Ivan Cleary’s selection shake-up keeps Wests Tigers players fighting for spots
Nick Campton, The Daily Telegraph
February 22, 2018 1:42pm
THE message from Ivan Cleary is loud and clear — nobody at Wests Tigers is guaranteed a start for Round 1.
Doesn’t matter who you are, how you played last season or anything else — competition, every day on the training paddock, will determine Cleary’s best 17.
Most had all but pencilled Tui Lolohea in as the club’s fullback for the season opener against the Roosters.
Lolohea played some of the best footy of his career since transferring from the Warriors last season and starred for Tonga in the World Cup.
But that doesn’t matter now. The light-stepping 23-year old has been relegated to the reserve grade trial this week behind Corey Thompson.
Similarly, Taane Milne was a revelation for Fiji and was pegged as a definite starter at right centre after joining the club from St George Illawarra.
But instead he’s on the bench, behind Kevin Naiqama and Esan Marsters.
Neither of them are kicking stones and both plan to make it back into the top team, but their demotion illustrates the new ethos Cleary is building at the Tigers.
“Me and Ivan had a good chat and there’s things I need to do, so I get a good chance this week to play reggies,” Lolohea told The Daily Telegraph.
“We don’t really want to make a big deal of it.”
“It’s good to have a lot of pressure around the club. I just want to get an 80 minute performance this week.”
Lolohea had a mixed bag in the trial game against North Queensland last week, making a break with his first touch, but also struggling to field some loose balls, a consequence of his still developing skills as a fullback.
The former Warrior has worked extensively with 2005 premiership winner Brett Hodgson, a new addition to the Tigers coaching staff, in order to improve his mastery of the position.
No spot in the outside backs is certain, especially in the centres, but Milne believes the rivalries will only make the team stronger in the long run.
“Every day at training we’re competing for spots,” Milne said.
Taane Milne scores a try for Wests Tigers during their NRL trial match against the Cowboys.
“Everyone knows it’s going to be a competition and everyone’s working hard.
“Whoever they pick there, we’ve got a lot of confidence in them and we’ve got a lot of depth, so it’s good for the club.”
The Fijian international says a major focus of his pre-season has been adapting to the new defensive systems at the Tigers, particularly with fellow recruit Josh Reynolds.
“It’s a lot different to what I’m used to. I’m improving on that, working together with the coaches and the boys,” he said.
“Getting used to different combinations. We’re a new team and we’re building.”
In other team news, promising hooker Jacob Liddle confirmed he would miss the start of the season as he continued to rehab a shoulder injury.
Jacob Liddle has been sidelined by a shoulder injury.
While no definite return date has been set, Liddle is confident he’ll be back on the park in the opening stages of the season.
“It’s coming along well, but there’s still a couple of weeks to go. Starting weights on it, haven’t started contact, but it’s feeling really good,” Liddle told The Daily Telegraph.
“It’s a bit grey, but they won’t tell me much. Still have to build it up and make it strong again.”