If Cleary returns to Penrith, all parties’ credibility will suffer

Forty-eight hours. When Penrith coach Anthony Griffin was sacked on Monday, the word out of the club was Ivan Cleary could be named as his replacement within 48 hours.

Thats how hopeful the Panthers were and remain about landing the Wests Tigers coach despite him being under contract until the end of 2020 and despite sacking him at the end of the 2015 season.

Don't do it, Ivan: It would hurt the game if the Wests Tigers coach joined Penrith.

Photo: Edwina Pickles

It doesnt matter if its 48 hours, 48 days or at some time during the off-season, when these Machiavellian plots usually play out, but the game will be damaged immeasurably if the deal happens.

If the Tigers board and chief executive Justin Pascoe have any spine whatsoever they will hold firm. If they cave in, it will rip the heart out of the club just as it was turning the corner after years of mismanagement.

Similarly, Cleary will damage his standing as one of the games most respected figures if he gobbles up the Penrith offer.


Remember how he told James Tedesco, Aaron Woods and Mitchell Moses to leave if they didnt want to "get on the bus”? How he invited Josh Reynolds, Russell Packer, Ben Matulino, Benji Marshall, Robbie Farah and Moses Mbye to "get on the bus"?

And now he might be getting off the bus? All of that so he can coach his son, Nathan, at Penrith? This isnt under-10s soccer. Honour your contract. Honour the players who have signed to play under you.

Meanwhile, Penrith is looking to appoint their third coach in four years.

Only in this beautifully mad sport could a club even consider chasing down a coach they sacked three years ago (after paying out the final year of his deal), to make way for a coach who they have now sacked (whose contract they extended by two years at the end of last season), to make way for the coach they sacked in the first place.

There's some serious Jedi mind flipping, right there.

Greg Alexander could see the insanity of it a few months ago when Gould fronted the Penrith board and said he wanted to sack Griffin.

Gould has the run of the joint at Penrith, make no mistake about it. He was appointed in 2011 as general manager of football but then took on a broader role to drag the club back from the brink of insolvency. He saved the club. They will build a statue of him in front of the Leagues Club one day.

On this occasion, though, Alexander stood firm. He wasnt prepared to spear Griffin mid-season after extending the coachs deal in October for another two years for no less than $1.6 million.

(Hear that? Thats the sound of several NRL coaches beating down the door of their chief executives asking for an immediate upgrade after hearing what Griffin was on).

“Make it work,” Alexander told Gould, his former coach from 1991 when Alexander was halfback and the Panthers won the premiership. It explains why Alexander was adamant a few weeks ago that he expected Griffin to see out his deal.

Gould has been trying to make it work with Griffin all season but their relationship soured the longer it went on despite the Panthers still winning and still keeping in touch with the top four, just as they are now.

“Ill butt heads with you if I have to,” Griffin would grumble at Gould, an unwise move both figuratively and literally.

King of the jungle: Panthers supremo Phil Gould speaks to reporters in Penrith on Tuesday.

Photo: AAP

For a long time, Gould has been Griffins biggest supporter. Some players and other members of the coaching staff simply had enough of him last year.

Doubtless, Gould wouldve done his due diligence and spoken to people at Brisbane before signing Griffin in late 2015 after Griffin had been sacked to make way for Wayne Bennett.

Whoever Gould spoke to has let him down and badly. It's understood Bennett was stunned at the dire state of the Broncos when he arrived in 2016.

Ivan Cleary is Goulds silver bullet: he gets hold of a good coach but more than locks up his star halfback on a long-term deal.

Gould told Herald colleague Christian Nicolussi on Tuesday he can work with Cleary again despite sacking him three years ago.

Cleary, who is negotiating with Panthers chairman David ONeill, still holds a grudge about the way he was sacked, according to those who heard Cleary talking in the green room before an appearance on Fox Sports recently.

Gould has the smartest football brain going around. Possibly the smartest ever. But the chopping and changing of coaches isnt just costing the club a fortune but must surely confuse the players.

Footballers are inherently selfish but they also like to know where they stand. A new coach breeds uncertainty about whether a player will stay or moved on.

To their absolute credit, these current Panthers players have continued to win despite the apparent toxicity around them.

“Theyre playing awful at the moment,” Gould said in an interview with News Corp on Monday.

You wonder how that went down with the players. You also wonder how well they could play without the almost daily distraction of a coaching crisis.

As for Griffin, he was furious when Gould told him he was being sacked a month out from the finals.

But consider this: hes now been sacked by two clubs – and walked away with a total of $2 million as part of his two settlements.

Only in this beautifully mad sport could something like that happen.

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