Cleary: “Tonight was a great reference point for us”

Wests Tigers Head Coach Ivan Cleary says his side’s trial defeat against a red-hot Cronulla Sharks side was a necessary thing and will only hold his side in better stead when they take to the field in a fortnight’s time for their season opener. 

Trailing 20-0 at the break following a superb opening half from Shane Flanagan’s side that saw them complete at 100 percent, Wests Tigers had a much improved second stanza and threatened to cut the scoreline to just two points late on before Sione Katoa sealed the win with a late try in the corner.

However, for Cleary, after a dominant win last week over the North Queensland Cowboys, coming up against a strong Sharks side was a crucial thing for his side to do. 

“It was a good trial in that sense of the word,” Cleary said after the match.

“We were constantly under pressure in the first half, and so it was good practice for us to know what it’s like to be under that pressure. The biggest thing for us will be that we need to absorb it better.

“Whether it’s through periods of defence or attack, we need to be mentally tougher at times.

“It was good to come out in the second half and get back in the game, and for most of the second half we looked okay, but that’s what these games are there for in the year.

“In terms of practice and getting us ready for what lies ahead, it was good practice for Round 1.Sometimes you get through the trials and you aren’t really tested at all, and that’s what happened a little last weekend.

“We needed another reference point to test us and we got a really good one tonight.”

While his side struggled in the opening half and didn’t quite find their way back in to the contest afterwards, Cleary was quick to sing the praises of Corey Thompson, who again produced a starring role for Wests Tigers in his bid to claim the vacant number one jersey for Round 1.

“Corey has been a standout throughout the pre-season, and I couldn’t have asked much more from him,” Cleary enthused of the 27-year-old. “He was in everything tonight.

“One play in particular when Luke Lewis looked destined to score off a chargedown and Corey somehow got back there to save it — that epitomises what he is about.

“It’s hard not to [get him the Round 1 team], and that’s what we want. That’s our squad. We have genuine depth where our cap is spread right across the top 30 where other clubs are more heavily weighted.

“There’s been competition for spots right throughout the pre-season and I think it’s important that those guys get rewarded at this stage.”

Cleary also looked to the return of star props Ben Matulino and Russell Packer as a positive for the side, while Robbie Rochow also delivered another impressive performance ahead of the season opener.

“It was great for Russell and Ben to get a hit-out, and the backrowers too,” he said. 

“I thought Robbie Rochow was good and Chris Lawrence was really solid too; it was good for those guys to go through it again and get some bigger minutes under the belt. “

Wests Tigers will kick off season 2018 with a blockbuster showdown against the Sydney Roosters at ANZ Stadium on Saturday, March 10, with kickoff from 4:30pm AEDT.

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