Silver lining as Tigers face brutal start
They've been handed one of the toughest starts to a draw in NRL history but Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary had a simple response upon his return to the club following kidney surgery; bring it on.
Cleary has endured a challenging eight-week break over the off-season with the mentor donating a kidney to brother Ash, who is battling illness.
While he is understandably yet to speak publicly about the family ordeal, the 46-year-old chose to focus on the difficult six-week period to start in 2018 as the club prepares to enter a new era.
The joint venture will meet premiers Melbourne twice and the Roosters, Broncos and Eels all once in the opening five rounds, followed by finalists Manly in Round 6.
With a large turnover of players for 2018, Cleary admitted combinations are expected to take time, but facing a tough start presents the side an early challenge to switch on early.
"What you get though is what you get, I actually don't mind it," Cleary said of the draw.
"We've got the top four teams five times in the first five weeks and then Manly after that so it's certainly a real challenge straight off the bat, and that has ups and downs.
"I think the first six weeks are pretty much the most even it is all year when teams are still trying to work themselves out, and after that you have a bit more of an idea.
"It's going to be a great thing to look forward to, we've got to be ready to go from Round 1, and it's a good chance to get some real confidence in those opening weeks.
"It's also a good chance to knock a few of them off too. I see it as a positive"
The loss of fullback James Tedesco and recruitment of Australian halfback Cooper Cronk to the Roosters has lit up social media in recent months – moves that are set to take the focus away from Cleary's line-up in the opening round, who have a less than ideal record against the Tricolours.
"The NRL is a competitive beast," Cleary said.
"There's not a lot between the best and the rest.
"But at the end of the day, it's about producing 80-minute performances that look and feel the same each week and that's where we want to try and get to."
Cleary expects a strong core of players back to pre-season training next week including new recruits Josh Reynolds and Ben Matulino.
Returning club legend Benji Marshall is expected to feature by late November.
"Pre-season is a really good chance to actually start from the start," he said.
"It gives us a chance to get some traction in to not just how we want to play the game but also the ways in which we want to try and grow the culture here.
"The grind of pre-season isn't easy, particularly for young players, but it can really set you up mentally for the year ahead but also a lot in the future as well.
"They'll go through some hard times together and we'll know more with how we're looking by February."