True to his position as head of the Wests Tigers’ rapid rebuild, Ivan Cleary doesn’t change his stripes.
The king of turning an NRL club from cellar-dwellers to title contenders, Cleary’s role in revolutionising the Tigers can’t be understated.
But according to co-captain Elijah Taylor, there’s nothing that new in what he’s doing.
Few know Cleary like Taylor, who has been at heart of all his rebuilds.
The Kiwi international debuted in the Warriors’ run to the 2011 grand final under Cleary before he followed him to Penrith, where the mentor took them to their first preliminary final in a decade.
It’d be fair to suggest the Panthers are still enjoying at least some of the benefits of his work today.
The pair’s paths have since crossed at the Tigers, where Cleary has engineered the best start in the merged club’s history, just a year after they resembled something of an on-field rabble.
While Cleary’s efforts have been as much about what is done off the field to unify the team as on it, Taylor believes there are marked similarities between the 5-1 Tigers and the Penrith side that shocked the competition four years ago.
“He’s bringing a lot from what he taught over at Penrith. If you compare the football we were playing in 2014 to what we’re playing now, it’s very similar,” Taylor said.
“Defensively the boys are willing, everyone is willing to turn up.
“Everyone is selfless; that’s the key.
“He lets you play what you see. He lets you find your rhythm and the way you play your football.
“He gives you a lot of freedom and confidence.”
Cleary’s rebuilds follow a tried and trusted formula.
He brings a stack of players to a club – that number is already up to 12 at Concord – mixes them with young talent and produces a workmanlike side with a touch of experience in the halves and energy to burn on the edges.
He also ensures success around the team.
Penrith and the Warriors won a combined five lower-grade titles during his stints and Wests sit top of the the NSW Cup this year.
Finally, he locks his talent in long term.
The Tigers are already approaching the “bus full” sign, with the vast majority of their squad already locked in.
Usually, it takes a season or two for Cleary’s teams to gel before they surge into their first finals appearance in years.
But Cleary himself admitted in the pre-season his plan at the Tigers was going ahead of time, and now the results are showing on the field.
“That’s why a lot of boys want to stay here at the Wests Tigers and play for Ivan,” Taylor said.
“Because his track record would suggest what he’s doing here.”