Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary admits his team have struggled under the expectations after their surprise start to the NRL season.
But more than one-third of the way through the year, Cleary is satisfied with where they’re placed.
The Tigers’ bubble has burst with three-straight defeats, including arguably their worst performance of the year last weekend against the Warriors.
“We did have a fair bit of success early in the season and what comes with that is external influences, distractions possibly,” Cleary said on Wednesday.
“People start talking guys up and that never happened at the start of the year, but that’s all part of how it works. We had two very narrow losses and, last week, was the first game we were outplayed.”
Despite their alarming form drop, the Tigers remain on track to improve on a horror 2017 when they didn’t register their fifth win until July.
While the Tigers are aiming for their sixth on Thursday night when they host the Cowboys, Cleary denies their early-season success has changed their goals.
“It may have been a surprise but we never went into the season with too many goals in terms of wins and ladder positions,” he said.
“To this point of the season, I’m reasonably happy with what’s transpired so far but there’s no doubt we need to play better than we have the last couple of weeks.”
The Tigers’ chances of ending their losing streak have been boosted by returning co-captain Russell Packer, who has missed the past four games with a knee injury.
The match also marks the return of 2005 premiership-winner Benji Marshall to Leichhardt Oval as a Tigers player since his dramatic 2014 exit.
It is the club’s first game of the year at their spiritual home.
“He’s obviously had a lot of games here and been a big part of the history of the Wests Tigers,” Cleary said of Marshall.
“He’s definitely looking forward to the game; has a strong affiliation with the ground.”
The Cowboys’ breakthrough win last week over Penrith has been overshadowed by an indecent assault charge on prop Scott Bolton.
Bolton has been named in their 21-man squad but it is unclear whether he will play.
“Not being in the camp, it’s hard to have too much of a comment on it. But they’ve had a good win last week against a red-hot Panthers team. I’m sure they’ve got some confidence out of that,” Cleary said.
STATS THAT MATTER:
* The Tigers have won six-consecutive matches against the Cowboys at Leichhardt
* The Tigers are missing the most tackles of any team in the competition, with 33.6 per game
* Johnathan Thurston has his worst winning percentage against the Tigers, with just seven of 22