David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

League: Ivan Cleary hoping to sign Tui Lolohea for Wests Tigers

Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary. Photo / Photosport
Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary. Photo / Photosport

Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary is still hoping to sign Warriors utility Tui Lolohea midseason after he was denied an immediate release from the NRL club on Monday.

The former Warriors coach replaced Jason Taylor at the helm of the joint venture club last month and has wasted no time in recruiting players for next season.

After signing Canterbury five-eighth Josh Reynolds, Cleary moved quickly to bolster his forward stocks, with his old Warriors ties helping him lure prop Ben Matulino away from Auckland, before convincing another of his former front-rowers, Russell Packer, to leave St George Illawarra.

The raid on his old club's home-grown playing talent is set to continue, with Cleary still optimistic of getting Lolohea into his side in the coming weeks, after playmaker Mitchell Moses was granted a release to join Parramatta on Tuesday.

"We're still hopeful of it happening," Cleary told Radio Sport.

"We looked into that and saw an opportunity to make it happen."

Lolohea is contracted to the Warriors until the end of next season but was recently granted permission to explore his options and talk to rival clubs. The club is willing to part ways with the versatile 22-year-old but won't let him go early without first having signed a suitable replacement.

Having been through a protracted and messy separation with Moses, Cleary admits he's not a big fan of players shifting clubs mid-season, but accepts it is a fact of life in the modern game.

"It's just one of those things, with the current player transfer system in the NRL," he said.

"At the end of the day, it's got to be good for both parties. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I'm still a little uncomfortable with players moving midseason.

"But the reality is, if a players pathway is blocked and it's good for both parties, then that's when it can work.

"I don't really want to go into the sensitivities of it too much but we're still hopeful."

As for the addition of Matulino and Packer - two players he handed first grade debuts to during his time at Penrose - Cleary says the pairs experience both on and off the field will benefit the Tigers during their rebuilding phase.

"It's a matter of getting people that you know and you trust and they're also good players.

"It's more than what these guys can contribute on the field, it's off the field (as well) and I've known three of those guys for a long time and been involved in their careers along the way.

"I'm really looking forward to working with those guys again."

Packer has successfully resurrected his NRL career with the Dragons over the last three seasons, after serving a year in jail in 2014 for a violent assault.

Ivan Cleary has been signing former Warriors like Russell Packer. Photo / Getty
Ivan Cleary has been signing former Warriors like Russell Packer. Photo / Getty


Matulino, meanwhile, will reunite with his friend and former front-row partner under Cleary, looking to rejuvenate a career that has stalled over the last couple of seasons.

The 28-year-old is only two games back after knee surgery delayed his start to the season, but will line up for his 200th outing when the Warriors take on Packer's Dragons in Hamilton tomorrow night.

"It's always a good thing for anyone to get out of their comfort zone," said Cleary.

"Having said that, Ben was the (Warriors) Player of the Year only two years ago.

"He's obviously a terrific player and he would say himself he's looking forward to a new challenge and we're happy to provide him with that.

"I think there's a lot left in Ben. We have every reason to think he's going to do really well over here and I'm looking forward to seeing him do that."

- NZ Herald

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