Ivan Cleary addressed the Wests Tigers players on Wednesday morning for the first time since news broke of Penrith’s plan to lure him back.
NRL.com understands he couldn’t guarantee where he would be next season. He couldn’t lie to his players, admitting he had a tough family decision to make.
The Tigers have called an extraordinary board meeting on Wednesday night to discuss the future of the organisation, however as it stands Cleary has not yet asked for a release and is not expected to front the board. Wests Tigers will fight to ensure that release is rejected if requested, however they are also prepared for things to escalate with the Panthers in the pursuit of Cleary’s signature.
They have discussed putting a multimillion-dollar compensation fee on the coach and demanding player transfers from the Panthers if Cleary is to ask for a release from the final two years of his contract.
That’s the last resort. Their intention is to deny any potential release request and expect Cleary to continue business as usual, such is their opinion of the coach.
Some would argue Cleary’s position at the joint-venture club is almost untenable given the amount of consideration he has already given to leaving the club to link with his son Nathan at the Panthers.
But the reality is the Tigers have been thinking about extending his tenure, not ending it.
The problem is Ivan’s unbreakable bond with his son, and rightly so, it has clouded the usually unflappable coach’s judgement.
For months the Tigers have been gearing up to raid the Panthers for their halfback to join Luke Brooks, Josh Reynolds and Moses Mbye in the spine. They wanted the Cleary combination.
It’s not that Nathan doesn’t want to join the Wests Tigers. Perhaps it’s more accurate to suggest he just doesn’t want to leave Penrith. It’s where he played most of his junior footy. It’s where he went to school. It’s where all his friends play.
The Tigers know this isn’t about anything but family. Ivan loves the Tigers. He’s happy at the club.
But in the background, his son senses an opportunity for the family to be reunited and that is something Ivan just won’t disregard.
The tug-of-war between the two clubs has escalated, with Tigers chief executive Justin Pascoe declaring the club would not be bullied by their western Sydney rivals. Penrith have also been privately reminding people of all the coach and player contracts the Tigers have ended early in recent years, including that of their last coach, Jason Taylor.
Panthers general manager Phil Gould on Tuesday night retweeted a story from the Western Weekender in 2015 which highlighted Pascoe’s resignation from the Panthers to take up the job as Tigers chief executive.