Wests Tigers prop Ben Matulino says his only regret over an 11-year career is not moving to Australia sooner.
Matulino refuted suggestions he only joined the Wests Tigers due to Cleary’s appointment last year amid talk surrounding the coach’s future over the past week.
Career moves between Australia and New Zealand have become more common over the last decade, while the Warriors have been able to recruit players back across the Tasman in recent seasons.
Matulino had the chance to join Penrith with Cleary in 2014 but left his now Wests Tigers coach hanging – re-signing with the Warriors a few days later. “I loved being at the Warriors and thought I would finish my career there but wish I did come over [sooner],” Matulino said.
"I was close, two days away from signing and kind of wish I took it. It’s good, a lot better than I thought it would be.
"I know coming to Australia is pretty daunting. I know every time I came over from the Warriors they put us in a hotel near Kings Cross and that’s all I ever thought of Sydney – tall buildings.
“Coming out here and I stay around the corner, it’s a lovely place and I’ve settled in well. The kids play outside every day because the weather is always good. You don’t get that back in New Zealand.”
Matulino said regardless of Cleary’s future that he intended to see out the final two years of his contract at Concord.
The former Kiwi international has played 20 of 21 games to date, shrugging off concerns around his dodgy knees in the pre-season.
“I knew I was coming to Australia, I just didn’t know which team,” Matulino said.
"When Ivan got the job at the Tigers it was fitting to go wherever he was so it doesn’t matter if he was to go to Penrith, I still would’ve been in Australia if it was this team or not.
"And then he got the head job and just picked that team. I’m still staying here, I like this club and they’ve been really good to me and my family.
“I want to live out my contract.”
The Wests Tigers suffered a blow to their Telstra Premiership finals aspirations with Brisbane beating South Sydney on Thursday night.
It leaves the club four points adrift from the top eight with three games remaining but Matulino said the dream remained alive.
“We’ve been playing finals footy for the last few weeks, just because of the situation we’re in with our points,” Matulino said.
"That’s as far as we can look ahead. We just need to keep winning, we’re a desperate team at the moment and the Dragons are as well.
“We’re expecting a dangerous St George [Illawarra] team.”