It’s the biggest story doing the rounds in our game at the moment.
After months of speculation that Nathan Cleary had all but agreed to work under his father at the Tigers for 2020, the shock sacking of Anthony Griffin has turned the story on its head.
The Panthers are after a new coach for 2019 after getting rid of Griffin for having lost the dressing room and being old fashioned in his coaching methods. Whilst it appears that Penrith’s general manager Phil Gould will take immediate charge for the remainder of the season, he is no long-term solution.
Penrith have set their sights on current Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary as their new mentor for a foreseeable future. Despite being a former Panthers coach, and having reluctantly parted ways with the club in a way which he didn’t agree with, you’d have to think he’d give it consideration.
Ivan left Penrith with unfinished business; much like Griffin was subsequently forced to. Perhaps a chance to return to the club he won Dally M Coach of the Year could give him a chance to finish that business, and see if he has what it takes to win his first premiership.
Penrith are one of the most powerful clubs in rugby league. With their huge supporter base, top-of-the-line facilities and massive amounts of quality juniors coming through the grades, they’d be a coach’s dream club to take charge of.
This compares favourably to the current setup at the Tigers. Being without a centre of excellence, and having a squad which at the moment is largely dependent on old boys Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah. The Tigers have a way to go before expecting to be able to attract the biggest names in the game, and perhaps to retain those they have now.
Ivan has the chance to leave a club that are still very much in a rebuild stage, and take on a young squad capable of challenging the best teams in the comp. A squad with the likes of Dallin Waetene- Zelezniak, Dylan Edwards and of course the prodigal son, Nathan Cleary.
As a father, Ivan only wants Nathan to develop into the best player he can possibly be. Surely as a coach he would back his own ability to get the best out of his players. With the chance to guide Nathan through the years that can make or break his career as both a coach and a father, you’d think he has to take it.
However, Tigers CEO Justin Pascoe has been very public in his message that Ivan will under no circumstances be granted an early release from his contract. This stance taken by the Tigers board is a major one, and it displays the intent that the Tigers have not to be simply pushed over by the bigger club.
As the old saying goes, ‘every man has his price’, and Ivan certainly has one at the Tigers. The Tigers have already started to discuss a multi-million dollar compensation option, which involves a handful of Penrith juniors making the switch to the joint-venture.
Here’s the thing though, with all respect to the club and the Tigers fans, they’re too unstable to be able to afford to lose Cleary. The Tigers, like all of Ivan’s former clubs, have headed vastly north during his tenure, and surely have a plan in place which involves Ivan leading them to becoming a stable team, challenging for premierships.
If the Tigers were to lose him, they risk heading right back down to where they started, and could start 2019 without their coach, hooker and five-eighth. They also all but lose any hope of sealing a deal for star halfback Nathan Cleary, who is likely to be a part of those premiership plans.
They’ve also lost Malakai Waetene-Zelezniak, Kevin Naiqama and Tuimaola Lolohea for next year, with the latter two heading to the English Super League. It’s not hard to put two and two together and realize they’d have a lot of room available in the cap, but a lack of intent in the market is leaving it till too late to secure top-talent for next season.
With that in mind, it looks like Ivan has his work cut out for him if he’s looking to improve on this season, and make the finals for 2019. Especially considering the fact that the club’s in ninth place on the ladder at the moment, in large due to a surprise run of results at the start of the season.
So why would he want to stay? That’s exactly my point. The Tigers seem to be just getting by at the moment, and their results on the pitch could be largely due to the influence Ivan Cleary has. Without him, the Tigers look a team bound for a fate more like a wooden spoon than a premiership.
At a time where the club needs Ivan to hold them together, they need to make sure he remains on his fabled bus.