Ivan versus Wests Tigers. Ivan versus Gus. Nathan versus everyone else who wants his NSW jumper.
Youll have to excuse Penrith coach Ivan Cleary if he doesnt get caught up in the various narratives — real or imagined — getting around this week ahead of Friday nights blockbuster against the Tigers, the club Cleary walked out of during the off-season so he could coach son Nathan.
For a healthy gulp of perspective, he only needs to look at his older brother Ash, 50, to whom he gave a kidney 18 months ago to save his life.
“A hundred percent it gives me perspective,” Ivan, 48, says. “Everyone is under pressure in this game. You soon realise you have to give yourself an uppercut because there are bigger things to worry about. Youre not saving lives.”
Well, not today. But he had to step up in late 2017 when his mother, Betty, phoned and said that Ash need a new kidney or he was going to die.
"I'm going to give him mine," she said. “Mum, with all due respect, yours probably isnt in the best condition,” Ivan told her. “He can have mine.”
Recalls Ivan: “I felt quite good about the whole thing. I was helping him and I was helping myself at the same time. I got a rush out it: I can save my brothers life. You dont do that every day.”
The Panthers are using this match to raise awareness about organ donation. A whopping 70 per cent of Australians are willing to be an organ donor but only one in three have joined the Australian Organ Donor Register.
DonateLife will have a marquee at Panthers Stadium on Friday night where fans can add their name to the register.
“People think they are on the register because you sign your drivers licence and thats not the case,” Ivan said. “A lot of people dont know that. I didnt know that even after I gave my brother a kidney. Youve got to do it online. When I hear about doing something online, Im like, Oh God. But I was shocked how easy it was.”
Turning around his sides indifferent start to the season? Not so much.
Its been a perfect storm in the lead-up to the first Tigers match since he got off the bus: a flogging at the hands of Melbourne; revelations that general manager of football Phil Gould shook hands with Wayne Bennett to coach this season as Panthers chairman Dave ONeill was doing the same with Cleary; and reports that Gould is on the outer at his own club.
“Im blown away how big this thing has been this week,” Cleary says. “Im happy where I am at — but not happy about the way the team is playing. Weve started slowly but were an evolving side. If I knew getting touched up by Melbourne was such a crime I wouldve been locked up years ago. Its happened quite a few times. Im not the only one.”
When he signed with Penrith, did he forecast the finger of blame would be pointed directly at father and son when the side wasnt performing?
“Or head coach and halfback,” he says. “They will always feel the most pressure. Yeah, I definitely anticipated that sort of scrutiny but I didnt appreciate the level of it.”
Everyone is under pressure … You soon realise you have to give yourself an uppercut because there are bigger things to worry about.
And what about your relationship with Gould?
“I havent been reading it but you cant avoid it,” he says. “Hes fine. Were fine. I know Gus better than most people. Thats rare but I can say that, although theres plenty you dont know. Its all good. There is no drama here.”
Any truth to the suggestion you only came back on the condition that Gould didnt interfere with your football team?
“That was never brought up,” Ivan says. “Never part of any conversation.”
Gould and Ivan were locked in conversation on Monday morning, trying to find a way to beat the Tigers. Then Gould addressed the playing group.
For more info go to: donatelife.gov.au.
Gould to Sharks an outside bet at best
Gould to the Sharks? Given the fact he lives in the Sutherland Shire, and the mindscrew that is Sydney traffic, it would certainly make the trip to work less painful.
The Panthers board has been aware of speculation that Gould had been approached by the Sharks but, for his part, Gould says hes had no such approach.
The story cranked up on Wednesday when he was spotted at The Star having coffee with Sharks chairman Dino Mezzatesta. Gould was there having lunch with a mate. Mezzatesta is chief operating officer of the casino and joined them afterwards.
It's impossible to see Gould being at any other club other than the Penrith or the Roosters, where he coached in the 1990s.
Meanwhile, deregistered Sharks coach Shane Flanagan has denied hes doing some work on the side for the NSW Waratahs.
That doesnt mean hes unwanted. Were told that a couple of struggling NRL clubs made discreet inquiries to head office about the possibility of Flanagan being allowed to coach next year if they sacked their coach.
The NRL has little appetite for Flanagan to return so soon.
Hughes' relief after Butterfield scare
Apart from the man himself, nobody was more relieved that former Knights prop Tony Butterfield survived a heart attack at the weekend than his teammate Mark Hughes.
Butts, one of the great men of rugby league, suffered the heart attack in the sheds after playing for Hughes team in a celebrity Oztag match in Newcastle on Saturday.
As he sipped a beer after the game, Butterfield said: “I dont feel too great”. He then vomited, started slurring his speech and then went into cardiac arrest.