This is in particular directed at those questioning his signings and selections. I feel like I need to go into bat for the guy.
The Tigers after last season needed a roster refresh. I think that was plain to see and I think that was his mandate from the club when he was signed. I think we pretty much all wanted it. This was made even more clear after Tedesco, Woods and Moses decided to abandon ship. Unfortunately we are not going to be able to go out and turn over the entire squad in one season and become contenders. Only the Roosters can do that because for whatever reason they just sign whoever they want whenever they want. It seems though even with the Roosters they have tactical down years that they use to reload the side for the next run at it. Even still they just have the benefit of a system that allows them for whatever reason to just pick the eyes out of the entire comp.
So given we needed a roster refresh Cleary went out and signed a lot of players. But you can’t get superstars in every position. Many of them he will only expect to do a job for a year or two, transitional players, and if they contribute well enough to stick then even better. Guys like Thompson, Marshall, Twal and Fonua fall into this category which will expedite the rebuild but then you get guys like Godinet, Rochow and Lolohea who look like they won’t, and guys like Milne who washed out already. Godinet and Lolohea will go before too long if they can’t stack up. He would not have been expecting any of these types of players to stick, just hoping they would but expecting them to do a better job than a harsh critic would have predicted they would. You can’t even count McQueen against him because he didn’t sign McQueen.
Then there is the fact that there are players he would have had to keep around just to sustain the squad. Guys like Sue, Naiqama, Chee Kam, Grant etc. You can’t sack the entire squad without causing a disaster with the cap but you can see by the fact that he has not given them starts that he doesn’t plan to keep any of them around past their contract expiration. They have contracts to pay out and there aren’t enough players on the market to stock a full squad, let alone a competitive one, let alone that would have been willing to come to a side like ours.
We need the men and Cleary signed players who he perceived would play above their skill level and hold the fort while he continues to build the side. They have largely done this as we were predicted on paper to be spooners and we are already in a position where that is pretty much impossible.
Lastly, Cleary arguably had not a single player who was a top level NRL starter when he came in aside from Tedesco who he lost before he had a chance to contribute to that decision. Any player who looks to have now solidified a spot is a net positive. Marsters, Brooks and Lawrence in particular who are all playing at NRL starter or better standard this year so far.
There are some guys that he signed that he, and any rational person, would be expecting more from at this point in the season. Namely Josh Reynolds (who has been unable to put any game time together), Russell Packer and Ben Matulino who were our three real big name signings. These three have been relatively disappointing in the scheme of things. Reynolds in particular is a concern given his body seems to be breaking down. Packer and Matulino have improvement to come in my opinion but it’s just an opinion. There’s no doubt it’s disappointing but I don’t think you can criticise Cleary for those three signings given their status in the game and the situation we were in. Packer has never been a big numbers prop, he’s a general and an impact man. Both the big guys are in their first year here and have had some real solid games. At worst they are doing a better job than our engine room were last year.
This is year one of the rebuild. I think the progress is fantastic. Today was awful, truly, but I am sure at the start of the year
most people would have had us chalked up for more floggings than we’ve had and far fewer wins.
I wouldn’t give it an A but I definitely give his work a B+ and find it really peculiar that there are people already sticking the knives in. Cleary has been a breath of fresh air in every way and has the side competing well above their level. We’ve also managed to go out and source a quality player in Moses Mbye mid season with the Dogs apparently paying some of his salary for the next couple of years. No doubt there will be more signings to come, and more development from guys like Marsters, Fonua, Twal et al. There is still much to look forward to and Cleary has really set this in motion in a good way.
So lay off the coach and lower your expectations for your own health. We are 14 rounds into the biggest rebuild we’ve had since Sheens got here in 2003.