SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 14: Wests Tigers coach and father of Nathan Cleary, Ivan Cleary watches on from the stands during the NRL Semi Final match between the Cronulla Sharks and the Penrith Panthers at Allianz Stadium on September 14, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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…

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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.

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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?


  1. I’m not having a dig at Ivan here and i hold no grudges against him , but I have a strong feeling that this is going to be a blessing for the Tigers and we are going to be a Western Sydney powerhouse club in the near future.

      • Disagree what everyone doesn’t know is every club Ivan has been at his had to rebuild from the ground up. Now look at those teams warriors to a GF Penrith to within 1 game of a GF Tigers probs should of made the semis in his first year I’d rather that sort of coach than one re: mag who has inherited great teams from the start.

      • You are aware that McGuire last 2 years coaching he had a percentage record of 37% that stat holds him only above Nathan Brown..I’ll bet you’ll say he won a premiership but guess what so did Ricky Stuart

        • Please! “Gus” Gould was effectively coaching the Roosters from the sidelines. He was “sticky’s” safety net. Madge did his work without a net and within the salary cap, unlike Trent Robinson in 2013 and 2018. I would back Madge as a coach (especially in his first 2 years while his ideas and methods are still fresh).

          My worry is that the Tigers are lacking in personnel which is why Bennett ran a mile when asked to take the job. Bennett only coaches teams with their fair share of rep players, anything less is too much for Papa Smurf to sink his false teeth into.

  2. Your article is spot on…Ivan Cleary has lost any integrity he had with the way he treated the Wests Tigers…. his only real claim to fame, which is why people suggested he is a man of integrity, was that he had a calm and cool demeanor, which resonated with his players – thats why he gained “respect”..,..he has not earned any respect via his results(which is poor) as a coach…Ivan Cleary said he intended to honour his contract in his prepared statement to the world, of course this statement was a legal position so he could get his payout when he left the Wests Tigers…Ivan double crossed the Tigers club as he had already signed to Coach the Panthers when this statement was made!…Good luck working with Gus Ivan, but then again you signed a $5m contract with Penrith so if it ends as as many predict at least your bank account will not be hurt……As for his son, I have never seen an over-hyped, over rated NRL player the last 5 years. The only string to his bow is his so called “calm demeanor’ which for some reason rates highly with footy punters…Nathan Cleary is bog average and this was shown up in his State of origin performances in 2018 where he was virtually a passenger to Maloney who ran the team….

    • I’m sorry but Nathan isn’t average he is easily one of the best players in the game. While he can get overshadowed by Maloney he is still a great player. I woukd take Nathan in a heart beat over almost any halfback even DCE because Nathan can completely control a game and a run a side where as Daly is a better off the cuff player.

      • Nathan is still living off his potential. He was basically a passenger in Origin, but I honestly think that was the game plan, to let hi settle in and let Maloney run the team. And then, when it mattered come Semi Final time he could not ice the game for the Panthers. I’m not talking about the missed field goal either, that happens, but towards the end of the game his decisions were terrible and he was not able to get the Panthers in a position to score, which was his job as halfback.

        Don’t get me wrong, he looks to be a great talent, but until he can stamp his authority in big games he can’t seriously be considered one of the best players in the game. I think he can get there, he definitely has the skill and temperament, but he still has a way to go to be considered the top.

        Based soley on current form/ability I would be taking DCE over Cleary, but Cleary may get there soon.

        • Yeah but for people to flat out say he is average is just plain wrong. This kid is a talent, a big one and would walk into most teams.

    • It was the game plan to let Maloney run the team in origin while Cleary sat back. I don’t think Fittler and the staff wanted another repeat of Mullen/Pearce, not saying he is anything like the two but I don’t think they wanted to pile all the pressure on Nathan the way NSW did on Pearce at an early age. But no way in the world is Cleary just an “average” player, he’s only in his 4th season of first grade and 3 full seasons under his belt and he’s only gotten better. He’s still only 21, 22 next year so he has all the time in the world.

