IVAN Cleary may yet be the Wests Tigers saviour but there will always be a ‘what if’ about his coaching career at Concord — the departures of Aaron Woods and James Tedesco.
Cleary arrived at a time when both the skipper and star fullback were in talks with rival clubs but put in a last-ditch bid to keep them, while determining that Mitchell Moses would be allowed to leave.
There’s no guarantee his coaching would ever have changed their minds but what’s clear is he’s already convincing his players the future is bright.
That may seem far-fetched while they sit 15th on the ladder, having just come off a seven-game losing streak with victory over the Knights in a game tagged as Spoon Bowl, but listen to Woods talk about his new mentor and you sense a change sweeping through the battling club.
“Ivan’s outstanding, I love working under Ivan,” Woods told foxsports.com.au.
“ … I didn’t really know much about him at the start but knowing now what he’s doing at the club and seeing how he’s handling things, I think the club’s in for a really good future.
“It hurts me to say that because at the end of the year I’m leaving. I really love Ivan and it was a really hard decision to make because Ivan’s been really good to me and I’ve really enjoyed my time underneath him.
“He’s showed a lot of faith in me and even though I’m leaving he’s backed me 100 per cent.
“I said to Ivan, I’d love to work with you, you never know what happens in footy.
“I said it’s not his fault. I said he’s walked into the club and he was always honest with every chat we had before I went through my contract stuff so he was really good and I think the club’s going to be really good with him there.”
While Cleary’s influence has been fleeting, there’s another Tigers figurehead who Woods has long admired — a man he respects so much he informed him of his decision to join the Bulldogs before it went public.
Very few men are more tortured by the joint venture’s seemingly constant struggles than larger-than-life Balmain legend Steve ‘Blocker’ Roach, and few have had a bigger influence on Woods’ career so far.
Currently in NSW camp with the team, Roach is the man Blues players go to for a yarn and a laugh and to keep the mood relaxed.
Woods has long been a friend and admirer, with Roach playing the role of confidante when Woods was considering his future.
“I’ve always spoken to Block about things and he was one of the guys I told before I was going to go, and he was just happy, he’s always been supportive and he just said ‘look after yourself and your family mate, you’ve got to do what’s best for your football career’,” Woods said.
Roach is another reason Woods struggled with his decision to leave, but having made the call to join Canterbury next season, he struggles with it no more.
Instead, he has pledged to give his all for the Tigers while he’s there and is determined to ensure his last season there doesn’t end with cutlery.
“For now all I’m concerned about is the Tigers,” Woods said.
“I don’t really care about how (the Bulldogs) go this year, I’m more worried about us, I just want to get us off the bottom of the table and hopefully get a few more wins this year, and anything can happen from there.”