Wests Tigers are playing hard ball and have no intention of letting Ivan Cleary take up a four-year coaching deal with neighbouring NRL rivals Penrith.
“As we expressed to Ivan this morning, the position of the club – and it’s a really strong position – is that the club is going to fight for this. Under no circumstances will we be granting Ivan Cleary a release,” Tigers chief executive Justin Pascoe said on Tuesday night.
“He has got a contract with this club until 2020, we’re building something special here and we want that to continue.”
The Tigers’ hardline stance comes amid reports that Penrith have offered Cleary a lucrative four-year deal to return to the foot of the mountains to replace Anthony Griffin – less than three seasons after Cleary was unceremoniously sacked by the Panthers.
Penrith supremo Phil Gould’s plans for the club are uncertain, with the fifth-placed Panthers in for a fight to get their man after sacking Griffin a month out from the finals.
“We’re not going to be pushed aside or bullied or railroaded by anyone,” Pascoe said.
“This club, and myself, have to make decisions that are in the best interests of the Wests Tigers and, first and foremost, our fans, our members and our stakeholders.
“Giving our head coach to a rival club is not a decision that is in the best interest of the fans or stakeholders.
Pascoe says he is disgusted by the Panthers’ poaching tactics, which may yet backfire if the Tigers wind up enticing Nathan Cleary to Leichhardt to reunite with his father once the dust settles.
“I’m really disappointed that they’ve had to go through all the speculation,” Pascoe said of the Tigers’ fans’ ordeal.
“I’m bitterly disappointed that a rival club has decided that it’s appropriate practice to try and poach a coach with two-and-a-half years left on his contract.
“My message is very simple: Ivan has been a terrific coach, he has shown great character in what we’re trying to build here and we are going to fight tooth and nail.
“This is a really strong, proud club with a lot of rich history and it’s a very different club than what it was previously.”
Despite all the reports that it was a done deal with Penrith, Pascoe insisted Cleary had yet to request a release from the Tigers.
Earlier on Tuesday, Gould acknowledged Penrith had a preferred candidate – without naming him.
He believed he had a good relationship with Cleary despite having earlier sacked him.
It’s believed Wayne Bennett is also high on Penrith’s list of potential coaches but Gould was confident the club would secure a quality replacement regardless after being swamped with inquiries.
“We’ve already had 12 applications come in overnight from people within the game,” Gould said.
“Other assistant coaches and even some head coaches from other clubs.”
Griffin’s former assistant coach Cameron Ciraldo will take the reins for the rest of the season.