If what Paul Kent said on NRL360 Tuesday night turns out to be true about Ivan Cleary engineering his exit from the Wests Tigers to go to the Penrith Panthers, the NRL need to step in and act swiftly.
According to Kent, Cleary met last week with Penrith chairman Dave O’Neill for what he thought might be a conversation about his son Nathan, the current Panthers halfback.
Kent believed O’Neill expressed interest in bringing Ivan Cleary back to the club he previously coached when he finishes his contract in 2020.
Cleary allegedly responded he would be interested in returning to the club in 2019 despite having a binding contract with the Wests Tigers for the next two seasons.
This meeting should raise huge alarm bells at League Central.
Under the NRL’s current rules with players negotiating with clubs they have to be entering the final 12 months of their contract. Why should it be different for coaches?
A situation where a chairman is colluding with another coach who has multiple seasons on contract across town should never happen for either coaches or players.
Ivan Cleary also should never be in a situation where he agrees to a meeting under the premise where he believes the topic of conversation is about his son employed by the club.
Rules surrounding coaches and players need to get stricter to ensure the sanctity and
professionalism of the competition doesn’t dissolve.
The Wests Tigers trumpeted the signing of Cleary and he soon gave hope to a fan base starving for success. His famous ‘get on the bus’ quote brought a ground swell of support not previously seen at the joint venture club.
Tiger fans believed he would be the coach that rebuilds them into a premiership contender. With a contract until the end of 2020 the fans should be entitled to believe another club won’t poach their coach just to help their own messy situation which they created.
Having signed originally for three years it meant Ben Matulino was happy to move from New Zealand to play under his former coach.
It meant Russell Packer was happy to leave St George Illawarra after repairing his once broken NRL career.
David Nofoaluma signed a new four-year deal just days after Cleary was announced as the coach and Moses Mbye has taken a leap of faith by leaving an awful situation at Canterbury to play under Cleary at the Tigers.
Cleary speaking to rival teams while having several seasons remaining has to be punished by the NRL. While there appears to be no loyalty left in professional sport the least the NRL can do is step and put a stop to what is fast turning into a circus.
If Penrith want to sack their coach and find a replacement they’re entirely within their rights to do so but it shouldn’t come at the detriment of another club.
In 2017 the NBA fined the Los Angeles Lakers $500,000 after they were found to have been talking with Indiana star Paul George about becoming a Laker. The NRL need to follow a similar path if they want to protect the integrity of their competition.