After finishing the season in third place, Ivan Cleary took the Penrith Panthers to their highest placed finish in over four years way back when in 2014. Fast forward a year and he was sensationally sacked by Penrith supremo Phil Gould after finishing the season in 11th position after a string of serious injuries to key players.
In the preceding four years, Penrith haven’t had a better season since. This column will detail why Ivan Cleary has made a mistake in re-joining Penrith and why he’s gone from one of the most respected coaches in the competition, to one of the least respected.
The Mitchell Moses Saga: In mid-2017, Cleary would publicly criticise Wests five-eighth Mitchell Moses for not wanting to honour his contract and break terms with the club to join the Parramatta Eels on a rich multi-year contract. Fast forward 18 months and Ivan Cleary is breaking his contract with Wests by a full two seasons to take up a rich multi-year deal with Penrith…
Working with family doesn’t mix: One of the deciding decisions in Cleary re-joining Penrith was the opportunity to work with his son, New South Wales halfback Nathan Cleary. I don’t think anyone gave him the memo that working with family never ends well…
Disrespecting his playing group: After signing on the dotted line with the Panthers and severing all ties with Wests, Cleary sent his playing group a text message informing them of his decision to leave the club two years early. This didn’t go down well with the Tigers’ senior players and when you consider that when Anthony Seibold signed with Brisbane recently, he would go on to ring every player on the roster personally to let them know of his decision. This speaks in volume of Cleary’s character.
He knows how Phil Gould works: Having been sacked by the Penrith Chief once before and seeing first hand the amount of players and coaching staff the 60-year-old has gone through over the past eight seasons, Cleary is borderline crazy for wanting to work under him once again, even if the allure of working with his son was too great. Gould is as equally stupid to signing a man he once sacked on a five-year contract; but then again, Gould and Cleary don’t know what a contract is, as proven in the attached article here.
Lying about his future: In August of 2018, Cleary ruled out a return to Penrith stating he was committed to the Wests Tigers and would continue to coach the battling club throughout the 2019 season and through to 2020. Two months later and he’s signed a lucrative contract with Penrith.
Did he even weigh up his options? The Wests Tigers board, players, coaching staff and supporters all believed in Cleary and what he was building within the club but he still somehow decided to re-join the club that sacked him for not being good enough and who’s board no longer believed in him. Seriously!
A piece of the puzzle: Did it ever occur to Ivan that he is only a pawn in Gould’s plans as he doesn’t want the club to lose Nathan Cleary to a rival outfit? Probably, but he still walked away from his beliefs and lost the respect of the game in doing so.
Do you think Cleary has made the right decision?