    • I agree, why would Cleary want to come back to a place where the boss sacked you. I know he wants to coach his son but this can only end badly when his overrated son doesn’t perform, especially when Maloney leaves in the near future and he is the main man. Gould will be looking to sack someone and old man Cleary will get the bullet for the second time off the same bloke.

      I can’t believe how the media have built up young Cleary, they have turned him into another Bradley Clyde who was the most overated player of all time. Every time Clyde would get the ball and do his usual hard yard run of three or four lousy metres the commentators used to call it with such excitement like he ran the length of the field or when a horse race caller commentates the last 150metres of a Melbourne Cup.
      Just plain ridiculous that people in high places think young Cleary is a super sonic future/current mega star. Cleary did nothing but two good tackles in this years Origin and if Maloney did not take control Cleary would on his own lead us down a path much worse than Pearce ever could.🎯🎱💪👴👊

      • “why would Cleary want to come back to a place where the boss sacked you.”

        Perhaps Ivan Cleary enjoys the suffering and wants to play the Simpsons sycophant Smithers to “Gus” Gould’s Montgomery Burns? Although Wayne Bennett would look better cast in the role of “Mr Burns” IMO.

  3. The tigers sacked him so he hardly walked out, what do you expect? Him to show up with a packed lunch for 2 years and sit in the bleachers while he watches madge coach the team?

    • At last someone with common sense this hole thing is on Pascoe and the tigers. He was prepared to see out his contract At no stage did he ask for a release. Ivan signed from 2021 when his contract is over which he is totally in his right to do

      • I’ll have a crack at this “common sense” thing too, and on that basis I think:
        Cleary wasn’t sacked, otherwise the Tigers would have had to pay out his contract.
        The contract was terminated, which would imply mutual agreement.
        The Tigers found themselves in a very uncomfortable (virtually untenable) position, hence their agreement in terminating the contract.
        Ivan kept saying he would honour his contract, right up to the agreed termination, and I’m sure he would have had the Tigers held him to it, but he also knew the situation was untenable for the Tigers, and of course, the Panthers were happy to take him early. I’m sure they shocked, stunned in fact, that Ivan arrived earlier than 2021 (whoops, I think I may have strayed from “common sense” there).

        I think the Tigers are the winners from this whole mess, both in the way they handled it, and probably medium/longer term from the overall outcome.

      • Okay Trotter, so you’re saying you’d hold onto a coach, for two more years knowing he’ll leave? Then be stuck and back at square one again with hiring a new coach who’ll most likely change things up at the club, from the playing roster, playing structure, coaching staff and junior system? Changing everything that the previous coach just built, sounds like a waste of time if you ask me. By the looks of it, you have plenty of common sense mate. I hold no grudges against Ivan anymore, I wish him all the best and thank him for turning our club around but the fact is that Ivan put us in a uncomfortable situation, we reacted with getting a better and premiership winning coach.

  4. Speaking of coaches,
    Which coach turned up for training today at manly ??
    This is such an embarrassment for mwse, not only is our player recruitment a complete shambles, we cant even get the coach contracts in order 😭
    Its all Gus’ fault !!

    • It’s Gus’ fault that Souths are having an issue with their coach, and the Bronco’s coach, are they Seibold/Bennett or Bennett/Seibold? Doesn’t matter, its Gus’ fault.

      • You know that irony confuses me chalky. If it confuses me what chance does a bogus profile have? I doubt that they will be able to join the dots when they can barely colour inside the lines and they write their colourful commentaries in crayon.

    • Don’t you watch Youtube? It wasn’t Gus, it was George W. Bush because his family own several oil fields. THAT is the reason that the cost of petrol is so high. But yes, 9/11 that was Gus. He said he would re-build in 5 years but we’re still waiting.

  5. With all due respect…who is Jarryd Hackett? I’d like him to give 2-3 examples of where family working together has led to a disaster.
    This article is so full of inaccuracies, I can only assume Jarryd is a wannabe journalist that uses the agenda driven media to frame his articles.
    The only thing I am going to agree with in this waste of words is, Cleary should have contacted the Wests players individually to explain his decision and not a blanket text.
    I’d also like Jarryd to give his opinion on the Broncos and Seibold. Why is it that the coach of South Sydney (who is under contract) and the Broncos have escaped the scrutiny that Gould and Penrith have been subjected to.

