The Wests Tigers need to sit down with Ivan Cleary and ask him his thoughts on the future. They need to do it now. Not next week. Not next month. Right now.
If he continues down the path of wanting to coach his son, they should cut him loose. Not next week. Not next month. Right now.
Send him on his way with a polite thank you, demand some compensation from Penrith and start looking for a replacement while options are aplenty.
We all get the need to look strong when it comes to the coach but at what cost? This sorry saga is playing out as we expected the moment it became clear Penrith had earmarked Cleary to return.
Nathan is in the throes of signing a new deal with the Panthers that will take him well beyond the end of next season. He is on his way to becoming a multi-millionaire. Good for him. He deserves it. The kid can play. A formal announcement is imminent.
There is believed to be a clause in the deal that allows him to leave should his father not join Penrith in the near future. It is looking increasingly unlikely that clause will come into effect. A can of worms has been opened. Penrith are believed to have tabled a written offer for Ivan for 2021 and beyond — he has two years remaining on his deal at the Tigers.
The very fact that this can happen is an indictment on the NRL rules. Players are forbidden from entertaining offers until the final year of their contract.
Coaches can be approached at any time. In American football, all hell would break loose. The NRL is reviewing the rules at the behest of the clubs, notably the Tigers.
Sadly, if any changes are made, they will come too late for the them, which is likely to leave Tigers officials with a decision to make. They could make Cleary see out the next two years, but that would appear untenable. They could sever ties after 12 months, but that might mean missing out on some of the coaches who are available in a flooded market.
On the surface it would appear a conundrum. Dig deeper and it really isn’t that hard. Ivan Cleary’s winning percentage at the Tigers is barely beyond 40 per cent.
Cleary has been a good fit for a Tigers side in the midst of a rebuild, but questions need to be asked about whether they can make the next step on his watch.
Only two coaches in the game’s history have been in control of more games in first grade and failed to win a premiership — Brian Smith and Graham Murray.
The jury remains out. The Tigers are not short of options, headed by Melbourne assistant Adam O’Brien, North Queensland assistant Todd Payten — a premiership winner with the club as a player — and another premiership winner in Michael Maguire.
For all the absence of success, the Tigers are a powerful club and a powerful brand. A recent Roy Morgan survey found they were the fourth-most supported club in the NRL, behind Brisbane, Melbourne and North Queensland.
There was a time when a change of coach would have been seen as a serious setback.
Those days are long gone. They are big enough and strong enough to survive Cleary’s departure. So if he wants to go and join his son at Penrith, let him.