Leichhardt wanderers: Tigers want permanent den after five home grounds
By Christian Nicolussi9 May 2018 — 7:16pm
Ivan Cleary has expressed his hopes of one day having the Wests Tigers play out of one ground - not five different venues - to give his team a genuine home-ground advantage. The Tigers return to spiritual Leichhardt Oval on Thursday night against the North Queensland Cowboys in what will be their fifth home ground after just 10 rounds.
The joint venture has already hosted games at ANZ Stadium, Campbelltown, Mt Smart Stadium and Tamworth.
While the Tigers are handsomely rewarded for taking games elsewhere - they pocketed more than $350,000 for hosting Melbourne in Auckland back in round five - Cleary also knows there is no substitute for creating an exciting and intimidating atmosphere at the one permanent home.
Fortress Leichhardt was the one venue Cowboys favourite and future immortal Johnathan Thurston listed as the toughest to play at, and said during an NRL promotion at the start of the season: "Even the 12-year-olds spray me there.’’
Cleary had noticed his players get excited about the first match at the iconic inner-western Sydney venue.
Leichhardt and Campbelltown are the traditional bases of Balmain and Wests.
One venue that could be an option for the Tigers moving forward is the new Western Sydney Stadium. "If you’re going to be successful long term, one home ground is beneficial,’’ Cleary told Fairfax Media. "The fact is we’re a merged club, and the reason the club has taken games away is because we haven’t been successful over a number of years, and the club needs to put itself into the position to look after the business, or in other words make money.
"It’s a responsible decision by the board and the club.
"But there is definitely an on-field advantage with having one home ground.
"The two previous clubs I’ve worked at the Warriors and Penrith, they had good home grounds.
"When I started we were building, and the home ground was not as strong, but as the club builds - and both those clubs are now in good positions - those home venues are as good as any in terms of opposition teams knowing they’re in for it before they even get there. "It’s definitely an advantage.’’
Cleary would not nominate a venue that appealed to him, but said one - not two - was the most desirable.
He also said it was impossible to not be moved by Leichhardt and its history, with a spirited crowd to help the Tigers try and end a three-match losing streak against the Cowboys. "It’s hard to explain, it’s one of those grounds where as soon as you walk through the tunnel, the ground is lower than the [seating] and it feels like the crowd is on top of you,’’ Cleary said.
"Without getting too deep, there’s certainly a spirituality about Leichhardt.’’
Benji Marshall returns to the ground for the first time, but is so focused on turning his own form around passed on a few promotional activities involving Leichhardt this week.
Marshall came into the season without a trial and the early expectations of coming off the bench to assist the halves Josh Reynolds and Luke Brooks.
But Marshall has played every match while Reynolds overcomes injury, and has in recent weeks started to plateau.
"He’ll be the first to admit his kicking was a bit off last week,’’ Cleary said of Marshall, after the Tigers were well beaten for the first time of the year by the Warriors.
"Benji has had more to do than what he first anticipated. Like everyone else, he’s trying to find some consistency. But his contributions for us have been enormous on and off the field.’’
Russell Packer is a big inclusion for the Tigers, while the returning Jacob Liddle will provide plenty of spark out of dummy-half.