How Packer went from year in jail to NRL leadership material

Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary has revealed Russell Packer is a shock captaincy candidate as the joint-venture outfit prepares to officially welcome some of its high-profile recruits.

Marquee signings Josh Reynolds, Ben Matulino and Chris McQueen will report to Concord Oval for the first time on Thursday for their opening day of pre-season. The trio are among the captaincy candidates to replace Belmore-bound Aaron Woods alongside a host of senior players including Elijah Taylor and Chris Lawrence.

Cleary revealed Packer will also be in contention for the role when he joins the squad after fulfilling his World Cup commitments with the Kiwis.

"I've known Russell for a long time and he has leadership qualities as well," Cleary told Fairfax Media. "He's not shy about coming forward and having an opinion. He's passionate about what he does.

"It says a lot about who he is as a person [to bounce back from his setbacks]."

Packer's career appeared over when he was jailed for a year for a vicious alcohol-fuelled assault. The prop, who formed a relationship with Cleary from their time at the Warriors, has subsequently turned his life around. He accepted a lifeline from the Dragons, earned the right to return to the NRL after a stint in reserve grade and has undertaken community work and earned a university degree as part of his personal and professional development off the field.

Cleary will see how his new recruits come together with the established members of the squad before picking Woods' successor, but hasn't ruled out appointing co-captains.

"I'm not in a hurry. Even how we do it, I'm pretty open about whether we do that in a traditional way or we try something different," Cleary said. "Co-captains have shown to be pretty successful, the Cowboys have been a pretty good example of that in the recent past. There have also been some other models that have been done. I'm not saying I'm going to do that, it's about looking at what will work best for us.

"I want to see how people go in a new group. It's a completely new group so it may not necessarily be someone you might think."

The Tigers have been the most active club in the open market. Their list of recruits include McQueen, Matulino, Packer, Robbie Rochow, Mahe Fonua, Taane Milne and Corey Thompson. However, most excitement surrounds the arrival of Reynolds. Such was the regard for the former NSW pivot at Canterbury that former skipper James Graham offered to sacrifice the pay rise he was entitled to under the new collective bargaining agreement in order to retain Reynolds.

Cleary said he was excited about Reynolds' ability to unify a side on and off the field.

"He's just got to bring himself, that's the first thing, he doesn't have to do anything different," Cleary said. "That's what we signed him, for what he is, not necessarily for what [outsiders] want him to be.

"He's obviously very experienced, he's played in grand finals, he's played in winning teams pretty much his whole career. He's obviously passionate about the game and who he plays for. That's something that sits well with what we're trying to do.

"He's keen after last season to have a big one and I'm looking forward to working with him.

"There's not many guys around where it's so obvious when they leave a club that they have so much respect with players, fans and members. That's a pretty special quality and something we could certainly do with."

In a selfless gesture, Cleary donated a kidney to his ill brother, Ash, during the off-season. The former Warriors and Panthers coach said the initial signs indicated the operation was a success.

"I'm good and he's going pretty well too," he said. "So far the transfer was a success. It's a long way to go but he's going pretty well and I'm fine."

This story How Packer went from year in jail to NRL leadership material first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.