Growing whispers from the foot of the mountains have been echoing Cleary’s name all week, despite the fact he’s still contracted to the New Zealand Warriors next season.
Who Penrith decide to chase is entirely at the discretion of new football manager Phil Gould, and it just so happens he and Cleary share a tight bond from their time together at the Roosters more than a decade ago.
Those familiar with Gould’s thoughts on the next Penrith coach have told us that an experienced campaigner is being sought. Gould has privately acknowledged the cash-strapped Panthers are facing a lengthy re-building period that may not deliver immediate success and that a rookie coach needs to build his reputation.
Cleary has been at the helm of the Warriors since 2006, leading the Kiwi outfit to three finals berths in five seasons. His position has been subject to conjecture at various stages, but with New Zealand on target for another September tilt this season, Cleary has the credentials for the job.
Sources close to the Panthers have confirmed Cleary’s name had been mentioned among management, although Gould played a straighter bat than Geoff Boycott when we contacted him via text yesterday.
“I won’t be making any comment about the coaching position at Penrith until I have a coach,” Gould texted back. “We have a coach in place for 2011 in Matthew Elliott so I have plenty of time to find our club the best coaching structure for the future. I won’t be rushing into that process.”
The Warriors would have to agree to release Cleary for the deal to eventuate, but club CEO Wayne Scurrah did not return our call to discuss his thoughts.
Another club insider told us Stuart was no longer a chance, while Georgallis is considered too green for what shapes as a tough job initially. It’s understood St Helens coach Mick Potter, who began his coaching career with Penrith’s junior reps, is a more realistic back-up option should the Cleary plan fall through.
Des Hasler’s name has also been lurking in the mix because he is still yet to take up a one-year option at Manly, which expires on 30 June. The club has offered Hasler a handsome two-year extension, which would make him the first man to coach the Silvertails for 10 consecutive seasons.
Although both parties are still quibbling over dollars and bonuses, we simply can’t see Hasler going anywhere.