Wests Tigers recruit Chris McQueen could have been forgiven for feeling unwanted by Ivan Cleary after being the club’s final signing for 2018 by Jason Taylor before the coach was sacked.
McQueen was announced as the joint venture’s first major recruit for 2018 in April, two weeks following the dismissal of Taylor, but the 30-year-old revealed all his discussions about the club’s future were with the former Wests Tigers coach until late in the piece.
The former Queensland forward had only known Cleary for “less than a week” while in camp for the Prime Minster’s XIII in 2015 before putting pen to paper on a three-year deal to link with his third club in four seasons.
“I came down and met with the club when the negotiations were pretty much finalised around the week when Taylor departed,” McQueen told NRL.com.
"He was still here then and I worked with him at the Rabbitohs so we had that working relationship. I thought he knew his stuff then and was a great coach. It was unfortunate what happened with him in the end but that’s what happens in rugby league.
“I felt like my negotiations with the Titans and Tigers had run their course and was in a comfortable enough position to make that decision.”
What followed was a barrage of off-field distractions led by the futures of key men Aaron Woods, Mitchell Moses and James Tedesco.
They announced their departures within the space of a month, but McQueen remained confident of Cleary’s direction despite watching the local juniors move on.
“The whole time everything was happening I was in constant communication with the club and there was never any questioning whether I was going to come or not,” McQueen said.
"I liked what they did in 2016. I saw it as a club rebuilding despite all the rumours about players coming and going. When that stuff is going on at a club you know while there are dramas in the short term, things are going in the right direction and is building something.
“We’ve got all the ingredients to have a good team here.”
The Kingaroy junior missed the final three months of the competition after succumbing to chronic neck pain and revealed he consulted former teammates Kyle Turner and Nathan Peats before undergoing season-ending surgery in August.
“It’s coming along well, it’s been nearly five months since and I’m back into full training,” he said.
"It got to a point where every tackle I was getting those burners. I went and had different tests and there were signs of nerve damage. That was the scary part for me, the risk of long-term injury and especially the fact I had just signed a three-year deal. I didn’t want to jeopardise that.
“I get my six-month check-up on the 10th of January and hopefully I get the green light to be able to rip into everything. With the contact we’re being overly cautious, there is still plenty of time before the season starts.”
McQueen welcomed the depth in the new-look Wests Tigers squad after finding himself in four positions during his 13-game season at the Titans in 2017.
He shifted between the back row and centres as the Titans’ injury toll continued to worsen, and even found himself in the halves for his final game.
“It was a situation where it didn’t matter if we were good or bad, everyone was going to be in the team week-to-week,” McQueen said.
"And that’s not always the best thing because you want boys fighting for their position.
“It gives you a boost and keeps boys on edge knowing if you’re not going to show up and do hard work or play good footy, there is someone else waiting.”