The Wests Tigers are on the verge of striking a deal to release Ivan Cleary in the coming days as they move to finalise a long-term contract with super coach Wayne Bennett, potentially effective immediately.
NRL.com understands Cleary could be granted a release to join Penrith in 2019 as the Tigers ramp up discussions with Bennett about coaching the club from as early as next season.
It is understood the Tigers are willing to release Cleary in the coming days, with club officials of the view his position is almost untenable, but they are working through delicate negotiations with Bennett before signing off on their coach’s release from the final two years of his deal.
Cleary has already committed to the Panthers for three years from the 2021 season.
Bennett still has another year to run at Brisbane, however the Broncos could be willing to part ways with the wily coach after recently informing him that his services wouldn’t be required at Red Hill beyond the end of 2019.
The Australian reported on Wednesday that Bennett had expressed interest in the Tigers job. NRL.com understands matters have progressed a lot further this week.
Cleary’s potential release from the Tigers would then result in him inking a five-year deal with the Panthers to coach the team which includes his son until at least 2023.
The Tigers have attracted interest from several coaches, including Bennett and Michael Maguire - a reflection of how far the club has come despite modest facilities and a lack of success on the field.
Broncos coach Wayne Bennett.
Broncos coach Wayne Bennett.
Jason O’Brien/NRL Photos
Manly announced on Friday morning that they were no longer in negotiations with Maguire after they “could not meet the proposed terms” he was seeking.
“The club remains in discussions with several experienced and highly qualified candidates with a view to making this key appointment as a priority,” according to the club statement.
One of the sticking points in the Tigers’ discussions with Bennett will revolve around money, with Bennett likely to have to take a substantial pay cut on a deal that is likely to be well less than a million dollars a year.
Given some of the criticism of Bennett in recent years, there’s a feeling he may be willing to take a pay cut to still prove he has what it takes to lead a team to premiership glory.
The Tigers return to pre-season training on November 1, while Cleary is believed to be heading on an overseas trip with his family to Bali on Sunday.
Bennett will also be away with the English team for an international series against New Zealand in the United Kingdom later this month.
NRL.com revealed in August that the Panthers were interested in Cleary returning to the club three years after he was sacked by executive general manager Phil Gould.
Nathan Cleary, after playing a leading hand in the Blues’ State of Origin series win in his first appearances in a NSW jersey, is considered the cornerstone of the Penrith franchise.
After extending his deal at the Panthers until the end of 2024 recently, the goal-kicking halfback told NRL.com his new contract had “nothing to do with my old man”.
“I was happy to make the decision by myself. What happens in the future with dad is out of my control. I don’t think I ever thought I was going to leave even with what was going on. I always thought I would stay and it would all work itself out eventually and yeah it did. This is a real happy place to be in at the moment.”