A big win to eighth-placed Brisbane over the Rabbitohs at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night has made the equation for the ninth-placed Wests Tigers simple: win or perish. Coach Ivan Cleary said while he didn’t watch Thursday’s game due to a charity commitment, he was checking the scores and with his club now – at least temporarily – two wins adrift of the finals zone, Saturday’s Leichhardt Oval clash against the out-of-form Dragons becomes even more of a must-win.
“It makes our job a little bit harder but the good news for us is we play twice before they play again so the ball’s in our court – starting with the Dragons [Saturday] night,” Cleary said at a scheduled media session on Friday morning.
“Their win has put a bit more of a gap between us but we do play twice before they play so the ball’s in our court [but] we’ve got to win the first game first.” A win over the Dragons would keep the club within a win of Brisbane before a Thursday night round 24 meeting with Manly at Campbelltown.
Even with wins in both, the Tigers would need to make up a 44-point gap in for-and-against in those two games to move ahead of Brisbane. If they did so, they would move into eighth spot before Brisbane next take the field in a tricky visit to face the in-form Roosters at Allianz Stadium next Saturday.
Cleary wasn’t buying into the notion the injury-troubled Dragons are out of form as he readies his side for the do-or-die clash. “The Dragons have been really good all year. Obviously the last few weeks they’ve had a few losses but that happens to every team,” Cleary said.
"We’re on the other side of the coin, we’ve won four out of the last five so the boys have got a bit of confidence and since Robbie Farah] and Moses Mbye came into our team we’ve had a few games together now and think those combinations are growing.
"We had a few injuries as well, Benji [Marshall] was out for a while and he’s been a key to our team.
“I just think most teams will go through a difficult part in every season… through that middle part of the season it wasn’t great for us but we sort of climbed out of that and we’re playing better right now.”
The loss of five-eighth Gareth Widdop (shoulder) is a blow for the Dragons, with Origin prop Paul Vaughan (ankle) also still sidelined but Cleary said utility Kurt Mann would ensure the team is still dangerous.
“Every side goes through injuries, you can’t expect to go through a season with everyone there,” he said.
“They’re chock-full of internationals and Origin players. Kurt Mann himself has played a lot of football in different positions in that team and I’m sure they’ll bring a good game Saturday night.”
Cleary gave a wry laugh when asked if he was surprised Dragons coach Paul McGregor now finds himself under pressure despite his side having led the competition for most of the season.
“Nothing surprises me,” he said.
Pressed on whether coaches had to laugh at the current intense interest around the future of several coaches, including his own reported interest from Penrith, he added: “You don’t always laugh… you’ve got to take it for what it is. You’ve all got to fill content somehow.”
“[I’m] just really focused on an important game [Saturday] night, it’s an exciting game, there’s a lot of buzz around for the game. It’s a good one to be part of.”
With veteran hooker Robbie Farah this week indicating his desire to stay on one more season, Cleary confirmed he was hopeful of having the long-serving No.9 locked in for 2018 sooner rather than later.
“It’s a sensitive one because when guys get to that stage of their career they’re still trying to work out whether they do want to keep going,” Cleary said.
“I’d love Robbie to stay on if he wants to, he’s showing signs that he does so hopefully we can sort that out.”