We're not dead yet: Cleary refuses to give up on a finals miracle
A disappointed Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary says "anything can happen" and his team is refusing to give up on a miraculous top-eight finish despite going down 20-10 to the Dragons at Leichhardt Oval.
He said the loss – which was punctuated by repeated failures to cash in on attacking chances through poor handling – was "eerily" similar to the team's previous loss at the historic ground, against the Titans in round 16.
To make the finals from here, the Tigers would need to beat Manly at Campbelltown then Souths at ANZ Stadium and hope the Broncos lose to the Roosters and Manly (or that the Warriors lose their last three against Bulldogs, Panthers and Raiders).
"The season's not over. We've got two more games to go," Cleary said.
"You can't control other things but the reality is we are still alive. Anything can happen still but really when we started this season, our season wasn't going to be defined by anyone external, it was going to be defined by what we did.
"We've got a game next Thursday night so it's a quick one against the Sea Eagles out there at Campbelltown and the job for us is to get out there and perform. It's probably a good time to get a short turnaround. We haven't really performed out there at Campbelltown this year and I think it's time we did."
Both of the club's spiritual homes, Campbelltown and Leichhardt, have not been particularly happy hunting grounds in recent years and the 30-12 round 16 loss to Gold Coast was arguably the team's worst game of the year – along with the 48-12 loss to the Raiders at Campbelltown a week prior.
"Eerily similar [to the Titans game], I've got to say," Cleary said.
"We've had a season where defence has been a real foundation for us. Attack hasn't come so maybe we're not used to sticking our nose through and having those opportunities... if I had all the answers we would have won the game but it was similar to the last time we played."
The team knew they would be facing a Dragons team that was in a form slump but failed to take advantage of that fact.
"We knew we were playing a team that was lacking a bit of confidence so we were pretty keen to not give them the opportunity to get some confidence back and unfortunately that's what we did," he said.
"I thought we looked really sharp, created opportunities pretty much right throughout the game, particularly in that first 20 minutes but just handed over the ball far too easily and that was just a bit of a theme for the night, too many easy turnovers. That was pretty much the story of the game I thought."
The Tigers looked to have the momentum when Chris Lawrence scored in the opening minute of the second half but they failed to take advantage of the sin-binning of Dragons No.7 Ben Hunt in the 53rd minute and shot themselves in the foot with a string of errors.