Wests Tigers winger Malakai Watene-Zelezniak says even he’s been amazed with what the 2017 season has held for him as he prepares to finish the year on a winning note.
Facing the New Zealand Warriors at Leichhardt Oval with 13 games under his belt, it’s been some year for the 26-year-old, who started the season in reserve-grade at the Panthers.
“It’s been an amazing year for me,” Watene-Zelezniak enthused.
"I approached it just trying to cement a spot and play some good footy.
"If I did that, I knew I would be improving as a player each week.
"There’s still a lot of improvement to go but I’m looking forward to the preseason and next season here at Wests Tigers to keep getting better as a player and a teammate.
“Since Ivan’s been here, I think the coaching staff with Sandy [Assistant Coach Craig Sandercock] and Webby [Andrew Webster] have really helped take my game to another level.
"I’ve definitely improved on a lot of things.
“I’m excited to see what the pre-season holds and what type of player I can be next year.”
Having claimed a 79th minute match-winner in his last time out at Leichhardt Oval, Watene-Zelezniak said it was a huge advantage for the team to be able to end the year at home.
“All the boys are ready to finish the season on a high and finish strong," he said.
"Hopefully we can really lay something positive to take in to the next season.
“Playing at Leichardt Oval is amazing, the atmosphere, the fans, the crowd is all unreal.
“To be able to finish the season at Leichardt is a massive bonus for us.”
Wests Tigers halfback Luke Brooks says he’s determined to put a niggling hamstring injury behind him this Sunday when he takes the field for the Round 26 game.
Forced to watch from the sidelines as his team were run down by the Cowboys last week, Brooks admitted it had been frustrating managing his hamstring all season, but was confident in delivering his best in the Club’s final game of the year against the Warriors.
“It’s been a frustrating thing for me,” he said.
"The injury itself isn’t too bad, but just because I’ve had a couple of them this year, we’ve had to take a bit more care with it, which is frustrating because I just want to be out there.
"Hopefully that’s something I can get right over the off-season and be right for pre-season.
“I thought the boys played really well for 60 minutes last week and were on top,” he said.
"It’s another game we simply should have won, and we’ll learn from that game.
“We haven’t really played a full 80 since Ivan has been here, and we want to deliver that.”
Wests Tigers Head Coach Ivan Cleary gives the final word ahead of his side’s Round 26 clash against the New Zealand Warriors tomorow evening at Leichhardt Oval.
After another tight loss last weekend having led in the second half, Cleary said it was important to take the positives from the back half of the year and end the year on a positve note.
'We’ve been pretty competitive lately without getting the results," he said.
"We’ve pushed some top eight teams over the past four weeks.
"But the main thing is just that need to close out the game.
“It’s discussed in review and the boys understand it — sometimes it just comes down to second half possession and field position… so we’re looking forward to getting it right.”
Cleary pointed to the return of halfback Luke Brooks from injury as a key on Sunday.
“He’s been really good this week and has ticked every box,” Cleary said.
"It was only minor last week but he’s had troubles before so we took it easy.
“It’s good to have him back — it’ll definitely boost the side for Sunday.”