WESTS Tigers coach Ivan Cleary has pleaded with fans to be patient with new recruit Tuimoala Lolohea.
Lolohea will make his club debut against St George Illawarra on Saturday and start at five-eighth less than a week after being granted a mid-season NRL release from the Warriors.
He has signed until the end of the 2019 season and Cleary insists the Tigers faithful shouldn’t expect too much, too soon.
“We’re not going to see the best of him for a while, we’re not expecting him to perform miracles. He understands his role, but he’s going to have to work into it,” Cleary said on Friday.
“He’s had three sessions now today. It’s not a lot, but again, we just want him to turn up and be himself. I’m sure he’ll improve as he gets used to what we’ve got here.”
It is believed the joint-venture brought him over to be the club’s long-term fullback, however Cleary confirmed Lolohea would spend the rest of this season at pivot.
Since making his NRL debut in 2014, Lolohea has yet to string seven games in the one position as he shifted from fullback, centre, wing, five-eighth and the bench.
“Tui’s a kind of guy who’s played a lot of different positions already in his career so we’re looking to give him some solidity in that spot,” Cleary said.
“I think that’ll be good for him and good for us and give him a real chance to focus on a role and be comfortable in that role in this team. That’ll give him the best opportunity to be at his best.”
While Cleary is buoyed by the addition of Lolohea, he will be forced to field his fourth halves pairing in seven games as Luke Brooks continue to recover from a hamstring injury.
Jack Littlejohn will wear the No.7 jumper against a Dragons side that are likely to be boosted by the return of star duo Josh Dugan and Gareth Widdop from injury.
Dugan came through unscathed from a month-long absence in Wednesday’s State of Origin win for NSW, while Widdop has trained strongly after recovering from a knee injury.
Their inclusion means the third-placed Dragons start as raging favourites against the 15th-placed Tigers, who are hoping to avoid a four-game losing streak.
Cleary denied the Tigers were reaching a desperation point in their season.
“If we just look at the ladder or the end result each week, it’s more to it than that. We’re looking to develop some progression and parts of the game that we haven’t been doing well,” he said.
“If you don’t get that right, then you won’t get the results. It’s not all about the results for us. Certainly that’s what we want, but there’s building blocks we need first for that to happen.”