Future looks bright for resilient Tigers
Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary has praised his side's resilience after they overturned an early 16-point deficit to hit the lead against the Roosters, only to go down 22-18 thanks to a late Latrell Mitchell try.
It was the second week in a row they'd shown some mettle against a top eight side after they fought back from 20-6 down last week against the Sea Eagles to register a thrilling come-from-behind win.
"I thought coming back from 16-nil down was a pretty good effort," Cleary said on Saturday night.
"Last week was similar and we're definitely improving in the resilience stakes. You only really get that confidence from demonstrating it and we've now done it a few times. The next step is to turn those close ones into wins."
It's been a difficult year for the Tigers with the black and golds going through three coaches, while they also had to deal with the mid-season departure of Mitchell Moses and are set to lose representative stars James Tedesco and Aaron Woods at the end of the year.
It looked to be too much to take for their young squad, and a seven-game losing streak midway through the season only added to the woes with the Tigers at risk of claiming the wooden spoon.
However they've since pushed top eight sides the Eels, Roosters and Panthers in recent weeks, and their win against Manly suggests they'll be in good shape in 2018 despite the exit of the 'big three'.
Cleary has bolstered his squad with players like Josh Reynolds, Ben Matulino and Russell Packer signing on for next year, and while the future looks bright the present is looking fairly rosy according to their coach.
"We're further ahead [than where I thought we'd be]. I think I made the comment a few weeks back that the build hasn't started yet but I think it has. That's a credit to the players," he said.
"We had a pretty tough period in the middle of the year after a lot of uncertainty and players leaving – big players that the strategy of the club was basically going to be built around. A lot changed and there was a period of recovery. Probably the last eight games we've been competitive and won games that we should."
While they haven't always been on the winning side, the last few games will do wonders for the next breed of Tigers who have shown that they belong on the big stage.
Rookie Matt Eisenhuth had another monster game at lock against the Roosters with 118 metres and 44 tackles while former Eel Alex Twal continued his impressive start to life as a first-grader with 123 metres and 35 tackles off the bench.
"It'll be invaluable for guys like Matty and Alex Twal, Esan Marsters, even Tui (Lolohea). He's finally got some footy in a position… [although] it probably doesn't look like he'll play in that position next year but that doesn't really matter," Cleary said.
"Nights like this, while we didn't get the result, that's against a pretty quality team out there and it was a big game for them so for us to stand up for 80 minutes – particularly these young guys – they'll certainly look back at them and it will help a lot."
Eisenhuth said he was loving life as an NRL player and agreed that the spirit shown at the backend of 2017 will serve them well in the years to come.
"It's everything I expected it to be – it's tough week in, week out and the body's getting used to it," Eisenhuth said.
"The results aren’t going our way some weeks but we're hanging in there and we're building week to week and I think it's showing out there."