One-time All Blacks coach Hart has been a mentor to Cleary since the former first-grade fullback took the head coaching job at the Warriors in 2006.
The pair are extremely close and Hart has made no secret that he rates his disciple and expects him to have a lengthy and successful career in the NRL.
That Cleary will continue his career at the Penrith Panthers and not Auckland next year, however, is still difficult for Hart to stomach.
If Hart had had his way earlier in the year, when Cleary approached the club and told them of the Panthers’ interest in him, the Warriors would have re-signed their coach to a long-term deal.
As a board member he expressed that sentiment but couldn’t sway the other decision makers and instead of re-signing Cleary the Warriors allowed him to walk from the final year of his contract.
It’s a decision they might now be regretting after the 40-year-old guided the club into just its second NRL grand final appearance with a shock 20-12 win over the Storm in Melbourne on Saturday night.