PENRITH, AUSTRALIA - MAY 17: Panthers coach Ivan Cleary speaks to the media after the round 10 NRL match between the Penrith Panthers and the New Zealand Warriors at Panthers Stadium on May 17, 2019 in Penrith, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Penrith Panthers coach Ivan Cleary has revealed how he almost never made it past the first season of his second stint at the club.

Despite signing a five-year contract at the Panthers, Cleary almost threw in the towel during a difficult 2019 season for the men from the foot of the mountains.

Penrith won just two of their first ten games with Cleary back in charge of the side, and while the club rebounded to win seven on the trot over the State of Origin period, they would ultimately miss the finals.

The form turnaround - and that of son Nathan - was enough to convince Cleary to stick around, with the Panthers since going on to make three grand finals in a row, winning premierships in 2021 and 2022.

So impressive have the Cleary's been at Penrith that both Ivan as coach and Nathan as star halfback have now had their contracts extended on big money for the long-term, with both locked in at the club until the end of 2027.

Cleary's second stint at the foot of the mountains almost didn't continue though, with the coach telling Hayden Knowles on the Get the Edge podcast that he almost gave coaching away with him being in charge also impacting Nathan's career.

“The messiness of the Tigers exit plus the father and son thing was a big story and if we failed that was going to be an even bigger story,” Cleary said.

“That was exactly what was happening. First 10 games we'd won two, Nathan wasn't playing well. We played a game [in the] middle of the year against the Warriors. I remember the game finished and thinking, ‘I'm responsible for that. That was awful'.

“I was at the lowest of lows. I honestly felt really guilty because it was affecting Nathan's form. I was not at my best that year in so many ways. I had a five-year contract.

"I was halfway through and was definitely thinking, ‘I don't think I'm the right man for this job'. “Team is playing badly, star halfback is suffering because of our relationship. I was burdening him because of the pressure of this father-son thing. We somehow made it through.”

Cleary also revealed that his return to Penrith came on two fronts - being that he didn't want to coach against his son, and that he had 'unfinished business' at Penrith.

“It sounds a little dramatic, but it's true, I coached the Panthers for four years, lost my job, was out of coaching for a year,” Cleary said.

“That was a good year for me, I really reflected a lot... got a job at the Wests Tigers, really grateful for that opportunity.

“But one thing always gnawed at me was I had to coach against my son, two games I did it, I hated it, my wife hated it, I really didn't like it.

“Long story short, Panthers offered to get me back, it was like I would love that. Nothing against the Tigers but I had unfinished business here I felt... I started from a rebuild... to be able to coach Nathan was the icing on top.”

Cleary, now 51 years of age, is believed to have briefly considered retirement during the 2023 season before extending his time with the Panthers.

He has coached nearly 400 NRL games for 218 wins, with the last three years at the Panthers being the best of his career, although he also found success in his first job at the New Zealand Warriors, taking the side to a grand final in 2011 - only the second in club history.