MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 06: Nathan Cleary of the Blues is congratulated by his father Ivan Cleary after winning game one of the State Of Origin series between the Queensland Maroons and the New South Wales Blues at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on June 6, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

While the NRL coaching merry-go-round has dominated headlines of late, Ivan Cleary’s return to the Panthers is perhaps the most peculiar.

Phil Gould’s original five-year plan to deliver Penrith a premiership began with Cleary as head coach.

Despite reaching a preliminary final in 2014, an injury-hit 2015 season saw the Panthers slump to 11th place, leading Gould to sack Cleary in favour of former Broncos coach Anthony Griffin.

Griffin took the club to three top-eight finishes, but they were unable to make an impact in each of those finals series.

One major positive though, was a talented young halfback named Nathan Cleary.

Both Nathan and his father, Ivan, publicly expressed their desire to work together on multiple occasions. The problem was, Ivan was midway through a multi-year contract as head coach of the Wests Tigers, while the Panthers viewed Nathan as the player which they wanted to build the future of their club around.

Rumours became rife that Nathan would leave the Panthers in order to play under his father at the Tigers, which left Gould and his board in a difficult predicament.

It was clear that the only way to keep Nathan was to lure his father back to the club, which brought about a bizarre set of circumstances.

SEE ALSO:  Titans turn to Jacks after injuries

Firstly, Gould went on record to state the club wouldn’t stand in Nathan’s way if he wanted to play for his father. Then, four weeks out from the finals and with the Panthers sitting fifth on the ladder, Gould sensationally sacked Griffin, leading to speculation he was making room for Ivan to return.

In the weeks that followed, Gould consistently delivered cryptic messages and seemingly looked to mislead the media in an effort to hide the fact he was chasing the services of Ivan.

Ivan had stated that he intended to see out his Tigers contract and agreed to join the Panthers on a three-year deal from 2021. However, the Tigers felt it was in their best interest to grant the coach an immediate release, allowing him to join Penrith from next year.

Now that Gould has got his man, many questions need to be answered.

Ivan’s coaching career thus far has seen him rebuild struggling clubs from the bottom up, recruiting players, handing youngsters their debuts and developing team culture, but his return to the foot of the mountains presents a different challenge, because Penrith don’t need a rebuild.

Ivan is inheriting a very talented and experienced roster that has reached the finals for the past three seasons, along with high expectations within the club and a supporter base which is demanding success.

SEE ALSO:  Origin Watch: New South Wales - The halves

So the pressure is on to not only deliver a premiership, which Gould’s plan failed to produce, but to ensure his son becomes the player to lead the Panthers to success for the next decade.

This must be the last throw of the dice for Gould, who many hold solely responsible for the club underachieving during his tenure.

If the purpose of signing Ivan to a five-year deal was to keep Nathan at the club, then results should lie squarely at the feet of Gould and he must be sacked if Ivan fails to deliver.


  1. Gould will deny he was the one who brought Cleary to the club – he’ll shift the blame to the Chairman Dave O’Neill.

  2. Tigers got the better of this deal.. I don’t see Ivan taking a team all the way while Maguire has already done so

  3. He is a football brain and recruiting well. He will step down when the time is right.
    The manly dirtbags blamed him for their Trent Barrett debacle.

  4. As Gould is not the one who had discussions with Ivan Cleary about coming back to Penrith, I don’t see why he would have to be sacked?
    If anything, he’s to blame for bringing that idiot Griffin there.
    As he’s also the one to get the club back in good order & help organise to put the juniors near the top ( where they should be ). I think he’ll be fine.
    Funnily, Lang was not a premiership winning coach at Cronulla either. He arguably had a worse squad to work with at Penrith. Yet did coach them to a premiership win.

    • You’re kidding yourself if you don’t think Gould was involved in bringing Cleary back. Gould makes the calls at the club, as if they started the process of poaching a coach without Gus knowing. Just because he wasn’t personally negotiating doesn’t mean he wasn’t in on it. Gus doesn’t answer to the board, the board answers to Gus.

      The situation that would have Gus deserving to be sacked is if he has another fallout with Cleary at some stage in the future. Then they would have to look at it and realise that Gould is the common denominator. He sacked Cleary last time after they had a poor year, but it was only so poor because they lost their first choice 6 and 7 for most of the season, among other injuries too. They were never going to be a chance, but the poor season obviously effected the Gus/Cleary relationship at the time so Gus threw his toys out of the cot.

      • Penrith has suffered a lot of early season injuries for quite a few years. Not just that season.
        You don’t think the Ivan Cleary comment , when he was there last about Penrith being a development club. More or less saying they weren’t there to necessarily win premierships. Had anything to do with him being asked to leave?
        According to everyone in the media & given their place in the table at the time. That was the comment that got him sacked. A coach should never say or think they aren’t there to win a competition.
        I think the last thing Gould would ever want to do, would be to go & ask a coach he sacked if he’d like to return to the club.
        You seriously think he’d want to do that?
        As you weren’t present at any conversations had, I guess yours is also just an opinion .

  5. Gould will be over be sacked – too influential and too much media power/exposure. Big pressure on the Cleary clan.

  6. We all know, including the man himself, Ivan Cleary will be sacked during the next 5 years, the only question is when….

  7. Gould should have looked at bringing in a Maguire, Bellamy or Bennet- maybe even a Hasler if he got desperate. Rather than signing Cleary for family ties, he should have signed a genuine Premiership coach. One GF appearance doesn’t put you in that conversation.

