Ivan Cleary isn’t going anywhere just yet, with the defiant Wests Tigers confident their unsettled coach will see out his contract at Concord.
Despite reports of an emergency board meeting to address Cleary’s expected release request to link with his son Nathan at Penrith, the Tigers are adopting a business-as-usual approach in the expectation that their coach will honour his three-year deal.
“Ivan has not asked for a release,” Wests Tigers chair Marina Go said.
“Even if he were seeking a release, we wouldn’t grant him a release. That position hasn’t changed.”
Cleary reportedly addressed his players on Wednesday morning, offering no guarantees he would be at the club next season, after Penrith sacked coach Anthony Griffin on Monday in the hope of luring Cleary back to the foot of the mountains.
Cleary was himself fired from the Panthers in 2015 but has made no secret of his desire to reunite with his son, NSW State of Origin halfback Nathan Cleary.
But, unless he digs his heels in and demands out of his contract, Cleary’s father-son coaching union will have to wait with the Tigers maintaining their hardline stance not to grant their coach a release.
Cleary remaining at the Tigers until at least the end of the 2020 season once again raises the prospect of Nathan linking with his father at Leichhardt – rather than Penrith, as widely assumed.
Should Cleary insist on a release, though, the Tigers would likely seek major compensation from the Panthers, possibly in the form of players.
For his part, Gould on Wednesday conceded he didn’t expect Cleary to join the Panthers in 2019 after the Tigers made their position to “fight tooth and nail” to keep their coach clear on Tuesday night.
“I could never see Wests Tigers releasing him from that deal,” Gould said on his Six Tackles with Gus podcast.
“To be honest, I don’t think Ivan would pursue (it) if the Wests Tigers felt that way.
“Ivan’s not the sort of person that’ll push the issue if that’s what the Wests Tigers say.”
Distancing himself from the discussions, Gould confirmed Panthers chairman Dave O’Neill had broached the topic of a possible return by Cleary during a recent meeting between the pair.
That discussion had prompted Cleary to sit down with Tigers chief executive Justin Pascoe about his long-term future on Monday, where he revealed talking to Penrith.
“Dave innocently asked him, ‘would you ever come back to Panthers one day?’,” Gould said.
“As I understand it, that conversation escalated over the next couple of days to the point where on Friday, I was informed by Dave that Ivan was keen to go and have a talk to the Wests Tigers about his long-term future with a view towards one day returning to Panthers.”
Gould pinned Cleary’s decision to meet with the Tigers about a potential Panthers return as the catalyst for the sacking of Griffin, four weeks out from the NRL finals.
He said he had wanted Griffin to at least see out the remainder of this year but said he knew Cleary’s meeting with the Tigers would create a media storm.
“I said, ‘I can’t have Anthony coaching under those conditions. We need to tell him exactly what is going on’,” Gould said.
“So we had a meeting with the executives there and I was instructed to inform Anthony on Monday that his services will no longer be required for 2019 and beyond.”