Officials from both clubs were tight-lipped on the move last night, but the Herald understands that Warriors officials recently made contact with Penrith supremo Phil Gould about an approach for Cleary to coach the Panthers.
Cleary is under contract to the Warriors until the end of next season but the Auckland club’s management has refused to discuss extending his tenure after learning of the interest from Penrith.
Several well-placed sources told Fairfax last night they understood Cleary had agreed to stand down, but with just nine regular-season games to go and the Warriors well in finals contention, it’s unlikely he would leave before the end of the season.
Gould last week told coach Matthew Elliott and his assistant Wayne Collins to finish up after the Panthers board had earlier this year decided not to renew Elliott’s contract.
Another assistant, Steve Georgallis, was installed as caretaker coach and many believed he was on trial to take over the role next season.
However, Gould’s preference is believed to be for an experienced coach to replace Elliott because his role as general manager of football gives him little time to take a hands-on role with a new coach.
The Herald has been told that Cleary was offered a five-year deal with Penrith and while he initially pledged his loyalty to the Warriors, the uncertainty over his long-term future may have tipped the balance towards the Panthers.