of the modern era signing a two-year extension in April.
The Bulldogs are only a mathematical chance of playing finals following their big loss to the Broncos on Thursday night and will be desperate for Woods and Warriors playmaker Kieran Foran to arrive during the summer.
Cleary’s Tigers makeover will only be taking shape then as they prepare to farewell Woods and James Tedesco (Roosters) – Mitchell Moses was granted a mid-season release to join the Eels – and his skipper is convinced the joint venture will be a force again despite winning just three of 12 games under their new boss.
Woods maintains there was never any discussion with Cleary about relinquishing the captaincy, despite he and Tedesco failing to meet a club-imposed deadline to sign new deals earlier in the year after Jason Taylor’s sacking.
“I love the boys and I’ve really loved playing under Ivan,” Woods said. "He’s really reserved and once we are in meetings or at training he’s really to the point. That’s what I like. There’s no beating around the bush with [him].
“The way we play … I’ve really enjoyed [that] under him as well. He’s been really good for me and although I’m leaving he’s still been the same. He’s been really professional and it’s just like talking to a mate really. The club is in really good hands with Ivan.”
Despite little more than pride to play for over the final rounds, Woods ground out an entire 80 minutes in the Tigers’ loss to the Sea Eagles last week, just four days after the State of Origin decider.
He has been the public face of the Tigers’ messy contract wrangle when they kept just Luke Brooks out of their so-called “big four”, and was even booed by his own fans at the height of the drama.
“The first couple of times it sucked, especially at a club you love,” Woods said. "They’ve got an opinion and if they’re not happy that’s what they do. I’m not going to hate them or not because they go for Wests Tigers and they’re just disappointed.
“You’ve got to move on and if you let little things like that worry you you’ve got bigger problems in life. Obviously, I never thought I would leave the club.”
Woods will be reunited with Moses when the Tigers take on the Eels at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.