    • Not a bad comment in general.
      Do you support Brisbane? Seibold hasn’t led any first grade team to a grand final win, or to a grand final.
      Bennett has & the Broncos think he’s beyond his use by date. So why spend any money on him?
      Maguire has, yet South’s thought him just to tough to endure after a couple of years.
      Hasler has, yet the Bulldogs claim he’s destroyed the club with overpriced/ back ended player contracts. Manly said the same of Hasler , before getting him back.
      If you’d said O’Brien from Melbourne, Demetriou from Brisbane? Or even stay with Ciraldo? I’d have agreed more.

      • I agree with that Easts, I just think the Penrith team is too talented to put a rookie coach out at this point in time. Look at what Jack Gibson did, taking talented teams to premierships. That’s what the Panthers need right now.

        As for the Bennet scenario, yes I am a Broncos fan and I was one of many who wanted him gone. He didn’t change his tactics to match his personnel. Siebold’s more adlib play is a much better fit for blokes like Milford and Nikorima. Bennet’s rugged style of play is a better fit for teams with more playmaking halves, i.e Reynolds and Douhei (can’t see Walker getting much time with Bennet at the helm), Cleary and Maloney etc.

        • Fair enough.
          I don’t think Penrith can Win anything much with their current line up. Can’t compete with the better back lines , such as the Roosters. Whare’s not that good & Mansour not to fast . The forwards lacked the mongrel needed in games against other top teams. All except one game against St.George.
          So it probably doesn’t matter to much who the coach is? However, I think they need an attacking minded coach.
          Just on the Broncos. I think they bought O’Sullivan to use him as the first grade halfback. Maybe a couple of decent pre season games & he’ll get the chance full time? I could see Nokorima going back to the bench.

        • Yeah I view O’Sullivan as our future 7, and getting him in that role as soon as possible is our best move. I feel our 17 should be

          1. Boyd
          2. Oates
          3. Roberts (if he stays)
          4. Kahu
          5. Issako
          6. Milford
          7. O’Sullivan
          8. Lodge
          9. McCullough
          10. McGuire
          11. Gillet
          12. TPJ
          13. Bird (bit controversial but I can’t see where he fits in in our backline)
          14. Nikorima
          15. Glenn
          16. Haas
          17. Fifita Jr

          Looks like a very strong side.

  8. If Gould or Cleary get the sack, and Gould certainly should be put on notice by the NRL for the way he disrupts other teams, I’m sure they won’t get an interview at the Tigers.

  9. As Wests interfered with the Penrith club , when doing secret deals to get CEO Pascoe & staff to Wests , from Penrith. Should they be put on this imaginary notice from the NRL also?
    The NRL doesn’t stop deals being made by clubs , with players who have multiple years left to run a a current contract. Yet that’s not permitted by the NRL.

  10. Interesting point. Two things I see different between Coaches & Players and Management & Administration. Firstly I expect Coaches & Players have a unique agreement in place where their contract will have a “timeline” perhaps state something like “you are contracted to the Panthers up to the period November 2021”. If Pascoe and staff had the same “timeline” in their contracts as Coaches & Players, I agree with you the same antipoaching rules should apply. However I doubt this is the case for Pascoe and staff, rather similar to my job as a full time employee I expect Pascoe only needs to provide 21 days notice to the Panthers that he has resigned.

    Secondly Players & Coaches carry a profile that Management & Administrators don’t (I’d say Gould is the only exception because of his exposure @ Channel 9). What needs protection for example is if Brydens Lawyers the Tigers major sponsor relied on Ivan Cleary as head coach of the Tigers, does Bryden’s Lawyers sponsorship of the Tigers come into question because of the change in head coach ? Corporate Sponsorship is very important to all clubs and therefore the game overall so the NRL needs to protect this, this is why I expect is why the NRL is looking at applying the same antipoaching rule to Coaches as it currently does as Players but I don’t expect that to apply to Management & Administrators.

  11. Well the story I heard about Pascoe , was that he secretly negotiated the deal with Wests. After they first contacted him. Arranged secretly for the staff he wanted to go with him. Gave no notice at all.
    The first thing the club knew about it, was seeing him pack his things up one morning. Simply saying that he was leaving.
    As for Sponsors backing coaches & all the rest. I think it’s would be easy to argue that the CEO is more important to any club, than a coach. Without a good CEO , the club could go broke. He would have a major hand in all kinds of sponsorship deals & everything else. Where as coaches come & go all the time.
    Given that Penrith didn’t make any deal with Cleary , for until his current deal was finished. How did they actually break any rules? Not to mention that there are no rules in place covering the hiring of coaches. As you said yourself!
    Letting Cleary go early , was Wests decision .
    Do you think Brisbane had no contact with Seibold , until after November 1 ? When he’d have 1 year left on his current coaching contract with South’s? If you think that, I’d say You’re Dreaming!!
    So given that Penrith has for paid part of the coaching change over at Wests, I’d say they are rather fortunate. As they didn’t have to pay Wests anything.
    With Pascoe as Wests CEO & the way he left Penrith, maybe this was just Karma?
    For Penrith’s part, they get a crappy coach . With a 47% winning record. Pay way to much for him & Nathan. Karma again perhaps.
    Lets face it. Wests only bought Ivan to try & get Nathan there. There’s that Pascoe, sneaking around again. As we now know , Nathan had never entertained the thought of ever going to Wests .
    I guess Wests fans could be annoyed about losing Ivan, as he did get a few players there. Convinced some that they could play. Such as the halfback. In the end, it was Ivan’s decision not to re sign for longer with Wests. He could have just said ‘ …. Off Penrith’. That would have been case closed.

Comments are closed.