Recently-retired club great Dene Halatau says the Wests Tigers are ahead of where they were at the same point last year and there is a happy vibe at the club.
Halatau hung up the boots after the Round 26 loss to Canberra at Leichhardt that meant the Tigers just missed out on sneaking into the 2016 finals series, boasting 249 NRL games at the Tigers and Bulldogs as well as 15 Tests for the Kiwis.
The 2005 premiership-winner has been keeping himself incredibly busy in what could have been his first relaxing off-season in a decade and a half.
He has taken on a role in the NRL's welfare and education team, is an NRL ambassador and is also working at his old club driving a positive culture from the under-16s level through to the football department and NRL team.
"I'm helping facilitate workshops and implementing new programs that the NRL wants to implement across the game," Halatau told NRL.com at the recent unveiling of the 2017 NRL ambassadors.
"At club level, the stuff I'm doing with the Tigers is more about club culture and leadership. The club culture stuff I'm trying to push through the whole club, not just the playing group, the staff and our pathways, 16s and 18s, Group 6, Wests and Balmain, trying to get everyone on board with what the club's about and where we want to go."
The club's culture came under fire at different times in 2016 with ongoing differences between long-serving hooker Robbie Farah and coach Jason Taylor; pressure to re-sign rising stars Mitch Moses, James Tedesco and Luke Brooks; and rumours of discontent over the style of footy Taylor wanted to implement compared to how his playmakers wanted to play.
Despite all this, the club many tipped as wooden spoon contenders came within one win of a remarkable finals appearances and Halatau said all the signs heading into 2017 are better than at the same time last year.
"There is a good vibe at the moment; the training is always tough and everyone's in shape," he said.
"The team's ahead of where they were last year in terms of their results in their physical testing but what they're doing on the field, everyone's bought into and that development towards the back end of last year, the style of game everyone wanted to play, the way the boys were forming combinations, that's continued on in the pre-season and everyone's pretty happy with where things are at.
"Everyone's really happy with where they're at physically and the kind of things they're doing on the field. I think we're in a good place and hopefully for the boys that means a strong start to the season and hopefully gather that momentum towards the business end of the year."