  6. Okay….so Gould and Cleary don’t know what a contract is?! Fair enough Jarryd.

    May be a fair comment is isolation but you can hardly single them out for any special treatment –

    Contracts broken by individual or club in the last few years (to name a few)

    1. Jason Taylor
    2. Ricky Stuart
    3. Des Hasler
    4. Neil Henry
    5. Anthony Griffin
    6. Andrew McFadden
    7. Robbie Farah
    8. Mitchell Pearce
    9. David Klemmer*
    10. Aaron Woods
    11. Kieran Foran
    12. Daly Cherry Evans
    13. Brian Kelly
    14. Glenn Stewart
    15. Ben Barba

    To name a few.

    No club is blameless here and we all know that if it suits the club or the individual to break a contract, it almost always happens.

    Add some balance to your ‘articles’ Jarryd. We don’t need any more ‘half facts’ journalism. News Limited gives us enough of these articles.

    • Gee, I can’t believe that Madge didn’t make the team. He should be in the starting 13 for sure IMO. I see you have left 2 bench positions vacant so perhaps Madge can be used for impact? I’m betting the Tigers fans sure hope so!

      • Dylan Walker was released mid-contract.
        Hayne walked out on Parra mid-contract.
        Barba walked out on St Helens mid-contract.

        It happens all the time at every club. It’s not just Gould and Cleary.

        • Yes but not with coaches choosing to negotiate their contracts ahead of time, not until now. These moves traditionally have come post-season and when a coach decides to move on and isn’t pushed it is at the end of their contract not while they still have a year remaining. The apple cart has been upset now that coaches tenures are no longer guaranteed for clubs.

          I think the point is though that this has never happened before while a coach still has a year to go on their contract. This move has shaken the NRL snow globe and changed the contractual landscape in a way that threatens the stability of clubs far greater than if they were to lose a star player. If a club loses a star player there is a massive hole. But if they lose their head coach then there is complete chaos! THAT is the difference. This is further exacerbated if there is a real threat of key players leaving to follow their coach.

          If I were a Broncos fan I would be upset if the loss of their coach resulted in the loss of key players when the two things SHOULD be totally unrelated.

  7. I’m not sure which Bradley Clyde you were watching Woodchook but he was an absolute champion. In my opinion, he should almost be in the immortal conversation.
    The players that played with him say so as well.
    There is no way he was overrated and Nathan Cleary isn’t either.
    He is a kid of 20 years old and in the most important position on the field, he has led his club to week two of the finals for three consecutive years.
    He will be the most important player in the game within 2-4 years. The kid is very special.

    • Agree about Clyde but disagree about Cleary. Im in the overrated camp. He is a very good young player but i dont see him ever being anything more than that. To me the best thing about Clearys game is his effort plays, he always supports up the middle, he works his arse off in defence. The halfback specific aspects of his game, game management, kicking options and creativity are all lacking, creativity the most of all.
      He is not the first young halfback to burst onto the scene with everyone raving about them (Mullen and Wallace the obvious examples being former NSW 7s but Brooks and Moses, Brett Seymour, Tim Smith to name but a few). He has benefited from being in a much better team than most those others and having an experienced and quality halves partner with him.
      I think he will have a long and successful first grade career but at best i think he will be a Mitchell Pearce, not a Jonathon Thurston.

      • We already have a “screaming eagle” and now a “swooping magpie”. Any more and we will need a reservation! 😂😂😂

        • Welcome aboard “the Banter Bus” mate.

          The “angry eagle” is having a big cage purpose built for all his avian “friends”. It should be big enough for all you birds of a feather to flock together.

          But be warned, you may have to draw straws. The “angry eagle” has quite an appetite!

      • Of the players in your list, only Cleary has taken his team to three consecutive finals series and won a state of origin, all before turning 21.

