Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary has continued to try and move on from the coaching melodrama that has swirled around the club over the past week.
Cleary said on Saturday he would honour the remaining time on his contract with the Wests Tigers despite reports linking him to a move to Penrith from 2019. Speaking after his side’s 22-20 win over the Raiders at GIO Stadium on Sunday, he said the off-field drama over his future did not affect the team’s ability to prepare for the crucial clash.
“Look, you’d have to ask the boys but all I can say is I never once saw them anything other than completely focused on their preparation,” Cleary said. "It was a long week, so we had quite a few training sessions which at this time of year can be difficult, but they were really good throughout the week and I thought it showed the way they played.
"I was proud of the way they prepared and performed and at the end there I thought it was pretty obvious they were determined not to let that one go under enormous pressure.
“It shows what it meant to them and it sets up a nice meeting against the Dragons next week.”
The Tigers were able to capitalise on Joey Leilua being sent to the sin bin in the 10th minute, scoring three tries in the next seven minutes to help set up a commanding 16-point lead.
However, Tigers fans were nervous when a second try to Canberra’s Joseph Tapine with 16 minutes remaining brought the home side to just two points in arrears.
After suffering an average scoreline of 52-9 in their last four games against the Raiders, co-captain Russell Packer said the Tigers knew they couldn’t let a close loss slip through their fingers.
“I played in that game out at Campbelltown [in round 15] and obviously it was disappointing, and you definitely remember your losses and some more than others. I thought we played really well in the first half and I thought we defended really well in the second half,” Packer said.
“I thought the boys hung on really well and played like a team, we came together and defended for each other and those characteristics have defined our season.”
Esan Masters continued his breakout year, running for 179 metres from 14 runs and four tackle breaks.
Second-rower Michael Chee Kam proved a danger in the forward exchanges, amassing 149 metres from 17 runs.
Packer said the continued excellent form of their young players would be crucial if they were to pull off an upset next Saturday against a St George Illawarra side with something to prove after five losses in their past six games. “Knocking on the door for semi-final football it’s always good to get to this part of the season and still have a chance,” he said.
“We definitely do but we’ve got a big game against the Dragons at Leichardt, so I can’t wait to get back home and hopefully we get a full stadium, get it rocking and put out a performance to match.”