Tigers freshen up paying serious dividends: Lawrence
By James Buckley - 28 March 2018 — 5:17pm
The Wests Tigers’ longest serving player believes an off-season roster overhaul and the influence of Ivan Cleary has provided the freshen up the club desperately needed as it chases a first top-eight finish in seven years. Chris Lawrence has toiled for years in a listless Tigers side that hasn’t played finals football since 2011, but with 12 new first-grade players on the books this year and four further development youngsters who train with the main squad, the club has a distinctly fresh feel in 2018 according to the 29-year-old. Benji Marshall returned to the club this year while Ben Matulino, Chris McQueen, Corey Thompson, Josh Reynolds, Mahe Fonua, Pita Godinet, Robbie Rochow, Russell Packer, Taane Milne, Tyson Gamble are now all on the Tigers’ books. They’ve joined Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, Tuimoala Lolohea and Alex Twal who made mid-season switches last year.
Early-season results suggest a monumental shift in fortunes are on the way for the joint venture, which has won two matches already on the back of the stiffest defensive record in the league before Monday’s clash with the Parramatta Eels.
“We got a fresh batch of players that came in with no baggage and no history or past and wanting to bring good attitude and effort and training here to the club,” Lawrence said. "We’ve had about 16 new faces at the club. We’ve missed the boys that have gone particularly last year, some of the guys had been here for a long time but I mean that’s footy these days, players come and go unfortunately. "We came together as a squad at the start of the year and because we were such a new squad we knew we were able to create something that was just ours, and we didn’t have any baggage from the start because we were such a new team, a lot of the players didn’t have any attachments to that past Tigers team.
“It needed to happen to be honest, last few years have been disappointing. Not only on the field but with plenty of issues and dramas off it as well, it was important that as a club we got a stable environment.” Cleary’s major focus in preseason was defence, and the former Penrith and NZ Warriors coach has already imparted a major attitude shift in his players.
They’ve conceded just two four pointers in the opening three rounds, and kept Brisbane tryless last Friday before going down in a controversial golden-point battle. “It’s been no secret the last couple of years our defensive record has been pretty poor, that was definitely a focus in the off season to improve that,” Lawrence said. "One way we’ve done that is just by working hard continuously for one another. That was a big theme of our preseason, little effort areas. “That’s shown in the start of the first few games, the boys out on the field working hard and putting in the effort which has given us a good defensive result.”
A win against Parramatta on Monday will hand the Tigers their strongest start to an NRL campaign since 2010, and Cleary’s best ever opening four rounds in his 12th season as a head coach. “He definitely brings a lot of discipline and accountability, that’s definitely something he’s brought in the pre-season and it’s something that we haven’t had in the last couple of years which has shown in our consistency and performances,” Lawrence said. “He just brings a simple game plan, everyone knows their role, knows what they’ve got to do for the team. Whether it’s a little effort area or a structure in attack and defence, everyone knows what their role is and that’s your job to do.”