        Neither JT or Cronk were dominating the competition either at 20 years of age. Just like these two, Cleary is a competitor and that along with his temperament will be his biggest attribute.

        He is the real deal and someone as knowledgeable as Gould wouldn’t have moved heaven and earth if he didn’t think this was the case.

      • As for being more like Pearce than JT, if you take the Bulldog premiership out of play inwhich JT was a minor player, both players have lead their sides to one title.

        Penrith fans would be happy to get one in the next 5 years of Nat’s contract.

        • But Cleary hasnt TAKEN his team to 3 finals series. His team has been in 3 finals but not off the back of Cleary’s game management or his match winning ability. For example this year Cleary was ranked 15th for try assist, 13th for Line Break Assists, and 17th for Forced Drop Outs. These arent the stats of someone who has TAKEN there team anywhere. Now you could argue he is not overplaying his hand and letting Maloney run the show but i say if he really was going to be a superstar Maloney would be letting Cleary run the show and chiming in only when needed.

          Im not saying he cant win a comp or that he is or will be an ordinary player but i havent seen anything in him to suggest he will be an extraordinary player either.
          Pearce isnt an ordinary or average player he is a very good rep quality halfback, but at no stage in his career has he been in the top 3 halves in the comp. Premierships arent the only measurement of a player as an individual talent, Chad Townsend has won as many premierships as a halfback as Pearce and Thurston but i dont put him on par with those two as a player, just as Pearce isnt quite the equal of Thurston.

          As i said like Pearce, Cleary could become a very good halfback but many people are overhyping, or “OVER-RATING” his pontential saying things like “he will be the most important player in the game in 2-4 years”.

      • I beg to differ.

        In his first season as a player who was still 18, he played with Cartwright as his 5/8. Nat had to be the game manager whilst Carty played his usual off the cuff footy.

        In 2017, Nat had to play with several 5/8’s through the season – Moylan, Cartwright, May, Peachey. He drove the team into the second week of the finals for the second straight season and was only 19.

        This year he was killing it until he was injured. When he came back, he spayed the Dragons before playing three tough Origin games.

        I’ll admit his back half to 2018 wasn’t his best but when you consider he is still a kid and an Origin series is taxing on a lot of players, he still played an important role in reaching week two of the finals for the third straight season.

        Like a batsman that takes their time to reach a maiden ton and never looks back after, I am expecting a stellar season from Nathan in 2019.

        This kid is made of stuff that many first graders don’t have. He will work his backside off to improve. There is a lot of Cronk in his make up.

        Opinions are like backsides, we all have one. People will doubt his ability because he isn’t the player that will make 5 line breaks a game or chip and chase for a spectacular try. My opinion is, he will be the best team general for the next decade and will captain his club, state and country.

  8. Alot of that article is taking presumptions on what happened. Like Cleary lying about staying at Tigers. For all we know that was his intention and the Tigers pushed him out once they had signed a replacement coach. It puts all the blame on Ivan when Tigers werent willing to let him coach the team knowing he was heading to Panthers at the end of his contract.

    Also have to strongly disagree with the line about family working together. It can and has worked before. Panthers last premiership had a father and son involved. John Lang coaching Marty Lang. Then you have the even closer relationship of Darius Boyd and Wayne Bennett.

    Im not convinced Ivan is the right fit for Panthers. But he has a better roster, facilities and resources at his disposal this time around. This is the best roster hehas had in a long time and he’s not here to rebuild the club like he was the first time or at the Tigers. We’ll see if he’s a coach who is only good at rebuilding clubs or not soon enough though.

    Personally I think he takes Panthers to top 4 and week 3 of finals. But i cant see a premiership at all in his 5 years.

  9. He was obviously sacked by the Tigers. He had the final two years of his contract to go at Wests. Wests didn’t then want a coach who was leaving after another two years . So they sacked him, so they could hire a new coach.
    That would probably be the way most clubs would go given he could not be there more than two more years. However, it’s ridiculous to suggest that Wests didn’t sack him.
    If Cleary keeps improving, Luai as the fastest future 5/8th around . Add in May , who can play 5/8th, lock, centre. Who will have better?

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